Friday, June 17, 2011

Be Prepared

Another month, another speech..

Be Prepared

It has been a long day. The seats on the train are all taken. So you stand, hanging on to a strap as the train hustles you home.

A girl near the end of the carriage unexpectedly jumps up, sobbing, and steps through the inter-leading door between the carriages.

You see her framed by the door window, standing on the exposed, shaking, platform that bridges the two carriages.

Suddenly she picks her leg up, swings herself up and over the guard rails, and falls from sight.

You, and the the people in the carriage that saw this are shocked. What has just happened? Did she really just jump – why was there no sound – are trains really that brutally massive?

All these thoughts race through your mind. But before you can work out what to do you see her head bobbing at the bottom of one of the inter-leading carriage windows.

Relief fills you, and everyone else who saw her vanish. She's alright: she's clinging to the carriage! But she is in a very dangerous spot.

You realise to your horror that all the other people on your carriage who saw this drama play out are now starting to look at their newspapers, to look out the side windows – doing anything they can to exit the stage on which they unintentionally find themselves.

What would you do if that were you in the carriage?

I believe that we must consciously choose to act in the day to day drama's that intersect our lives.

I also know that we choose how we are to act in the drama. Our chosen role can range from deliberate inaction to full participation.

On that train rattling through the night, with the girl clinging to its side, I felt powerless.

She was behaving irrationally: if I went near her what might the result might be? Would she jump – or would she pull me out into the void to be with her?

I couldn't leave her, and I feared getting too close to her? What could I do?

There was another path I could follow. I could contact the driver. Every door on the train has an emergency intercom that allows you to talk directly to the driver.

But the more people there are around an unfolding drama, the harder it is for us to take an action that is different from theirs.

We look to the others around us for leadership – and when none comes we use their lack of action to abrogate our responsibilities.

I ran from door to door on that carriage, desperately looking for an intercom. And found none!

The people on the train were now starting to look at me – I was becoming the focus of their attention – not the girl desperately clinging to the side of the train.

It was just surreally wrong - if that had been your daughter, wife, or best friend of clinging to the side of the train, would you have ignored her to instead watch the strange man who was now running from door to door? I think not.

Yet on that carriage everyone did nothing, complicit in a unison of inaction. And now by focusing on me, made me feel as though I was the one who was strange and different – and that I was in the wrong.

Just then the train slowed and stopped at a station. I escaped their attention by leaping out the train.

I ran up the platform, to the drivers window, knocked on it, and told him of the girl.

Baden Powell, founder of the scout movement, said: “Be prepared”.

By that he meant that you must prepare yourself "by previously thinking out and practicing how to act on any accident or emergency so that you are never taken by surprise".

Later, when I got back on my carriage, after the driver had navigated the girl to the safety of the station platform, I saw that there were indeed intercoms on the carriage: others, standing, had simply been leaning against them, hiding them with their bodies.

Now when I get onto a train I check for the intercoms, making sure I know exactly where to go if something happens.

That preparation has already paid off: just last week another girl collapsed on the train. Whilst an elderly women aided her, I, nervously, because no one else was doing anything, called the driver.

No less than 8 officials met us at Flinders Station and and tended to the girl.

That brave elderly women and I were not punished for stalling that train in rush hour – none of the officials even bothered with the two of us once they were attending to the girl.

We just slipped away with the crowd when we saw the girl responding to their ministrations.

Ratko Mladic has just been extradited to the Hague, to stand trial for the Srebrenica massacre.

A massacre in which over 8000 men died. It is the largest mass murder in Europe since the end of the world war two.

What could tie the terrible deeds of Ratko Mladic to us, who were in that carriage with a girl clinging to its side?

400 heavily armed and highly trained Dutch soldiers were stationed in Srebrenica when the massacre took place. Unbelievably, they turned their backs.

The two events are related by the people who stood by and did nothing.

Evil blossoms when watered by the apathy of those around it.

If we can learn act in the day to day drama's that intersect our lives, we will be more able to act when evil starts to take root.

So be prepared – roll play scenarios in your head, learn from how others have behaved in emergencies.

And remember to choose your role – and act, when you find yourself inadvertently thrust into a drama.