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why can’t we see the signs?

September 28, 2010

I recently participated in a Positive Communities Forum that looked at the concept of eco-retrofitting of commercial and residential buildings.

I was part of a group that was looking at issues from the perspective of biodiversity loss and much of what we talked about seemed to centre around communicating to people the importance and value of biodiversity. Efforts in recent years to reduce Brisbane’s water consumption in response to the drought was cited as a successful program in changing people’s behaviour and one that might be applied to biodiversity.

There wasn’t enough time to talk about the fact that it required things to get to the point where the whole of Brisbane was facing the very real and immanent prospect of no drinking water for the Government and the wider population to sit up and take notice. The signs had been there for years but we couldn’t see them.

Our over-consumption of biodiversity is another one of those situations. People will say that it is all too big, too hard to get our head around. A recent story on the decline of northern Australian ecosystems includes this quote from Professor John Woinarski:

It’s perplexing. Much of the landscape still looks extraordinarily intact and natural and extensive and beautiful, but some of the species are clearly falling out of that landscape. It’s been a difficult task for us to figure out what’s causing that decline, given the apparent naturalness of landscape.”

We can’t actually see the signs around us yet so how can we be expected to take notice of them?

Until recently I would have said people choose to ignore the signs that are clearly there. But a couple of recent events have got me thinking that is not the case and that the problems we face in sharing our message with others (whatever your message might be) are a lot bigger than that…

Keeping people safe in manufacturing environments is an ongoing challenge. A friend told me recently of a multinational who kicked off a week-long safety initiative with a town hall style meeting for everyone working in the organisation. Attendance was pretty much mandatory so to accommodate the larger than usual numbers who would attend an area was set aside in the warehouse.

By all reports the meeting went very well. At the end one employee took the microphone and asked a simple question.

In coming to this meeting, who came into the warehouse through the boom-gates?

A large number of people indicated they had – they had come from other buildings and it was the obvious and shortest route to the meeting.

Who saw the ‘pedestrian access prohibited’ signs?

A significant proportion said they had. A large number had not. Either way it represents a significant challenge to those who are given the job of helping people to stay safe. I suppose a large number had seen the signs and decided to ignore them because it was just easier.

But what about those who said they hadn’t seen the signs? Really? They had to walk right past them. Surely they had seen them …

Because I had another appointment on the other side of town after the Positive Communities Forum I drove and parked in the city. I parked and gave my early-bird extra discount voucher to the attendant who gave me a $6 discount card in return and told me I should use it after I inserted my validated ticket at the pay station. “This afternoon when I leave?“, “Yep, use the discount one when you pay.” Off I went to my forum making a note of the location of the pay station I passed on the way.

Early bird rates only apply if you stay until after 3 pm and as I was back in the car park a little early I put my bag in the car and followed my morning route to the pay station to wait for 3 pm to tick over.

On the way I noticed five different signs all informing me that to take advantage of early-bird rates I need to validate my ticket immediately – before leaving the car park. Five! The attendant told me to do it and I walked past five signs on my way out that morning and I still didn’t see them.

My failure to see the signs tripled the cost of my parking that day. For the employees at the safety meeting the cost was a small measure of public embarrassment. A small price given the obvious lack of attention.

In the Samurai Game a lack of attention can cost you your (metaphorical) life. At home, at work, in relationships, in life in general a lack of attention can cost us our lives, or worse, the life of someone we love.

In Aldus Huxley’s book Island there are birds that have been trained to call “Attention. Attention.

I hope that this post will do the same and help you to avoid the pain (thanks Little Brother) that will come unless you:

… pay attention;

… look for the signs;

… take action to keep yourself and the ones you love safe.

At the very least you will avoid the pain of missing out on the early bird parking rates.


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