A close friend was recently robbed at the gas pump (no, I don’t mean by the oil companies and their outrageous gas prices). He had just returned from the bank and had two certified cheques for payment of commercial expenses, totalling $80K, in his briefcase. He also had $6K in cash which was intended to pay various last-minute bills as well as provide funds for an upcoming trip. His briefcase also contained his cellphone and various business documents.

The briefcase was on the passenger seat. His doors were locked and he had the keys to the car in his pocket, although the driver’s side window was open due to the intense heat we’ve been experiencing. He was pumping gas, no more than 4 feet from his driver’s side door. A man approached him asking for directions. He seemed to have difficulty understanding my friend’s explanation and kept asking more questions. The man left, and as my friend turned towards his car, he noticed a tall man walking away from the car, at some distance. He looked in his car and the briefcase was gone.

A common story I’m sure. A momentary distraction, deft thieves, and (very likely) collusion with someone on the inside (When my friend asked for the security tapes, the owner told him that the cameras were down that day due to a power failure).

My friend was devastated and in a deep funk. His wife and other family members reamed him out for being so stupid. He was depressed and felt intense guilt at his own stupidity and failure to prevent the theft. A dozen things he could have done raced through his mind.

If you think about it though, isn’t that an absolutely crazy reaction? Feeling guilty because you were victimized! Anger at the thieves would have been a more appropriate reaction. But guilt?

I took the time to help him understand that there is no reason for guilt and self-loathing. Anger at the thieves, yes! Here’s why there’s no place for guilt:

  1. Honest, compassionate people cannot project themselves into the mind of a thief. There’s an old Greek saying that “The thief is always afraid of being robbed”. That’s because the thief is able to project his mind into the minds’ of other thieves…he thinks like a thief! But honest people generally project their own honesty into others (an often deadly characteristic that makes them very vulnerable). It is natural for us to project our value systems into others.
  2. No matter what lessons you’ve learned from past experiences of being duped, they are only good at preventing the same experience. But here’s the rub: The bad guys are constantly innovating new ways to rob you, that you, as an honest person, cannot foresee because you aren’t wired that way! It’s Steve’s Third Axiom: You cannot protect yourself part-time from people committed to taking advantage of you full-time.

So what can you do to protect yourself? Here’s a few ideas:

  1. Learn from mistakes so that the same thing doesn’t happen again. Remember, “Fool me once shame on you, fool me twice, shame on me”.
  2. Never carry large sums of money or things of value on your person. If you carry a purse or briefcase, make sure it’s on a strap around your neck with the pockets facing inward
  3. Assume that everywhere you go, there are bad guys stalking you. It may or may not be true at that moment, but will be true at some time. Develop the sense of vigilance of the hunted animal
  4. If you’ve ever owned a rabbit, you’ll know that they never step on any surface where they don’t have traction. Stay away from high risk places and be prepared to move quickly if you get in trouble
  5. Want less and focus on a few things that really matter, are manageable, and give you the greatest pleasure. Become a profound expert in these things.
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