In life, you're told to stand out from the crowd, but in a SHTF scenario, that's the last thing you want to do. Instead you want to blend-in and be unnoticed. When survival is on the line, you want to be a Gray Man rather than a reflective crossing guard. But first, you must understand what it truly means to be a gray man.
What is a Gray Man?
A gray man is the most undetectable, inconspicuous, and ordinary-looking individual in any setting. He/she blends into the environment and has mastered the art of hiding in plain sight. Gray people appear to be part of the backdrop in any setting and will not be picked out unless you're specifically looking for them.
The gray man theory is applied in military operations, surveillance, and counterintelligence. However, some of its most relevant applications are in periods of uncertainty, breakdown of law and order, and in the aftermath of catastrophe.
Why be a Gray Man?
"Appear weak when you are strong, and strong when you are weak." Sun Tzu, The Art of War.
The art of disguise has been a powerful tool for survival throughout history. The gray man theory encourages you to mask your abilities, preparedness, and intentions. By seeming unassuming and uninteresting, you come off as neither a threat nor a target. People can’t gauge your abilities because they don’t notice you. Do this, and you add one more weapon to your arsenal - the element of surprise.
When shit hits the fan (SHTF), everyone panics and is usually unprepared and vulnerable. Becoming the gray man can protect you from the unprepared maniacs. You don't want the people around you to perceive that you're more prepared than they are nor do you want opportunists to think that you're weaker than everyone else, finding the balance in your gray man persona is the key.
9 out of 10 times when SHTF, you're not "acting" vulnerable; you are vulnerable. Becoming a gray man allows you to use the cover of the herd of people around you to escape life-threatening situations without being noticed.
What are the Benefits of Being a Gray Man?
The obvious benefit of being a gray man is that anonymity increases your chances of getting you and your loved ones out of harm's way. However, there are various ways you can benefit from donning the Gray Man persona:
- Becoming a gray man buys you some time amidst the chaos. At best, it allows you to follow your plan. At worst, it buys you a few vital seconds to come up with a plan before you’re noticed.
- It makes you less likely to be a target. All predators - humans included - always seek out the weakest targets first. By being part of the crowd and not standing out, you move under their radar.
- As a gray man, you can move faster and avoid distractions and obstructions from others. When you seem more prepared than others, they are likely to run to you for help. You don’t need that kind of distraction in a disaster.
- Looking prepared and geared up also opens you up to dangers from the “unprepared.” You become a target for looting. This plays right into the hands of the opportunists who wouldn’t feel the slightest of remorse in hurting you and taking your gear/supplies by force.
Reticular Activating System (RAS)
~The reticular activating system (RAS) is the part of the brain that protects us from overwhelming details. It acts as a filter that screens out the details that aren’t important while highlighting those that are.
~Our brains only notice and remember things that trigger or stimulate interest. As we go about our lives, the RAS scans the information around us and decides what is worth noticing and remembering. As a result, millions of other details around us fade away and go unnoticed.
~What Does the RAS Filter?
~The RAS filters out physical appearances, movements, and sounds that are deemed ordinary. It only allows you to notice distinct features (an extremely tall person), bright colors (or dull colors in a colorful environment), a large bang, etc.
~The RAS is also quick to recognize threats. It alerts you to fast movements, implied movements, or a strange and scary-looking individual. In contrast, it learns to ignore background sounds (the hummingbirds in your garden or the refrigerator), regular motion (the movement of leaves), and a gray man in a crowd.
~Using the RAS to be a Gray Man
~While ignoring information deemed irrelevant, you can teach your RAS what is relevant and shouldn't be screened out. Your RAS learns what is important by observing the things you choose to focus on. To follow the gray man theory means to force yourself to notice disguising tactics, to look for the gray man in any setting, and yearning to imitate the gray man. Doing that inadvertently teaches your RAS to notice these things and help you on your journey to becoming a true gray man.
How to Become a Gray Man
~Nothing is outstanding about a gray man. He/she is the pinnacle of commonness. Observing the mannerisms of the people in a crowd can teach you what the average movement is. You should avoid being too energetic, throwing your arms, sweeping head movements, or even appearing too confident.
~Avoid Eye Contact
~You can’t hope to disappear while moving around, staring everyone in the eye. Eye contact enhances recognition and recall. By making eye contact, you’re doing the opposite of blending in - you’re forcing others to focus on you.
~Don’t Move Too Fast OR Too Slow
~To be invisible in plain sight, you must be a part of the backdrop; you must be one with the background. This means you have to be cautious enough to move at the average pace of everyone around you.
~The idea of adjusting your pace to your environment is very location specific. Not moving like the locals to that area gives off the vibe that you’re new to the area and immediately marks you as a target.
~Ironically, the act of dressing subtly is an art. The universal colors for subtlety may be brown, grey, or black, but even those will stand out if everyone else is colorful. Similarly, while a camo will make you invisible in the bushes, moving in a business district when everyone else is in a suit will make you the center of attention. Check out this post from Tactical.com to learn 16 Effective Ways to Apply the gray man theory.
~Hide Your Gear and Carry ‘Light’
~Our brains function differently in times of great distress. The normally half-asleep neurons become heightened and are actively on the lookout for danger and anything that can help them out. There are very few things you could do to draw more attention than move around with obvious tactical gear.
~This puts you at risk on two fronts:
- The opportunists looking to take advantage of the chaos to simply harm others
- Other unprepared survivors who are desperate to steal your gear
~This also happens with food and other supplies. You will want to carry light while on the move and disguise your tactical gear like everyday tools. Put your gear and supply in a regular looking backpack and arrange them so that they don’t make noises. Moving as quietly, yet as subtly, as possible is the goal of the gray man.
~Take the Road Less Traveled
~The purpose of being a gray man is to avoid being noticed and inadvertently putting a target on your back. However, not everyone can successfully pull it off. Some of us are just too tall, too small, too big, have distinctly noticeable features, etc.
~In that case, your best option is to take the road less travelled. To do this, you must study your environment, know the nearest police stations, hospitals, shortcuts, gas stations, etc.
~On the flip-side, the most predatory amongst us may be lurking on lonely roads, waiting for stray targets. If the situation is such that you can comfortably blend in with the crowd, then right in the middle of the herd may be your safest bet.
Here are three of the most common mistakes to avoid while trying to be a gray man:
~Everyone shows off! You may not be inclined to show off money or property, but you can be guilty of showing off intelligence, virtue, hard work, or in this case, “your preparedness.” Boasting about how prepared you are for a disaster is a big mistake. It has the opposite effect of being a gray man.
~Guess who will be the center of attention, the beacon of assistance, and the subject of hate and envy when shit hits the fan? The ones who always show off their disaster survival preparedness.
~A true gray man understands that blending in means appearing largely unaware like everyone else. It is becoming as average as your neighbors. On your quest to apply the gray man theory, trying not to show off may be the biggest challenge you will face. Overcoming that enate response is a must, your survival depends on it.
~Lack of practice
~Practice may never make perfect, but it sure does make you better at anything; being a gray man is no exception. Do not assume that you can pull off the gray man theory without sufficient practice.
~In distress, you’re more unstable than normal. Through muscle memory, you tend to rely on already established sequences and responses. Without sufficient practice, your gray man-ness, or lack there of, will be suspect. This may have an adverse effect on you. Rather than look like a gray man, you may come off as weak.
~Let me put this simply; the only people whose hero you want to be are your family and loved ones. Anything else is a distraction and will almost certainly cost you dearly. That may sound harsh, but in a disaster scenario, yourself and your family are too priority. When disaster strikes, it is not the time to play Captain America. It’s the time to fly under the radar and focus on executing your survival plan.
Learn to See the Gray Man
Like everything in life, becoming a gray man takes some real practice. But to practice effectively, you have to learn to spot the other gray men. As humans, we’re social creatures. Which means we learn by imitating others. Training your eyes and raising your level of awareness enough to naturally spot other gray men allows you to observe more and increases your ability to imitate effectively.
Another advantage is that you may want to link up with other "gray" people if things go sideways. Like minded people in greater numbers increases your chances of survival.