Am I stupid? I didn’t think of that…

Am I stupid? I didn’t think of that…

White Goose  comesI live in the Hunter Valley in NSW, which is on the east coast of Australia. This week we have been hit by what our local media are describing as a ‘super storm’. In the particular area where I live, we received over 400 millimetres (16 inches) of rain in two days. The scenes of flash flooding in areas that are normally farming and rural land amazed me, as did the number of roads that have been cut off and how quickly rivers rose. Experts say that it is a one in ten year flood.

What amazed me more however is that although this crazy weather event took us ‘off guard’ and despite a lack of planning for this specific event, we coped ok and learned a lot along the way.

With my background in risk and safety, I’ve become accustomed to thinking that we have to have a plan in place to cover every type of emergency scenario, and along with that plan, appropriate procedures that would outline a response to almost every conceivable situation.

This big lesson that I learned this week was that while my wife and I had thought about a number of things associated with an emergency at our place and we did have some plans for certain scenarios, there will always be things that take us by surprise. When these things happen we can feel silly or stupid, because in retrospect they were obvious. But does it really mean we are stupid if we don’t (or can’t) think of everything?

Thankfully, our house is ok, and despite a few days of the inconvenience of no electricity, we have no substantial damage despite the odd plant and pieces of furniture. Others were not so lucky and my thoughts are with them and the families of those who lost loved ones, and to those who are about to brace themselves for a recovery that will no doubt take a long time.

I reflected this morning on our experiences over the past few days and on what my wife and I have learnt as went experienced this crazy weather event.

Firstly, to paint the picture. The storm began to take shape on Monday night. I was away for work and while talking to my wife over the phone that night, I remember her saying that the rain was heavier than she expected. We knew that it was supposed to rain this week, but had no clue that it was going to be a ‘super storm’. I remember a few times over the past few days as I was talking with my wife, feeling ‘stupid’ and bad that I went away this week and my wife was home alone on Monday night. However, I recognise now that this is totally non-rational, there is no way that I could have known that this storm was going to be so bad and it is not useful to think that I was ‘stupid’ or ‘bad’ for working away.

The second stage of this event occurred on Tuesday morning when my wife discovered there was no electricity at home due to winds knocking down trees over power lines. My wife called me in the morning and let me know. It was a little inconvenient for her as our hot water system is run by electricity so no shower, but still after a little wash down she was fine and planning to head off to work. That’s when we realised the next problem.

Our garage door is also electrically operated, however does have a manual override. This would normally be easy to operate, however is in the middle of our garage and with me being away, my wife parked her car in the middle as this makes it easier to get out. That was ok though, a little bit of creativity from my wife saw her carefully climbing on the car to activate the manual over-ride, which she did as she was listening to my instructions to her over the phone on how this should be done. Funny, I remember my wife at one point saying “it was stupid of me for parking in the middle of the garage, I should never have done that, I don’t normally”. Again, this is not stupid, it is perfectly logical and made sense at the time.

OK, garage door open, off to work…. Not yet! Now my wife had to open our electric gate manually too. This is not something she had ever done before, and something I had only done once, which was two years ago when the previous owners of the house showed my in a short 2 minute demonstration. So I had to firstly, try to remember how to do it and then share these instructions with my wife, again over the phone, easy right? Uh uh!

My wife was becoming quite frustrated at this point. It was pouring rain outside (where the gate is) and she just wanted to get on with the day. I was also becoming a little frustrated, firstly because I really couldn’t remember how to open the gate manually (again, I felt ‘stupid’ for not remembering how to do something that I had been shown once, in a two minute demo, at a time when I had just received the keys to our new house, which I was excited about!) and secondly because I didn’t think my wife was listening to what I was saying. I was asking questions about things, and all she could hear was me becoming an ‘expert’ in her! When you are an ‘expert in someone’, you think you know all there is to know about them. Could this mean you are treating them like they are ‘stupid’? Even without intentionally doing so?

Anyhow, we eventually worked through things and got the gate open. Of course, as I was going through this experience, I thought “how stupid of me for not ever showing my wife how to do this, I should have shown her two years ago!”. Was I becoming an ‘expert’ in me?

There are many other stories of the events over the past few days, (for example, while we had plenty of candles in the house to cope without electricity at night, they were mostly scented candles and with pouring rain and gusty winds meaning that all widows were closed, scents that can be peaceful and aromatic while taking a bubble bath, can become annoying after a while in a confined area!) where a feeling of ‘stupidity’ came over me for not thinking about this or that. However, as I reflect back now, I realise that not thinking of every possible and conceivable scenario does not make us ‘stupid’.

Conversely, it also doesn’t mean that we are cavalier and don’t care for risk. It means that we ‘satisfice’ in the decisions we make, we are limited in our imagination and can’t think of all possibilities. We are also forgetful, we focus on current requirements and we never have enough time, or information to make decisions, so we make do with what we have at the time.

Have there been times when you have thought “how stupid of me!” Have you looked back retrospectively and thought, “I should have known that” or “I should have done that”? If you have it proves you are human. You make decisions and judgments in the same way that the rest of us do. You are fallible, and will make mistakes. I find this all very liberating.

It certainly doesn’t mean that I am stupid.

As usual, I’d love to hear your thoughts, experiences and comments.

Rob Sams
Rob Sams
Rob is an experienced safety and people professional, having worked in a broad range of industries and work environments, including manufacturing, professional services (building and facilities maintenance), healthcare, transport, automotive, sales and marketing. He is a passionate leader who enjoys supporting people and organizations through periods of change. Rob specializes in making the challenges of risk and safety more understandable in the workplace. He uses his substantial skills and formal training in leadership, social psychology of risk and coaching to help organizations understand how to better manage people, risk and performance. Rob builds relationships and "scaffolds" people development and change so that organizations can achieve the meaningful goals they set for themselves. While Rob has specialist knowledge in systems, his passion is in making systems useable for people and organizations. In many ways, Rob is a translator; he interprets the complex language of processes, regulations and legislation into meaningful and practical tasks. Rob uses his knowledge of social psychology to help people and organizations filter the many pressures they are made anxious about by regulators and various media. He is able to bring the many complexities of systems demands down to earth to a relevant and practical level.

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