Friday, October 26, 2012

The Only Rule

As a young child growing up in the 1950’s, I used to believe that there were lots of rules. Years later, with decades of life experience behind me, I have decided that there is only one rule that counts: PAY ATTENTION. In the natural world, attention and alertness are qualities that keep animals safe. While a wild creature loses the ability to notice and approaching predator or to find food and shelter, its days are numbered. Here in the developed world we have able-bodied people walking into walls or in front of cars because they are totally engrossed in their cell phones.

The other day I saw a pleasant sight. A young mother was walking down the street with her little boy, holding him by the hand. Then I noticed that her other hand was holding a cell phone to the side of her head as she continued a conversation. Was the little boy aware that he was being ignored? A recent article cites studies showing that children take more risks when they’re not being watched. Over the past five years, the number of unintentional injuries to children under five has sharply increased after years of decline. Some researchers believe that this change may be related to texting while parenting.

Many people believe that they are proficient multitaskers but most of them are wrong. Research has shown that only about 2.5% of the population can juggle several activities at once; “our brains are wired for ‘selective attention’ and can focus on only one thing at a time.”A driver talking on a cell phone may actually not see another car up ahead. In a column entitled “Yes, Sell All My Stocks. No, the 3:15 From JFK. And Get Me Mr. Sister.” Jared Sandberg tells a series of hilarious and unsettling anecdotes illustrating the hazards of multitasking.One marketing firm actually sent direct mail offers to 4000 nuns with the greeting, “Dear Mr. Sister.”>

The effects of divided attention are also apparent in the medical care business. The connection between doctor and patient is central to the healing process but that relationship is now being curtailed to fifteen-minute meetings devoted to reviewing test results and prescribing drugs. The radiologist who told me I might have breast cancer did not turn off his cell phone during our conversation and it rang once while we talked. Maybe that was part of the reason why I asked for a second opinion (rightly, as it turned out). If I’m having a routine physical and the doctor gets an urgent call, I don’t mind waiting for a few minutes, but what could be more important than telling someone that they might have a fatal illness?

The following incident was reported in the 10/6/12 issue of the Bloomington Herald-Times.  Auto technician Tracy Grubb was driving home along a rural road and noticed a man lying on the ground next to his truck near the side of the road.  By stopping and offering help, he probably saved the life of William Fox, who had suffered an allergic reaction from a bee sting.  Grubb later noted that about 30 cars had driven past while he was waiting for the ambulance.  He said, “I don’t feel that I done anything special or anything.  I was just paying attention while I was driving.”

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