Saturday, December 30, 2006
The human condition: Swim or sink
By Guest Consultant Alan Weiss
I generally learn as much or more from fiction as from non-fiction. People like Theodore Dreiser, Henry James, Jane Austin, Thomas Hardy, et. al. help me to understand ethics, relationships, history, and so much more.
I've read the entire Patrick O'Brian series, right down to his unfinished notes for another book, about Jack Aubrey and the British Navy when great sailing ships bounded into harm's way. One of the amazing historical facts is that virtually no British common seaman knew how to swim. In an age when a sinking boat meant almost certain death, these sailors couldn't swim a mile to a beach or even a hundred yards to floating wreckage or a stray boat.
Although the admiralty never thought it necessary to teach the skill, surely the sailors could readily have learned it during the long assignments when ships were often becalmed for days on end.They didn't.I meet a lot of people like those sailors.
On the lighter side, there's the20-year airline ticket clerk, still using one finger to type and taking five times aslong, never having bothered to learn to type despite it being a key element in thejob. On the darker side, there is the teacher who never did understand the need for testing understanding, and never got around to mastering it, thereby undermining learning.
One day I became furious at myself for never remembering when it was "stationery" and when it was "stationary," so I taught myself a mnemonic to remember it. ("Letter" has an "er" in it.) I'm a superb parallel parker, and Isit astounded in traffic held up by a birdbrain who is trying to enter a parking space head-first because parallel parking is not something they've ever bothered to learn.
There are people who can't do multiplication in their heads and whocan'tfile alphabetically without repeating the entire alphabet until they arrive atthe letter they're seeking.If you insist on being the bartender at the party but have to keep apologizing because you can't make a margarita, I have a suggestion: Either stop being the bartender or learn to mix a margarita, which I'm pretty sure is somewhat easier than splitting an atom.
While it may seem astonishing to you that sailors, whose lives were spent on the ocean, never learned to swim, then contemplate the fact that I constantly meet department store clerks who have no idea where anything is.
A waitress (Oops! -- Server? Waitperson? Watron? Serving wench?) in the southern reaches of England once replied to my question, "What kind of cheese is on the cheeseburger?" with the single word, "Melted." When I asked what KIND of melted cheese, she said, shocked, "Why, I'm sure I don't know!" Well, that's two of us,isn't it?I have no idea why people make little attempt to master the simple things in the environment which can vastly improve their lives and, perhaps, even save them. I mean, you'd think people would rather swim, than sink, wouldn't you?