Submissions     Contact     Advertise     Donate     BlogRoll     Subscribe                         

Sunday, February 1, 2009

Survivor’s Club

Frozen Rocks

Originally uploaded by nodigio

I teach friends and students and others a variety of observation games because I know that observation is one of the keys to survival. I’ll put the rules to the games we play at the end of this post. Some of the will be familiar to you as children’s games.

I’m not alone in believing that the ability to pay attention to your surroundings is a part of the skill set that will put you in the Survivors Club. This is a fairly exclusive club. Only those who survive serious disasters are part of it. My membership is earned several times over. When I was young, I wrecked a car in the Hartz Mountains of Germany, got lost in the Swiss Alps during a snowstorm, accidentally strayed across the Iron Curtain when it still existed and was captured, and a few other incidents, all the way up to middle age, when I got a duck stuck in my thigh, survived the Murrah Bombing, fell through a ceiling, had a tandem skateboarding accident, and right through to old age, when I was in my first auto accident (not my fault).

What I’ve learned is that we really do control much more of our fate than you might realize. The cosmic coin toss may put you in the path of a crazed duck with a broken beak but you have lots of options about what you will do with that scenario. We may not get to pick our DNA, and we may not always survive the collapse of a bridge or dodge a bullet, but if we survive the initial moments of the event, our chances of survival increase. We are in control of every moment after the crisis part of the event passes.

Consider the pilot on the recent forced landing in the Hudson River. The moment of crisis was when the engines were damaged by the birds. What the pilot did after that moment ensured maximum survival. He kept his wits to plot out what to do, he observed his surroundings for the optimal outcome, and he used his skills to execute a safe landing in as safe a place as he could find. That’s what survivors do.

When I crashed in the Hartz Mountains, I drove off a hairpin turn. I was a novice driver, and it was my first time behind the wheel and I did have an instructor with me. Driving in the mountains was probably not the smartest thing to do, but once the crash was done, we survived by observation and skill – I remembered a house we passed. We bound our wounds and hiked back to the house. They didn’t have a phone, but the next morning, they took us into town, and we salvaged the car and got our injuries properly cared for. Had I not remembered the house – and first aid skills – we might have died on that mountain. Others have. Not far from where we crashed, they found the remains of 2 other wrecks and the people in them. At least 2 of the people did not die immediately.

Every one of my mishaps, accidents, and disasters could have proven fatal. I’m not a particularly brave person, and I’m not particularly tough. There’s a growing field in survival psychology, and their research and studies all seem to indicate that 10% of the people will do what they need to do to survive, 80% will panic, and some of them will luck into surviving, and 10% will do everything wrong and die when they should have easily survived. Within those categories are those who survive, those who never had a chance to survive, and those who could have survived and didn’t. There’s still a lot of debate over whether it’s luck, personality, skill, or some combination of those – or something completely different that contributes to their survival.

Me, I’ll hedge my bets and go with a combination of things. Practicing disaster scenarios helps condition your responses. Practice all kinds of disaster scenarios, not just apocalyptic ones: getting fired, your house burning, being in a car accident, being mugged, choking, all the things you might encounter. But don’t over-practice them, because I think if you rehearse too much, you get stuck in routines and miss obvious opportunities. Build up your knowledge and skills. All knowledge is truly worth having because you never know what bit of trivia may float up and save you. Even if you aren’t skilled, if you’ve only heard about something or read about it, you can most likely use it to save yourself and others. How many times have we read a survivor’s story and the survivor said “I read about X and thought I could do that – and I did and it worked.” Read widely, listen to other survivor stories, pay attention to your surroundings.

That last one is critical. Sometimes, you can survive a disaster simply by being observant and avoiding being involved in the accident. A lot of people have inattentional blindness, they are unaware of things happening around them if they aren’t specifically paying attention to them. If you travel the same route every day, you are less likely to notice minor changes and may not even notice major ones. Your eyes focus clearly on only 2 – 3 degree area around your focal point; the rest is blurred. If you are talking on a cell phone as you drive or walk, you are less aware of your surroundings. A recent study indicated that pedestrians talking on a cell phone were more likely to cross streets when it wasn’t safe to do so. If you are concentrating on one thing, you may block out everything else.

You can train yourself to notice changes around you that could help you survive, to forestall this inattentional blindness, and to widen your visual acuity area.

That’s where these games come in. They are training exercises to increase your memory, your observation skills, and your observational skills.

The first is the old standby children’s game: Memory. If you played this game as a child, you’ll remember that it consists of matched pairs of cards laid randomly face down. You take a turn by turning two cards over. If they match they stay face up. If they don’t match, they both go face down. The point is to remember where each picture is so when you turn over your first card, you can more quickly turn over a second card that matches.

Another is a new game marketed on called Think-ets. This is a small bag of miniature trinkets that have several possible games. One game is to take out a random number of trinkets, scatter them on a small surface, give the players time to see them (start with 45 seconds and reduce the time as you become more skilled), then cover them and have the players write down (or call out) what the items were. An advanced form of this game is to recall not only what the objects were but where they were in relation to one another. One way to play the advanced form is to have the players write or tell where the pieces were. A second way is to scramble the pieces before removing the cover and once they’ve guessed what the pieces were, then have them put the pieces back in their original places. Another is to take a selection of random pieces, scatter them, give people time to see them, then cover the pieces and remove one item. Uncover the pieces and have the players guess what’s missing.

For the hearing, random noises can do the same thing. Collect a variety of everyday noises and some not so obvious ones, then have players guess what the sounds are. Play a random series and have them guess what each sound is and where they may hear those sounds. You can even record the sounds of a regular trip and have the players guess where you are, from where you started to where you ended. Don’t forget the footsteps of people who pass you every day, or the sounds of pets or animals that are around, honking horns, traffic roaring, wind in trees or humming through buildings or sculptures, that sort of thing.

Don’t leave out tactile and scent, either. The same things can be done with the textures of the things you normally touch – from surfaces under your feet to vibration in the air to things you feel on your skin – passing breezes, traffic breezes, regular gusty alleyways, sun orientation, and things you touch with your hands. You can patch together strips of textures, and take walks to feel the differences in walking on cement opposed to tile or dry grass or wet grass or street surfaces. Do this with a trusted friend and a blindfold for both the tactile and scent games.

Consider the smell of the places you go – gasoline, hot tar, fried foods, perfume from the woman who always beats you to the elevator, your co-worker’s aftershave, or the smell of hot paper and ink from the printer. Smells may be a little harder to capture than textures or sounds or sights, but worth the effort. The best way is to simply walk along your routine paths and identify the smells as you go. Do this for each season or weather change so you know how the scent scenery changes.

The more variety and awareness you have about these things, the more likely you are to continue to be aware of them on some level. If you train yourself to recall them in play, being able to recall them in everyday life will be much easier. If you do a check periodically throughout your walk or drive or commute to reaffirm the familiar sights, sounds, scents, and textures, you’ll notice changes and be ready to respond to them. When you see smoke where no smoke should be, you won’t walk heedlessly into the smoke the way so many people did at the King’s Crossing Underground fire back in the 80’s. I remember that and being horrified by the fact that officials kept directing commuters down into the fire and the commuters went, and not one drop of water or one fire extinguisher was used to combat that fire. Thirty some people died, most of them not even aware they were walking to their deaths. They followed their routine in spite of smoke and flames.

Don’t be one of the King’s Crossing Underground railroad victims – be aware of your surroundings and respond to them. And join me in the Survivor’s Club.


No comments:

Post a Comment