As one website aptly describes Jeff Cooper’s various color-codes:
By learning to observe your environment, constantly evaluate it, and react appropriately to what you see, you can achieve a large degree of control over your circumstances. This means you need to learn to shift up and down a scale of alertness, so that you can match your level of readiness with the threat level encountered. This is a sliding scale of readiness, going from a state of being oblivious and unprepared to a condition of being ready to instantly do lethal violence if forced. You must learn to go up and down this scale as the situation and circumstances around you change.
Unaware and unprepared. “Daydreaming” or “preoccupied”, oblivious to possible threat. If attacked in Condition White, the only thing that may save you is the inadequacy of your attacker.
Your main enemy is reaction time. If you are not aware of your surroundings, and fail to see the suspicious character, he may overwhelm you before you can effective defend yourself. If you’re caught in Condition White, you will need several seconds to even realize what is happening and respond. You simply don’t have that much time.
When would it be acceptable to be in Condition White? When in your own home, with the doors locked and the alarm on. The instant you leave your home, you escalate one level, to Condition Yellow.
Relaxed alert. There is no specific threat situation. You don’t expect to be attacked, but are simply aware that the world is a potentially unfriendly place and that “today could be the day I may have to defend myself”. You are alert and aware of your surroundings. You are difficult to surprise, so you do not make an easy victim.
You should always be in Yellow whenever you are in unfamiliar surroundings or among people you don’t know. You can remain in Yellow for long periods. In Yellow, you are “taking in” surrounding information in a relaxed but alert manner. When something catches your attention, you assess it. If it’s not a threat, dismiss it. If it is a threat, start getting ready mentally to deal with it.
Anything or anyone in your immediate vicinity that is unusual, out of place, or out of context, should be viewed as potentially dangerous, until you have had a chance to assess it. When you pick up on something that’s out of place, you immediately escalate one level on the scale, to Condition Orange.
Specific alert. Something is not quite right and has your attention. You shift your primary focus to determine if there is a threat. The difference between Yellow and Orange is this specific target for your attention. Your mindset shifts to “I might have to defend myself against that person today”, focusing on the specific target which has caused the escalation in alert status. When you shift upward to Orange, you begin to focus your attention on this individual that caught your eye, but you do not drop your guard. You don’t want to be blind-sided by his friends. You begin to watch him and assess his intentions. Once you figure out he’s not a threat, dismiss him and de-escalate right back down to Yellow.
As you assess, you start to play the “What if….” game in your mind, to begin formulating a basic plan. If he acts suddenly, when you have at least a basic plan for dealing with him already in place, you can react quickly. In Condition Orange, you set a mental trigger: “If that person does “X”, I will need to stop him”. If the threat proves to be nothing, you shift back to Condition Yellow. If, after assessing him, you believe he is an actual threat, you then escalate to the highest level, Condition Red. By having a “pre-made decision” already set up in your mind, you can move physically fast enough to deal with the problem.
Condition Red is the fight or flight. It means stop him or escape. Your mental trigger (established back in Condition Orange) has been tripped. You must act now with a decisive and aggressive action.
The USMC also uses condition Black, although it was not originally part of Cooper’s Color Code.
Catastrophic breakdown of mental and physical performance. Condition Black is when you have not prepared yourself for a violent encounter mentally or through self-defense training and now your mind is overwhelmed with stress, and both your mind and body shut down to any realistic defensive response.
In essence, you become the victim through lack of planning or self defense awareness or planning on your part. Black is is NOT where you want to be.
Interestingly enough, yet ANOTHER insightful Ayn Rand quote:
Reason is the faculty that identifies and integrates the material provided by man’s senses. It is a faculty that man has to exercise by choice. Thinking is not an automatic function. In any hour and issue of his life, man is free to think or to evade that effort. Thinking requires a state of full, focused awareness. The act of focusing one’s consciousness is volitional. Man can focus his mind to a full, active, purposefully directed awareness of reality—or he can unfocus it and let himself drift in a semiconscious daze, merely reacting to any chance stimulus of the immediate moment, at the mercy of his undirected sensory-perceptual mechanism and of any random, associational connections it might happen to make.
When man unfocuses his mind, he may be said to be conscious in a subhuman sense of the word, since he experiences sensations and perceptions. But in the sense of the word applicable to man—in the sense of a consciousness which is aware of reality and able to deal with it, a consciousness able to direct the actions and provide for the survival of a human being—an unfocused mind is not conscious.
Psychologically, the choice “to think or not” is the choice “to focus or not.” Existentially, the choice “to focus or not” is the choice “to be conscious or not.” Metaphysically, the choice “to be conscious or not” is the choice of life or death . . . .
A process of thought is not automatic nor “instinctive” nor involuntary—nor infallible. Man has to initiate it, to sustain it and to bear responsibility for its results. He has to discover how to tell what is true or false and how to correct his own errors; he has to discover how to validate his concepts, his conclusions, his knowledge; he has to discover the rules of thought, the laws of logic, to direct his thinking. Nature gives him no automatic guarantee of the efficacy of his mental effort.
Nothing is given to man on earth except a potential and the material on which to actualize it. The potential is a superlative machine: his consciousness; but it is a machine without a spark plug, a machine of which his own will has to be the spark plug, the self-starter and the driver; he has to discover how to use it and he has to keep it in constant action. The material is the whole of the universe, with no limits set to the knowledge he can acquire and to the enjoyment of life he can achieve. But everything he needs or desires has to be learned, discovered and produced by him—by his own choice, by his own effort, by his own mind . . . .
That which [man’s] survival requires is set by his nature and is not open to his choice. What is open to his choice is only whether he will discover it or not, whether he will choose the right goals and values or not. He is free to make the wrong choice, but not free to succeed with it. He is free to evade reality, he is free to unfocus his mind and stumble blindly down any road he pleases, but not free to avoid the abyss he refuses to see. Knowledge, for any conscious organism, is the means of survival; to a living consciousness, every “is” implies an “ought.” Man is free to choose not to be conscious, but not free to escape the penalty of unconsciousness: destruction. Man is the only living species that has the power to act as his own destroyer—and that is the way he has acted through most of his history.