Red Flags: How to Spot Dangerous People
The most obvious red flags are blinding bright and quite large. They are carried by emotional invalids who think they’re going to the Relationship Olympics to win the gold. These off-shoots of dysfunctional families don’t have much self insight. They may think they’re bull fighters from Spain. They may even want to show you their scars. But these are the folks that you want to run from the fastest and the farthest!
Hopefully, they don’t yet know where you live, what your phone number is, when you get your mail, where you work, what your mother’s maiden name is, your PIN number, your Facebook password, or even what you look like from the front. But let’s assume that in a moment of temporary insanity, you’ve already had an actual life-threatening five minute conversation with such a person. Let’s even picture the absolute worst case scenario: You told him your children’s names! Allow me to explain the kind of trouble you may be getting into and what the solution to the problem is.
When my wife and I were in charge of a singles ministry in a large church, she asked me to “kick out” a man who was quite odd. In fact, during the regular church service, sometimes he would laugh in the middle of the songs. Even more than that, he seemed to be more than a little interested in the children of the single mothers.
Our Friday night singles meetings ran an average of 42 people in attendance. Our annual New Year’s Eve party brought out 350 people from around the city. And our “talent show potlucks” brought out about 70-80 people. These were the best of times for this ministry – and the worst!
I figured that this dangerously unhinged fellow would be at an upcoming talent show. I asked a friend to bring his video camera to the event. I described the person in question and asked my friend to get him on video.
Sure enough the fellow showed up for our talent show, and my friend caught him on camera. The next day my friend gave me a close-up picture of the guy. Then the next Sunday I showed this picture to a member of our congregation who was a cop. I asked my cop friend if he recognized this fellow. “Of course,” he said. “His name is so-and-so and he’s served a lot of time for child molestation. Usually, we find him hanging around the playgrounds of elementary schools.” Whoops! Did I say “the gentleman?” “Dangerously unhinged” may be a better descriptor.
I presented all this information in a pastoral staff meeting, and we decided to write a letter, asking him to leave the private property of the church. I wrote the letter and I included a statement that he was welcome to return when his therapist called us, saying that we were safe to have him at the church.
Of course, the next Sunday, he showed up at church. Another pastor and I approached him and asked him to follow us. We led him to the front door of the lobby, presented him with the letter and asked him to leave. As he walked away, there was a huge red flag that dangled from his pants, which he promptly pulled out and proudly waved to all who might be looking while ye yelled, “I’ll never tell you where any of them are buried!”
Okay, I stretched the truth a little on that last part. But do you have any trouble picturing this man waving a big red flag and yelling, “Charge!”, as he moved onto his next group of unsuspecting do-gooders….I mean good-doers!
Oh…I told you that I’d tell you what to do about such a person. Here’s a hint: p-o-l-i-c-e.
Actually, I learned a BIG lesson from this experience: Always listen to your wife!
Of course, there are many different kinds of red flag carriers. Maybe you’ve met the fellow whose idea of fun is getting drunk at a downtown pool hall and then driving out into the desert where he wants you to sit on his shoulders. Why does he want to do this? Well, just for fun! You’ll sit on his shoulders, each of you will hold out your arms in strange positions and together you’ll pretend to be a cactus.
Here’s an obvious one: When I was a counselor at a Christian agency, our front desk administrator received a call from a distressed woman. She said that she didn’t feel safe because her husband would chase her around the house with an axe. She also said that “he’s really a nice guy; I just think he has a spirit of murder on him.” Woah! I don’t remember what happened to that woman, but she didn’t want counseling and she wouldn’t give us any information so that we could call the police.
When I lived in New York City, there was a man who regularly marched up and down Broadway with a military uniform on. Let’s just assume that this officer didn’t have a significant other. Of course, on the streets of New York, red flag carriers like this are pretty much all over the place and spotting them isn’t worth giving you any pointers on. We’ll talk about people who should be on medications later on.
But what to do with any of the above such characters? They get lonely, too, right? They need friends, too, right? I mean, if someone knocked on your door in the early morning, getting you out bed, demanding that you let her in your house, would you let her in? Maybe you’d say, “Oh, gosh, I’m sorry I was sleeping. I didn’t get to the door fast enough. Please come in and tell me what you’d like to do me out of.” Of course you wouldn’t say that! And why not?
In Psalm 18:26, the Psalmist says this about God: “to the crooked you show yourself shrewd.” If God shows Himself to be shrewd to “crooked” people, He just might be onto something!
When God sent two spies into the city of Jericho that the Israelites were about to conquer, a prostitute named Rahab hid them in her home in the wall. Her reward was that she and her household were spared when the Israelites brought down the walls of Jericho. But when the people of Jericho asked her if she’d seen the spies, what did she say?
This is what Rahab said:
She said, “Yes, the men came to me, but I did not know where they had come from. At dusk, when it was time to close the city gate, the men left. I don’t know which way they went. Go after them quickly. You may catch up with them.” (But she had taken them up to the roof and hidden them under the stalks of flax she had laid out on the roof.) So the men set out in pursuit of the spies on the road that leads to the fords of the Jordan, and as soon as the pursuers had gone out, the gate was shut (Joshua 2:4-7).
Does that sound like Rahab “fudged” her answer a little bit? You bet! Did she owe the crooked people of a crooked city an explanation? She sure didn’t!
How about this example? When the King of Egypt wanted to destroy the Hebrew male babies and ordered the mid-wives to report when a male baby was born, what did the mid-wives do? Nothing, of course! They simply hid the babies.
When the king asked what was going on, how did the mid-wives respond?
The midwives answered Pharaoh, “Hebrew women are not like Egyptian women; they are vigorous and give birth before the midwives arrive” (Exodus 1:19).
Was this another piece of fudge? Again, yes! There are many such examples in the scriptures that speak of the same truth. Remember when Christ said, “But I tell you, Do not resist an evil person. If someone strikes you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also” (Matthew 5:39:40)? But at Christ’s trial, an official of the High Priest struck Christ on the cheek. What did Christ say?
“If I said something wrong,” Jesus replied, “testify as to what is wrong. But if I spoke the truth, why did you strike me” (John 18:23)?
Christ didn’t turn the other cheek. Rather, He was shrewd with the crooked.
When we’re dealing with people who clearly have evil or questionable motives, we simply don’t owe them an explanation. Nor do YOU owe an explanation to someone who carries a red flag! Be cool!
If a red flag carrier asks you out, you simply say, you’re busy that weekend. God knows you probably have plenty of better things to do than waste your time with someone of questionable character or outright evil motives.
What if a red flag carrier asks you for a ride home from the singles meeting, from the club, from wherever? Just say, “I’m sorry; I need to get home immediately.” “But I’m right on your way,” the person responds. “That may be, but I just feel it’s better if I drive alone.” Can they tell you DON’T feel like that? Of course not! You DO feel like that! You’re just expressing your feelings! There are many advantages to simply saying your feelings. You don’t have to defend them!
And undoubtedly if you tell this person that you just saw the police come in the back door, the red flag carrier will run so fast, his goose bumps will fall off and jump around on the floor!
Again, please keep in mind that with such people, you don’t owe them an explanation about anything. Therefore, these folks are actually the easiest to dispatch with.
Here are some tips to make it easy to confirm that they truly carry a red flag:
SOME OBVIOUS TIP-OFFS:
1. “Peeveacs”: The person frequently returns to the same pet peeves to make complaints, e.g., “It’s those Democrats, Republicans that always….”, “People who take meds are just crazy,” “Parents these days don’t care about morals.” These statements in themselves aren’t necessarily all bad, but when the person has a real hobby horse that he likes to ride over and over, that’s not good. They have “pet peeves that are out of control.” Let’s just call them “peeveacs.” They carry red flags. Personally, I would just tell them to take their pet peeves on the road where there might be some profit in it.
2. “Avoid Droids”: These people are programmed to avoid talking about certain subjects, e.g., their past, their job history, and any number of things. Or else they will lie flat out and then try to get off the subject. The point is that something seems odd about always avoiding a particular topic, or contradicting themselves, or saying something odd (if you’re even talking to them), e.g., “God told me to go find a tree frog and name him Kaiser Bill (that’s from a Jack Hayford book)!”
3. “Face-Offs”: These carriers are in your face with questions and uninteresting trivia: “Why were you late for the meeting tonight?”, “You seem to have a lot on your mind. Were you thinking something negative?”, “Do you have a girlfriend? I bet you’ve been through a lot with her, huh?”, or “Do you know what the square root of the speed of light is?”
4. “Weakness Wackos”: These people are looking for weaknesses in you. NEVER give them any personal information about you. Any personal information will be turned on you as a weakness, e.g., if a weakness wacko asks if you have kids and you say, “Yes, I have three sweet kids that I’m so proud of,” you’ll hear the weakness wacko respond, “Oh, my. THREE kids. You must be completely overwhelmed. No wonder you look so tired. Three kids would drive anybody crazy. I bet you have a lot of tension in your neck,” etc.
You know I’m right, don’t you, as you’ve experienced such people. I know you have! I just smile at these people. I might picture a bowl of spaghetti on their heads, or picture them as babies sitting on the potty (the most powerful time in their lives when people were cheering them on!), or you can “scale” the oddness of their behavior on a scale of one to 10. If they’re only at a 3 or 4, you tell yourself, “Hm-m-m-m, this person seems to really be dropping the ball!” Or if the carrier is at an 8 or 9, you say to yourself, “Oh, my gosh! I wonder if he/she will hit a 10.”
The point is that YOU are the powerful one; you’re simply playing games in your mind and not locking into unusual conversations, or not getting confused or defensive. There are many “mental tricks” that you can use to neutralize any negative effects. We’ll cover more later. Prayer works great, too!
At any rate, keep this in mind: No matter what brand of red flag carrier you run into, the world will never run out of them! My attitude? Bring them on! They won’t stick around long when I deflect any and all comments back to them, e.g., “You’re really concerned about that, aren’t you?”, “Did you have a hard day?”, or “You really have a strong feeling about that, don’t you?” Actually, these people are way easy to deal with (well a little harder than the other types that we’ll cover, perhaps, but they’re all potentially hard).
But not to worry! You’ll have so many options for dealing with unusual people by the time you’re finished with this book, you’ll be HOPING they come around you so you can practice your new skills. In fact, if you keep me posted on how you do, I’ll send you a certificate of Black Belt in Outwitting Red Flag Fanatics. We’ll save it for the end of the book to give you actual instructions on obtaining this coveted certificate of achievement.
5. WHAT TO DO ABOUT THEM
1.) Ask them how long they’ve been out.
2.) Ask them if the surgeon botched the lobotomy.
Hey, don’t really ask them those first two questions! You don’t need to make these people mad on purpose. Actually, you want to back off of these folks in the most stealth way possible. You’d like to disappear from their radar screen entirely.
1.) Don’t bother giving them an explanation about why you don’t want to go out with them, why you don’t want them to speak with your children, or why you can’t help him/her in any way.
2.) Keep your friends informed about these people and ask them to come up and talk to you, if one of the red flag carriers comes around you.
3.) Tell any authorities in the church, the club, the association, or in any context that you might meet these people. Even if you just see these carriers in your neighborhood, tell you neighbors about your experiences with these people.
4.) If you know their real name, look for registered sex offenders on-line. Also, search court records and newspapers for stories about them.
5.) Always have plans about how to disengage from the carriers: “Excuse me, I came to this meeting tonight to meet as many people as possible,” “Excuse me, I have to go now” Why do you have to go now? Because you FEEL like it! Or “I just don’t feel like having any long conversations tonight. Nothing personal.” Again, they can’t tell you that you DON’T feel like that! You KNOW how you feel!
QUESTIONS TO HELP US BE WISE
1. Have you ever met such a person that you needed to run from?
2. What were the characteristics of this person?
3. Did you find out later that the red flag carrier did some kind of harm to someone else?
4. What could stop you from telling a friend that the person he or she is dating seems like a red flag carrier?
5. Would you hesitate to call the police, if you were ever in any real danger?
6. If you’ve already been a victim of a red flag carrier, how have you – or how can you – help yourself to forgive this person?
7. If you forgive someone, do you have to also reconcile with that person?
8. Among the mental tricks that I’ve mentioned, which ones might work best for you?