We had a sermonette yesterday given by one of the deacons in our congregation, and it dealt with a subject that I have long pondered in one form or another. There are essentially three types of instincts that one can have in life, and this is true whether one is a human being or any other form of conscious and motive life. The most common sort of instincts are the prey instincts of flight, fight, or freeze. The fact that these are our native instincts suggests something about human beings that is not the case for other animals that are typically considered as fellow apex predators. We do not tend to find, for example, among giant cats or sharks or alligators the same sort of timidity that we often find among human beings. That is not to say that human beings are not consummate predators , but it is rather to say that human beings have plenty of experience as both predators and prey, and there are a great many people who have never acquired much in the way of predator instincts who nonetheless benefit in some way from the general reputation of humanity in their dealings with most of life. We receive a great deal of respect, if not fear, from other being simply because we are human beings and are capable of doing great harm even if we are not inclined to do harm to the creatures that we encounter throughout the course of our lives.
Predator instincts are, it should be noted, the sort of instincts that put others in danger. It requires us to stalk our prey, to ponder their habits and observe and exploit their vulnerabilities. Those who are not predators tend to feel somewhat frightened, naturally, at these instincts, but this need not be the case. Predators can be limited in their damage by acting intelligently with the realization that we know ourselves to be potentially vulnerable and to act in ways to decrease that vulnerability and make us a less easy target, thus encouraging the predator to seek easier prey that does not include ourselves. Besides the fact that predators tend to act out of convenience sake and can therefore be potentially handled by things that make their predation less convenient, predators are also blind to the fact that they indeed are potential prey as well. It is easy to fancy ourselves to be beyond being preyed upon if we look down on others whom we prey upon not to realize that others may think the same about us.
It should go without saying, of course, that prey instincts are often not helpful at all. To be sure, many of us know what it is like to feel overwhelmed by adrenaline and unable to respond intelligently to the dangers that we face. This is all the more the case when we have the experience of having been preyed upon before. This sort of learned helplessness, as it is called, makes it very easy for other predators in the future to take advantage after a first one has terrorized someone as prey, and this sort of thing can be picked up on by others through observation. The fact that responding in a panicked or frightened way tends to take away from our toolbox the most powerful tools that humanity has regarding reason and insight and intellect, it is obvious that prey instincts are not helpful when it comes to dealing with danger. Yet knowing it is not helpful to adopt prey instincts does not mean that we know how thinks should respond in such circumstances.
If we do not wish to be predators or prey, we are left to determine other ways to respond. And it is important to realize in this life we are not limited to the motives of predator or prey. We neither need to seek to create danger for others by preying on them or be easy targets for the efforts of other people to victimize us. But this requires in many ways that we work against our instincts to run away from danger and instead move towards it, not creating it, but responding to it with courage and strength. Indeed, those who like to intimidate others are often greatly intimidated themselves when others respond without aggression but also without fear. And the stories that our sermonette speaker had dealt with precisely such subjects in precisely such ways, talking about experiences that he personally had in moving towards danger rather than running away from it and making things worse, and also providing other examples of people who had moved towards danger rather than following the normal human prey instinct and making things worse by attempted flight. We can thus gain insight that it is best neither to seek harm to others nor to be a victim of such harm, but to respond in such a way that our reason and intellect remain intact and that we show enough courage to deter others from seeking to make a prey of us. For to be fully human in a moral sense it is important that we neither be predators nor prey, but something outside of either.
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