Mundane Things

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I had a long night Friday, and a funny conversation on my way home. I'd managed to nip out of work a bit early and pick up my son from school. We beat Friday gridlock out of town, bound for our "local" REI store, which is over an hour away in Indianapolis, IN. Too much driving for my taste, but I'd failed to notice Littlefish outgrowing his good hiking boots, and needed a replacement in time to have them broken in by next week.

Shopping was followed by dinner nearby with a friend we don't see often enough, after which we headed home with hope of arriving in time to get Littlefish tucked into bed at the usual hour.

Then there was traffic.

Friday night plus highway construction was exacerbated by a disabled vehicle in the left lane about a quarter-mile before the right lane ended. I rolled my eyes and pulled over, got another vehicle to block the traffic trying to go around on the shoulder (blocking any movement of the disabled vehicle), had the disabled vehicle's driver pop it into neutral, and got Littlefish to help me push. Another motorist stopped and helped, making it a trivially easy job. Traffic started moving again. A few miles later, I came across roughly the same scenario but with a less clueful driver. Same routine: make sure no one's hurt, move the vehicle, make sure the driver's got a tow or some appropriate help on the way, move on.

Once my little passenger was out like a light, I chatted on the phone to stave off boredom. It was, after all, a pretty mundane evening...or so I thought. The friend I chatted with found it far more interesting. He thinks I'm a little crazy in general, though. He told me that he'd never stop for a stranger like that. "What if they were an axe murderer? Or a kidnapper? What if there was a medical emergency and you made it worse? Also, you just taught your kid that it's okay to get out of the car by a highway."

This same friend has argued that skills such as assessing threats, providing first aid, dealing with violence, and doing disaster management aren't worth investing in because the sort of extreme situation that calls for such skills is rare and none of my business. I used many of those skills on this boring Friday night:

  • I assessed the potential threat posed by each situation. Neither driver sent up any red flags, neither scenario made sense as a set-up for predation, and in neither case was the traffic moving fast enough for me to be uncomfortable teaching my son to deal with a new scenario on the fly.

  • I was comfortable checking on the occupants of each vehicle because I know that I can competently provide first aid if needed, and just as importantly know what not to do so that I wouldn't make paramedics' jobs any harder.

  • I was comfortable that if violence, though extremely unlikely, did become a factor, I could de-escalate the situation or handle it in a way that effectively protected my son. I took some precautions such as keeping him out of line of sight until I'd checked on the driver.

  • I put on that air of authority that got non-sheepdogs to take useful action (such as blocking traffic on the shoulder) despite my not having any standing at all to order them around.

So, yes, it was a mundane thing. It was mundane because I have nurtured skills for much more interesting (in the sense of the Irish curse) times. Most people drive by simple problems like this because they don't feel they have the authority to step in, or are afraid that the problem might turn into something they can't handle. This is a connection I find hard to explain to non-sheepdogs in a way they'll internalize: Training for and learning to work in extreme situations makes us better at dealing with mundane ones, and furthermore shifts many situations from the "dangerous" category to "mundane, low-risk, and slightly annoying".

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