How did we lose the meaning of urgency so easily? Are our lives so full of demands and emergencies that even a catastrophe has to schedule its crisis on your timetable? I’m asking you this question after three events prompted me to look at my own response to alarm bells. I had to ask myself ‘Did you hear that alarm?’ These three events all took place over a weekend and each surprised me as I looked at how the ‘pack’ nonchalantly ignored the warning signs. Now don’t get me wrong. I’m asking myself some pretty strong questions here. Bottom line – Do I Care?
Every week I have a disaster in my kitchen. The fire alarm goes off repeatedly. But it doesn’t stop me being adventurous.
– Paul O’Grady
Now the danger of all the ‘alarms’ going off around us is that many, just like the examples below, never actually come to dangerous fruition. So how do we deal with the daily ‘boy who cried wolf’. If you haven’t read the Aesops Fable of a boy who meets his demise from crying false alarms then you should allow yourself this pleasure. What the young boy saw as a prank later led to his desperate need being ignored. So what of our needs? Are we selfish or stupid? Read on and be my judge.
IKEA: Did You Hear that Alarm?
The first alarm occurred when we were walking through one of Australia’s largest IKEA furniture stores. If you’ve ever experienced the IKEA retail manipulation that turns shoppers into maze rats you’ll know what I mean. You go in one end a four-kilometre walk later you should emerge. Now there are a few shortcuts and the obligatory emergency exits but the plan is to funnel you past every buying opportunity.
We were two-thirds through our shopping adventure when the fire alarm began. Not only did the alarm sound but we got a package deal with a calm robotic voice at regular intervals telling us to proceed calmly to the nearest exit. Did we run in a panic? Did we trample the children in our rush to escape the foreboding tragedy? Was there a heroic courtesy of ‘women and children first’? No to all of the above. We kept on shopping! This was one of the few hours in our busy week and we planned to make the most of it. I was perplexed by the irony of my own hypocrisy. I looked around at the massive number of shoppers. All, like I, were casually trying out furniture, checking colour schemes, managing their children and generally proceeding oblivious to any impending doom. We walked past a fire exit door with a clear window to a safe outside world. I looked around and as no one moved I carried on past the escape hatch with my family safely alongside.
Dick Smith Electronics: Did You Hear that Alarm?
A few days later and we were shopping in a Dick Smith Electronics store. This time we weren’t in danger but the same blasé attitude continued. This time the alarm of a cabinet securing high-value items was beeping so the whole shop knew it. Had the treasure cabinet been emptied of its bullion or was it simply a faulty switch? The staff obviously have this happening twenty times a day because nobody checked the cabinet and customers walked by with no concern, empathy or alarm.
I hate alarms. If they go off I get really tetchy. I hate them. They just get me going, I’m hyper at the best of times, but they drive me mad.
– Kirsty Gallacher
This left me wondering on a number of levels. Do the staff care for their employer? Do they feel they have the best interest of the store in mind as they work there? After all losses in any business add up to a smaller bottom line. But if these staff feel so hard done by that they can’t go any lower, are they simply ignoring the best interest of the employer’s stock and business. Maybe that’s being too hard but I didn’t see staff trying to assure the customers and to be fair the customers were happy to ignore a possible robbery as long as it wasn’t an armed hold-up to inconvenience their shopping day out.
Supermarket Car-park: Did You Hear that Alarm?
Our final event happened a few days later but actually happens all the time. The modern car is invested with an alarm device that works inside and out of the vehicle to help eliminate accidents in the driveway or supermarket car park. The reversing alarm is a beeper that is meant to remind you you’re going backwards and elevate you to a higher level of careful driving. Also, it is meant to warn children and pedestrians that you are reversing and they should remove themselves from your path of destruction. As I was backing out of a carpark at the local supermarket, I noticed not one but two lots of people treat the reverse beeping as not a ‘beware’ sound but rather a ‘speed-up’ and zip across the pathway. Of course, that meant I have to stop-start as someone will have to give way today.
It’s the same when we a confronted by the amber traffic light, warning us to slow down, but instead we speed up. Isn’t that the same for everything from Christmas shopping to taking on more jobs to get more status or fund a mortgage? When we see the warning signs to ‘slow down’ we turn the ‘crazy dial’ and speed up. They say that the litigious nature of American culture means people advise their children not to stop for potential hurt such as at the scene of a traffic accident. Is it because of the fear the incident could be set up? Is it the potential lawsuit for hurting someone as you help them? Probably the key reason is that trauma will become a drama in our busy lives. After all “is it worth the trouble”?
As I’ve thought through the circumstance that brought each of these situations about I can see three things that need attention. Maybe this is the cure or just the bucket of water we need to be poured on our collective heads.
- We have limited time and we spend it isolated from the good or bad that is happening around us.
- We care only about ourselves and so we assess our own danger and predicament according to our values and no one or no impersonal alarm will tell us what to do with our day.
- We believe we can’t be hurt because we live in a modern world where our houses have safety switches, our cars have airbags and we don’t believe in Hell.
To notice we need to be aware. To act on what we notice we need to be flexible. Let’s be aware of how flexible we need to be.
Did You Hear that Alarm?
Can you think of a time you heard an alarm or had a warning from someone and ignored it? Tell me your story in the comments window below.