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Wednesday, May 18, 2005

The quick thinking squirrel

It is reported that in adverse situations we tend to stall, as our brains try to grasp what is happening instead of reacting the very next moment. This is caused by a lack of information on what to do next, so we take a few moments to analyze the situation, ask for reassurance, before we can formulate a plan B. For many, these moments of analysis would be their last.

Taken from a Time magazine article 'How to get out alive', May 16, 2005, it reports that during the 9/11 attacks most people inside the building had sufficient time to escape via the fire exits, and stairs, but they froze in shock, trying to grasp what was happening, and seeking affirmation from one another, looking for what to do next. It seems that in moments of shock, we really sit there and do nothing. That is a scary thought to me, asking myself questions like 'what if...?'

We all have this belief that we can overcome any situation, that we are efficient, and better than other people, perhaps it is this mentality that encourages our ever worsening traffic, or perhaps it was the spirit of 'Malaysia boleh' that spurred this bad habit. But in real danger, are we the natural born leaders that these situations will call for?

In a split second, anything can happen that will change your life forever, but what if you had 60? What would you do in that minute? That's the real question here. Because split seconds, although notoriously prevalent in movies, has little impact in real life. Computer simulations are drawn to predict how a crowd would react in the face of adversity, therefore fire exits and escape systems are modeled according to these simulations so in case there is a fire, the people are given sufficient time to exit the building. But most people are in shock. 'What should I take with me?' or the ever popular 'Just stay where you are, things will be better soon.' It is interesting to me that people don't generally scream, as they do in movies, things just get serenely quiet, and people take a while to find out what to do next. But there is no screaming, no panic, just shock, and silence.

Perhaps we are all too carefree. Most people do not think of the consequences of their actions, or don't have the imagination for the what-ifs. People are too busy to generate scenarios in their heads, they rather think about ducks and daffodils. If you are sitting in the plane, it is better to know where the fire exits are, just in case you need to evacuate, because in the event you don't have this information, it is these precious seconds that you will need to analyze where you NEED to exit, and by that time, it may not even be relevant.

In an ever dangerous world we live in, it may not be wise to live in paranoia and fear, but it would be foolish to sneer at the step ahead. We all have an instinct to survive, using it is a good idea. A squirrel flees at the first sign of danger, hopping from one tree to the next. If a squirrel pauses a minute to look at his nuts and whether he should take 'em with him, that would be wrong, don't you think?