Fool me once; shame on me.

Posted on 29 March, 2014 by Patrick Estebe in General Security

May there be no surprise… about your security.

Surprise is a killer.

Alfred de Vigny’s famous poem “The Wolf’s Death” is about stoicism. Yet the inevitable doom coming from surprise is magnificently captured in one striking verse:

”he knew he was doomed because he was surprised.”

Surprise is almost always deadly in terms of security. Surprise, your opponents know is a key element of their victory. It is at best extremely difficult to recover from surprise; most of the time the recovery occurs in another place.

Negligence is the best environment for surprise to grow. As the problem with security is that most of the time nothing happens, many find acceptable to lower the security budgets, requirements and most importantly their attitude. Negligence can be so sweet.

This is how ships start hiring armed guards with a IQ south of 100 and no combat experience whatsoever, Police forces find acceptable to have officers with a waist size over 40”, and the Marines start recruiting personnel unable to do more than 3 pull-ups. What can possibly go wrong?

Even for foreign consulates in war zones it takes a violent surprise attack, resulting with unacceptable casualties to wake everyone up and get the security requirements back to where they should have always been. At the individual level, the same lack of discipline takes place over time, by almost unnoticeable increments. Many, rightly concerned with security at one time, obtained a concealed carry permit, and then, nothing happening let slip their training, this is always the first sign of negligence, and then stop carrying a weapon that has become cumbersome.

The individual though, should keep in mind that while those who lower the security standards at corporate or government levels are never those who bleed as a consequence of their decisions, at his level the said individual will likely be the one paying dearly for lowering his security standards, if not him his loved ones may be the ones bleeding because he allowed his adversaries to surprise him.

Yet, just like we all know, or should, that our health is very much in proportion with our fitness, itself a direct consequence of constant training and reasonable diet. Security is not different, and without becoming paranoid one should constantly maintain his security skills and his security awareness at the optimum level, or be ready to suffer the consequences without blaming anyone else.

With this being said; how can we avoid being negligent? As with everything we should remember that what we resist persists; so instead of fighting negligence we should rather see for ourselves that the root of negligence is mediocrity. There truly is no grey area here; either one has self respect, therefore is self disciplined and pays attention, or one is negligent. One cannot be a little bit negligent anymore than his girl friend can be a little bit pregnant. Being a little bit negligent can only lead to one being fully surprised by his adversaries. There is never a second place winner in any confrontation.

History is full of successful surprise attacks; from the sack of Rome by the Visigoths, to Washington’s Attack on Trenton, to the Six Day War.

In relationships and business the saying goes: “Fool me once; shame on you. Fool me twice; shame on me!” that is very sweet and nice in a protected environment, but an impossible luxury in the world of security.

When it comes to security the rule is:”Fool me once; shame on me.” The proof of this was experienced by the entire country when France fell under the German surprise attack of 1940. Before the attack, while voices were screaming, unheard, against the negligence going on, many abroad and in France believed France had a strong army. France had been surprised, and severely defeated, and needed a very long 1Btime to recover from the shame.

There it is; can you find a way to keep vigilant yet relaxed enough so that this vigilance is sustainable? Or will you become negligent, the first indicator being training assiduity, and offer yourself for painful surprises? Are you alive, paying attention to everything as the predator watches its surroundings, quietly but attentively? Or are you zombified by television, video games, procrastinating on the workouts and a killer diet? Or simply constantly talking on your mobile totally oblivious of the rest of the world?

The choice is yours, and the consequences most definitely yours. To make your decision, you just have to keep in mind that surprise is a killer.


  1. Decent article, however to liken negligence to pregnancy as a strictly binary, either-or proposition is absurd. There are certainly degrees of negligence.

    • You are correct; there are degrees of negligence… From the perspective of those who are negligent; talking on one’s mobile phone is not as negligent as texting and driving but it definitely cannot be called paying attention!
      From the perspective of those who only need your attention distracted for even a moment it truly is black and white. Either there is room for surprise or there is not. Nuances of negligence are irrelevant: one is paying attention or one is not.

      • The analogy is still absurd. Pregnancy is an event, resulting in a self-perpetuating condition. “Paying attention” is a subjective continuum sustained only by exercise of the will, for which there is no reasonable absolute.

        There is no such thing as 100% total security.

        • As a happy and proud parent, I am well aware of the nature of pregnancy. All I was trying to say, and I believe most readers have understood my point, is that one cannot be a little bit negligent as far as security is concerned. I agree that there is no such thing as 100% security. However I totally disagree that paying attention is an exercise of the will, for in this case it is unsustainable. Paying attention is a mind set, it has to be done without effort, but of course it takes some effort to get there.
          Camus insisted on the absurdity of life itself; shall we abandon this thread before the burden of disproving absurdity changes sides?

          • I suppose you expect people to have eyes in the backs of their heads? Give me a break.

            Vigilance IS a conscious act of the will, as well as being an operative mindset; and despite all efforts, the fact that an adversary can still exploit an element of surprise does not mean the target is necessarily negligent, nor that they deserve shame.

          • You bring interesting points: first victims do not deserve shame, it never was my intention to mean this, I thought every one understood but since you bring it up it allow me to clarify this clearly. Second I do not expect people to have eyes in the back of their heads, aside from being aesthetically questionable it may not be an improvement.
            You are correct vigilance is a conscious effort and definitely necessary in most sports, motor sports particularly, and at times in life. But just like keeping your guard up it is quite tiring and definitely not sustainable on a long term basis. This is why the watch system has been established on ships; vigilance can only be sustained for so long.
            Being alert on the other hand does not require any effort, but instead being extremely relaxed and attuned to instead of aware of the surroundings. In a world full of very loud distractions it may be that many alternate only between vigilance and negligence, and miss altogether the very concept of relaxed alertness that requires a very quiet mind.

    • my take away on that was that SUCCESS or FAILURE is binary…

  2. Code White. The classic example is a video from a news helicopter of a person walking while texting in a small town in California that was surrounded by a National forest. The news helicoper was following a bear that had wandered into town to look for food. The Code White texter almost walked into the bear. The texter screams and runs and the bear paniced and ran the other way. The photojournalist in the helicopter was laughing so hard that the steady-cam was bouncing.

  3. The red flag raised merits sharp adherence. Written in March, 2014, your article was premonitory. Read loud and clear. These past five years, the world has shockingly transformed: The evolution of human and civilizational devolution.

    Expanded from another article you wrote [Estebe (2014), “Look where you want to go”]:
    In motorcycling, we illustrate using a “crash chain”, the identifiable (many are predictable, knowable) risk factors being the links interacting to form a chain of events connecting the rider to the crash. Crashes are produced by an interactions of factors. Breaking the crash chain, i.e., removing even one factor breaks the chain, may prevent the crash. “May” being an operative word. Not “will”, not “can”. Dynamical diligence with pre-ride preps and riding is perpetually mandatory for risk management and contributes to reducing and managing certain risk factors, not identifying nor eliminating all of them. Fewer factors result in fewer risks, and while riding, enables the rider to have more focus-ability and response time-and-space for emerging, unpredictable risks. Add in “rider-radar” and 360-degree awareness. If one manages to reduce possibilities of risks, one only reduces probability, again, not eliminate nor perfectly prevent. Risks are dynamical not static, constantly evolving in a highly complex landscapes and infinite systems, fed by knowns, predictables, known unknowns, unpredictables and unknowables. High-alertness vigilance, diligence and safety are the life-preserving intended acmes; laxness and negligence, the life-threatening inattentiveness alternatives. Thus, with consistent skill and risk management, one can come close enough to the intended safety outcomes for all practical purposes. Practical, not perfect.

    The best of artful professional security individuals &/or teams such as the ones lead by author Partick Estebe have proven that, while not humanly nor scientifically possible to be perfect, they do come close enough for all practical purposes.

    Thank-you, maitre Patrick.

    After-thought to “Hypervigilant”:

    Even a wee bit negligent can lead to a whole lot pregnant. A resultant abortion is life-killing.

    1. In my humble, non-pregnant opinion, your insidious comments seem:
    a. intended not to trigger true thought but rather to misdirect, stoking ‘reader attentional negligence’, to divert and detract from the relevant about safety, to the irrelevant about drivel;
    b. wholly to add nothing worthwhile or of value to the message; and
    c. likely to offend the senses of an otherwise quite contented idiomatic expression, happy to be called-upon with frequency to convey a point where ofttimes absolutes are effective figurative tools provoking thoughtful actions rather than ill-placed literal dissections that expose useless “so what” thoughtlessness, the absence of true, original thinking.
    2. The author worked to point the readers’ attention meaningfully to themselves; you try to draw the readers’ and author’s attention meaninglessly to yourself.
    Subtle sabotage.
    The fodder of mediocre minds, yet potentially &/or proven menacing minds.
    Distraction. Feeds negligence.
    Exactly what the author warns us of whom and what to beware.

    The valiant vs the vain.


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