You are always at a specific place at a specific time. Wherever you go, there you are.
When introducing the topic of criminal psychology to a class, I often ask students to brainstorm a list of factors that increase the likelihood that an individual will commit a crime. The resulting lists almost always include things like anger problems, resentment toward authority, poverty, and childhood abuse or neglect. But my students are often surprised when I add an additional two factors to the list. I call them “situation and opportunity,” by which I mean the pressures and pulls that come out of simply being at the wrong place at the wrong time, and how that reality of circumstances ineluctably interacts with who you are.
Both of these factors played an important role in the case of George Jugum, the most recent guest on my podcast series. Once a sports celebrity, Jugum’s world was turned upside down one fateful night in 1973 when he found himself at the wrong place at the wrong time. In an act that was one part self-defense, and one-part alcohol induced rage, Jugum killed a man and was sentenced to 30 years in prison. In my interview with George, he describes the events of that night—a night that he earned a label that never fit his understanding of who he was.
I wanted to interview George to highlight the fact that none of us are immune to being “in the wrong place at the right time” and to raise some important questions about the role that personality types play in determining how we respond to difficult circumstances.
To get the most out of our conversation, it’s important to understand a few things about George Jugum.
In his youth, Jugum was a heralded athlete. An All-American linebacker for University of Washington football team, he later played professional football, and was lionized as a hard-hitting, determined player. The famous (and later notorious) O.J. Simpson called him the hardest hitter he had ever encountered on the football field. He was also a well-liked “normal guy” with none of the characteristics that one often associates with a criminal (poverty, childhood abuse and neglect, absence of education, and pervasive anger).
What does help to explain Jugum’s reaction that night is the fact that he is a classic example of what I call “the Hardy individual.” This is a sub-clinical (non-pathological) personality type that describes someone who sees the world in terms of black and white, who is typically optimistic, and who believes in his ability to effectively influence his world and his life. The Hardy individual is not an aggressor, but will vigorously and aggressively defend themselves and their rights. They can be excitable, reactive, and prone to irritability when events or circumstances do not line up with their expectations or values. Their attitudes and thinking styles are divergent from the mainstream culture in some ways, because they are not concerned about the approval or disapproval of most people, including the opinions or views of authority figures. These are traits that are not unusual among individuals with leadership abilities, and are associated with initiative-taking and risk-taking. These individuals tend to have good ego-strength, meaning that they can withstand stress and strain without becoming psychologically or emotionally overwrought. The Hardy individual, unlike the pathological Antisocial and Psychopathic personality disorders, is perhaps ideally suited for elite or Special Forces in the military, for upper-middle management positions in business, and in professions that require fast-paced, difficult decisions that are inherently fraught with conflict and high stakes.
One of the psychological questions raised by this case is if, Mr. Jugum not had these characteristics, would the events of the night of the offense been the same? Would the trial have had the same outcome? Would his course of incarceration been more or less torturous? And if we, for the sake of argument, say he did have these Hardy personality traits in a pronounced way, was it only a matter of time before those traits (and the effects of alcohol) would have resulted in some similar catastrophe?