Watch Your Step
This morning, as I was out on my normal morning, pre dawn walk, I witness a potentially devastating event. Just as I was walking past this apartment complex, an older middle-aged woman had just begun to start walking down the stairs. In both hands were bags that were overflowing with stuff. Just then, she tripped, and fell rather quickly straight onto her face, causing her head to twist at a strange angle. Because her hands were full, she couldn’t do anything to protect her self. As soon as her body slammed face first half way down the stairs, her momentum kept her turning as did another flip, landing on her back at the bottom of the stairs.
I remember a few years ago I used to be big into cycling. I had a mountain bike with slick tires. I got a mountain bike because there were quite a few extremely steep hills in my neighborhood, and I quite enjoyed riding up and down hills. With a regular road bike, the gear ratio wouldn’t have been enough to tackle some of the steepest hills.
I had been riding a hundred miles a week or so when I decided to add some extra components to my bike. The one I bought hadn’t been anywhere close to a top of the line model. More like a weekend hacker model. I bought some handle bar extensions, and some toe clips for the pedals. The handle bar extensions and the toe clips were for when I rode long, flat distances on the weekends. Usually to the beach and back.
So I got my toe clips, and went home to put them on. I read the instructions, which warned very severely of the dangers of not knowing how to get out of them in a hurry. I rode in a couple of circles taking them on and off. There was a special twisting motion you had to do. You had to kind of push down and twist out. At first it took a while, but with practice you can get out relatively quickly. I hadn’t got that far yet.
So I went off riding. It was about 6 pm on a weekday. Heavy traffic of people driving home from work. I decided to ride on one of my many hill routes. So I started off, and came to this really long hill. Just at the top, where it flattens out before going downhill, there is a big intersection. There are two lanes dedicated to turning right, and there isn’t a bike lane or a sidewalk. So if you are on a bicycle, and you want to go straight, you have to position yourself between the two rows of cars turning right, and the three rows of cars going straight.
Here’s the funny part. As I came to the top of the hill, I wasn’t going nearly fast enough to coast to a stop. As soon I stopped pedaling, my momentum would quickly die. Just as I stopped pedaling, I remembered I had my toe clips, but unfortunately, I didn’t remember until it was too late. Just as I tried to remember how to get out of them, I fell crashing to the ground.
What was interesting was, despite, the surprise, shock, and mild pain, the first thought to enter my mind was “I hope nobody saw that.” When I disconnected my feet from the pedals, I grabbed the stuff that had fallen out of my pocket, and stood back up. I briefly checked to see if I was bleeding, then I did my best to pretend that nothing happened. I didn’t want to look at anybody in the many cars around me, because I was sure my ego wouldn’t be able take it if somebody was laughing at me (just as I would likely be laughing at somebody in my own predicament). So anyway, I rode off, making sure to practice getting in and out of my pedal at every opportunity. I got pretty good at it, even though I fell over once more a couple days later. Luckily, there was nobody around.
I also remember a couple years ago I was running on a playground with some kids. I ran too fast for my own good, and suddenly felt an extremely sharp explosion of pain in my right hamstring, causing me to immediately collapse into a heap on the ground, screaming in pain. I remember then a completely different thought entered into my brain. I didn’t care if anybody saw me, I didn’t care if anybody was laughing at me, I didn’t care if I bothered anybody with my screaming. All I knew was that I was in pain, and I wasn’t going to do a goddamn thing until the pain went away. I would have lain their screaming until somebody called an ambulance if that’s what it took.
Luckily, however, with a few moments the pain subsided enough for me to stand on my own, and limp rather painfully to bench where I could sit down. As it turned out, I only pulled it; I didn’t rip it or anything. I just had to limp around for a couple of days.
Two different accidents, and two completely different automatic thoughts. One to protect the ego, and one to protect the physical body.
So when I saw the poor woman finally come to a seemingly painful halt at the bottom of the stairs, my first thought was how I was going to get an ambulance. I didn’t have a cell phone, and it was still dark, so there weren’t very many people around. Just as I was considering that, she brought her self up to a sitting position, and rubbed her hands over her face, looking at them, apparently checking for blood. No blood. I went over an asked her if she was OK, and she said she was, in a kind of a tone that made it seem like she was brushing me off. Then after another check for blood, she grabbed her things and started putting them back into her bag. I tried to tell her to rest for a bit, just to make sure she was OK, but she insisted she was. After she collected her stuff, she went to her bike a rode off to what I assume is her job.
At first, I admit, I was a little miffed that she didn’t thank me at all for coming to her aid, (even though I didn’t do anything) until I realized this was clearly the first kind of accident, where the first thought is to hope that nobody saw you, in order to protect your ego. Which is obviously much better than screaming for an ambulance.
As I continued on with my walk this morning, I thought how that is a pretty good example of many unconscious strategies that humans have developed over the years. In this particular case, the strategy seems to be:
Accident –> Check for damage –> Collect your stuff –> Keep going.
Or, in my playground example
Accident –> Scream bloody murder until help arrives, or until accident is downgraded to category one.
Not a bad way to get out of trouble rather quickly.