Tuesday, February 9, 2010

AWARENESS - Fish, Birds, Drunk Drivers and Rapists

Not long ago I posted an article about awareness - how to focus on what you're doing so that you remember it in the future.

I've also been thinking about another aspect of awareness - our ability to achieve a more detailed awareness, which can reveal more of reality to us.

My wife and I are SCUBA divers. I've been diving since 1996 and have about 250 dives. Kathleen has been diving since the 1970s and has well over a thousand dives. She was a student in the first REEF (Reef Environmental Education Foundation) Fish Identification class back in the mid-90s.

When we began diving together, she taught me how to identify hundreds of species of fish. Up to that point diving was just one big amazing surreal experience. Being eyeball-to-eyeball with lots of fishies. Big ones and little ones. That was the extent of it. Which was fine. I enjoyed the hell out of it....

Then she taught me the difference between the major fish groups - damsels, grunts, butterfly fish, and so forth. Then I learned how to identify 5 kinds of damsels, 8 kinds of grunts and 6 kinds of butterfly fish. It took a while, but after a while I could recognize the smallest differences at a glance. It was a different level of awareness, a whole new way of looking at fish. I learned to see what other people couldn't.

Since then, we've added birdwatching to our activities. Now, instead of seeing "big birds in the sky," we see 10 kinds of hawks. We see dozens of different warblers. Six kinds of woodpeckers, and so forth. In our yard in Texas, we've seen over 80 species of birds. Because we've sharpened our awareness, instead of seeing a bunch of LBJs ("little brown jobs"), we see chipping sparrows, song sparrows and clay-colored sparrows.

Some people get doctorates in entomology and can identify over 100 different kinds of mosquitoes. Other people learn to identify hundreds of species of trees. To us they are just mosquitoes and trees. To the experts, it's a multifaceted reality, a level of awareness that helps them do good in the world and enjoy it more at the same time.

Musicians learn the subtleties of tone. Home inspectors learn to spot deficiencies in construction. Highway patrolmen learn the nuances of driver behavior, which helps them spot drunk drivers. Soldiers in combat learn to spot IEDs (improvised explosive devices), a level of awareness that can save their lives.

It's just one of the amazing things the human brain can do. We can learn to see what's out there more clearly.

So here are some questions for you. Do you have a family? Do you have children or grandchildren? Would you like to prevent them from harm, keep them safe and secure?

Do you know how to recognize when you're in a dangerous part of a big city? Do you see the tell-tale signs? Do you know what a potential convenience store robbery situation looks like? Do you know what a child's behavior looks like when he or she is using drugs? Do you know how to recognize the nonverbal behavior of a rapist or a child molester? There are dozens of things we could learn a lot more about which would help us see signs of danger and take appropriate action before it happens.

It seems to me that we shouldn't take awareness lightly. I've learned that sharpening my awareness skills can make my life richer. Now I'm thinking that it can keep us out of harm's way, too.


Meredith Bell said...

Such important insights, Denny. Of course, loving birds and fish as you do, I related to how you learned to move from generally "seeing" them to truly noticing the details and differences. That kind of awareness has really enriched my life, and I continue to learn more about birds as I study them more closely. Good suggestions on other ways to use awareness in our every-day lives.

Sean said...

Awareness also applies at the macro level, not just the micro... so many people fail to see the big picture because they're focused on minute details. In many cases people struggle with minor details every day while their problems are based on something much more fundamental that they can't even see, because they don't step back and look at the greater whole.

Denny Coates said...

That's a good point Sean, that one needs conceptual strength as well as perceptual strength. Perspective, vision, wisdom, understanding.

Kathleen Scott said...

You're right about safety. Awareness can make the difference between being a victim and a survivor.

But in a more momentary sense, awareness is the sharp edge of reality that refreshes us from the beauty of the world.