It’s a quote often cited to soon to be Secretary of Defense, retired Marine General James “Mad Dog” Mattis, but I know I had heard the phrase before Mattis rose to the public eye. “Be polite, be professional, and have a plan to kill everyone you meet.” This is most often cited by those who work in combat arms professions, though I have noticed most civilian carriers tend to shy away from such terminology. It seems they are afraid as being judged by those who do not carry as cowboys, as ticking time bombs waiting to snap and kill indiscriminately.

Put that out of your mind right now. Be shut of it. I’m telling you right now that life will go a lot easier if you embrace the meaning behind the mantra rather than shy away from it to avoid judgment by those who do not walk in your shoes.

Allow me to explain the mantra. Being polite and professional are things that my parents taught me growing up, and I’ve found it goes a long way in the real world. In the context of open and concealed carry, it also makes you an unassuming target. For every one time I have received a funny look for carrying my sidearm in the open, I have another instance of people finding me to be rather approachable and civil. Sometimes, people ask me questions about what I carry or why, and I maintain that polite and professional persona. Unless I know the person, they are “sir” or “ma’am,” and I address them with respect.

Here’s the key part that’s largely misinterpreted. “Have a plan to kill everyone you meet” does not mean you actively seek the death of all around you, nor does it make you a ticking time bomb. Think back to the 2009 film Sherlock Holmes. Remember the first fight scene where he analyzes his target, decides on a course of action, and then neutralizes the threat? That’s what you’re doing, with two major exceptions: you are prepared long before that person becomes a threat, and you are not enacting the plan unless they make themselves an imminent threat.