Uhh…hey guys.

I haven’t posted anything here in a while due to the minor annoying distraction of college classes.  Taking this long to post something new feels a little like I’ve invited someone to my home, and then gone to the movie theater with them still sitting in my living room.  Is it presumptuous to think that I’ve actually found people that would be willing to read what I write about?  Being that I want to be a novelist someday, I’d hope not.

Don’t worry, though.  Come the new year, I’ll have my priorities straight.  Blog first, then college.

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Situational Awareness

(A Rant)

I’ve given this quite a bit of thought and maybe…maybe I’m not being fair.

For those of you that don’t know, I spent four years in the Army and four years working as a civilian on a military base.  The Army, as the saying goes, breaks you down so they can build you back up…the way they want you.  You have to learn to do everything all over again.  There’s a proper way to tie your shoes.  There’s a certain way to wear your clothes.  There’s the correct way to talk and to walk and, in some situations, to breathe.  Some–no, most of these things are useless in the real world, but there was one thing that I learned in the military that has clung tenaciously to my subconscious and I hope it never lets go.  I’ll call this thing: “situational awareness.”

I remember many days of training on, say, the proper maintenance and operation of an M-16.  Training on any particular subject would be followed by weeks of reinforcement by our ever-watchful and constantly enraged drill sergeants.  Should any unfortunate private happen to forget a minor matter of protocol, a drill sergeant would set them on the straight-and-narrow again with a barrage of expletives and personal insults.  The same was true for any number of things the military had deemed necessary for us to learn.  Situational awareness never came up in training, but we all learned it quickly.

To give you an idea of what I’m talking about, I’ll give you an example.  Say that you go to, I don’t know, Wal-mart and you’re there for, let’s say…toilet paper.  That’s the only thing you need: toilet paper.  You came all the way out here to Wal-mart for toilet paper and that’s it.  You just want to buy it and go home without delay (presumably to make use of your purchase).

You find yourself behind a group of people in a narrow aisle.  Without much warning, this group of people stops and does anything but get out of your way.  It could be that they’re trying to remember what it was they came here to buy and they’re having a discussion about it.  It could be that they’ve just run into another group of people they know and they’re catching up.  Whatever it is that they’re doing, it has nothing to do with you, and it certainly is not expediting the purchase of your toilet paper in any manner whatsoever.  The aisle (which is utterly inescapable aside from the way you’re going and the way you came) is now blocked thanks to the mouth-breathers in front of you.  You get an idea that these people might need toilet paper too, judging from the useless twaddle coming out of their mouths and what is probably between their ears.

Of course, this isn’t a doomed situation.  Usually a simple, “Excuse me,” gets you past without much static–once you say it enough times to stop their yammering.  But honestly, should it really come to that?  Shouldn’t you realize that this aisle was not built with you and only you in mind?  Shouldn’t you realize that, since you’re in public, maybe you should take a look around?  Shouldn’t you–and I know this is going to sound crazy–think that there are other people than just you in existance?

It seems incredibly unnecessary to go to the effort of making the following diagram.  However, considering that this post itself seems necessary, visual aids might be needed as well.  Consider Figure 1.

Figure 1

Consider that you (A) have just walked into a bar. In front of you is a gaggle of people vaguely resembling a small European country for some reason (B).  (The resemblance to a European country is coincidental.  These are the pitfalls of working with a fifth-rate artist who shrugs and thinks it’s good enough for some blog post (namely: me).)  Note the natural walkway (C) that B is blocking.  You could go around, there aren’t that many people in this bar, but that means shuffling sideways past chairs and excusing yourself to people sitting at tables.  Those at tables look at you and, though they’re smiling on the outside as the scoot forward for you, they’re annoyed on the inside.  These people are thinking, “Why don’t you just use the walkway between the tables instead of bothering me?  Can’t you see that I’m with friends here?  You’re interrupting my conversation…you douchebag.”

Yeah.  Now you’re the douchebag instead of the heard of douchebags blocking your path to the bar.

[Tangent: a group of douchebags should be referred to as a “Doucheberg.”  Tell your friends, pass it on.]

This doucheberg should collectively consider where they are, think that maybe they’re not standing in the best spot and move along somewhere–I don’t know–where they wouldn’t be inconveniencing every patron that walks through the door.

NORAD doors (not a standard door)

Here’s a very simple example.  Double doors.  Fully functioning double doors.  Here’s thirty or so people trying to go through these doors and no one, not a soul, coming out.  Why is it that most of these people would rather wait for a door to be opened for them, than to use other door (remember, double doors means “two doors”).  It’s not like these are the doors at NORAD.  These are not the doors at Fort Knox.  These are doors that children can open.  Hell, if there’s a button, they open for you!  But no.  No.  People (some people, anyway) would rather wait twice as long while inconveniencing a multitude of others, just so long as they don’t have to burn the handful of calories it would take to open the other one.

There’s two doors.  If no one is coming out the other, use both.  See?  Situational awareness.

At this point, you might be thinking that I’m being too sensitive.  You might be thinking that I should just take it easy, right?  You might be thinking that I should just stop, smell the roses and appreciate what I have while I have it and let those others alone.

Sure.  And when the Doucheberg rises to power, I should just let it ride, right?  And when the Doucheberg orders me to live in only one specific part of town, I should comply.  Judengasse, huh?  Sounds fun!  And when the train shows up and they tell me to get on, sure, I should hop on and just enjoy the scenic ride to the Douche-Führer’s death camp!  No…not this guy.  Not this guy.

Okay.  Maybe I’m being overly dramatic.  Maybe I’m not being fair.  This brings me to where I started from.

It’s hard to describe exactly the fear and terror that a drill sergeant can instill in an unsuspecting and more-or-less naive private.  To an eighteen-year-old kid in boot camp, a drill sergeant is a whirling dervish of doom and utter despair.  Drill sergeants are the epitome of dark evil and red malice.  A drill sergeant with a soldier at their whim is more maniacal than the most ill-tempered, sadistic tomcat with a mouse in its jaws–in only one way.  That tomcat will eventually put an end to that mouse.  A soldier is always ready to go.

So, naturally, when a drill sergeant tells a group of privates to, “make a hole,” they do so without thinking and get the hell out of that drill sergeant’s way.  When a drill sergeant tells a group of privates to form a line for something, those privates do so hugging a wall, without getting in anyone’s way–let alone one of those men wearing the brown hats.  Should that line cut in front of a door, a space is left so that anyone needing to go into that door can still get past.  Leaving a space for the door is done so without being told.

This man likes you. He would like to introduce you to his sister.

This sort of mentality was drilled into me (pardon the pun) throughout basic training.  You were never safe from the wrath of the drills, so it helped to have eyes in the back of your head.  I remember jerking my head around behind me a few times, thinking that one of the drills was creeping up and about to unleash some godawful horror on me.  When I looked, it was just another private.  A private like me.

There were times that I would be in the chow hall and standing in front of the soda machine, not sure if I wanted Coke or Sprite.  A tap would come down on my shoulder and I would jump and give an almost inaudible whimper.  When I looked behind me, I saw a private with a plastic cup in his hand and Mr. Pibb on his mind.  A private like me.

There were times that I would be standing in the middle of one of those natural walkways with my brain elsewhere, and I’d hear footsteps behind me.  I would make a hole before one of those evil bastards could tell me, hoping that I wouldn’t end up in the grass doing tortuous physical agony that they had just now invented when they saw me.  I would turn to see just another private walking down the sidewalk.  A private like me.

Eventually, I got to where I stopped expecting a drill sergeant and did what I did as a matter of course.  If someone at point A was going to point C, and I just happened to be meandering somewhere around point B, I’d move for them.  After all, most people, when I look at things broadly enough, aren’t so different from me.  You.  Me.  Them.  Everybody.

I’m not at all suggesting something akin to all of us standing under a rainbow, holding hands and singing “Kum-by-ya.”  All I’m suggesting is that these little things that are slowly chipping away at what’s left of my sanity are easy fixes.  These are things people could easily do, but refuse to on a regular basis.

And it’s not fair.  It’s not fair, not only to these recidivist douchebags but also to most decent people.  What’s not fair, the real injustice, is not that other people don’t do and think exactly what I do (though personally, I think it’s a bit of a shame).  It took the fear of…well, not God, but certainly a hearty handful of demigods disguised as drill sergeants dispensing their harsh judgment for this to be driven into my head.  It took months of being terrorized by scary men in funny hats for me to start really thinking of other people.  That’s the real shame.

“If people are good only because they fear punishment, and hope for reward, then we are a sorry lot indeed.” – Albert Einstein

These are easy fixes.

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