Sunday, November 1, 2009

Preparedness Angst

At work, we have been having a series of “Neighborhood Resilience Brown Bag Lunch Discussions” over the last several months. Our discussions have covered things like bicycle commuting, peak oil, establishing neighborhood connections, and gardening. Now we have switched gears, and we are starting to discuss the book, Where There Is No Doctor. Our next discussion will be on chapter 11, titled, “Nutrition: What To Eat To Be Healthy.”

I picked up a used copy of the book a few weeks ago, and have been thumbing through it, and I have been struck with the realization of just how fragile human life can be, and how horribly things can go wrong at times. It has been a sobering realization, and I have to confess that sometimes it's hard for me to read certain parts of this book. This is the deeply unsettling part of confronting the possibility of the loss of some of the “complex systems we Americans depend on for everyday life” (to borrow a phrase from another blogger), and of confronting the need to learn real self-reliance. As I read some of the things that can go wrong with a human body, and the actions that an aid worker would have to perform to fix these things, I find myself asking, “Am I really up to this?”

At such times, I am reminded of an article I read about an interview with the captain of United Flight 232, who was able to land his plane in a (somewhat) controlled crash after he lost all of his airplane's hydraulic systems. He noted that, “...we were too busy [to be scared]. You must maintain your composure in the airplane or you will die. You learn that from your first day flying.” (Source: United Airlines Flight 232, Wikipedia) It also occurs to me that our high-tech society has made most of us into wimps. We have become so risk-averse that our idea of “safety” has evolved into dependence on experts with fancy equipment who dispense instant cures for everything.

We ordinary people are going to have to develop a new idea of safety and security: not the removal of all risks from life, but the possession of the competence and skills needed to successfully cope with unsafe and insecure situations. As time passes, it will become increasingly apparent that no one else is going to do it for us. I think we will also have to learn to tolerate uncomfortable situations for the long haul, instead of expecting an instant fix. All of this will take practice, just like the thousands of hours of practice and flight time that prepared the captain of United Flight 232 for that flight.

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