BAM!!!!!! SCREEEEEEEEEEEEECH!!!! WHAMOOOO!!!!
That was the sound my wife and I heard on the evening of August 17th, 2016. The sound was outside of our window, a few houses down. We hopped up to look out the window and saw two cars with blinkers on. I’m unsure about the nature of the relationship of the two individuals we saw; but for the purpose of this story, we’ll assume they were husband and wife. As we stood in our window, we saw the husband hop out of his car, drop a few expletives, pull something out of his car, throw it in his wife’s car, drop a few more expletives, tell his wife he was going to drive home and then get back in the car. The wife then removed whatever the husband had thrown into the back seat of her car, opened her trunk, placed the object in the trunk and closed it. Then they both drove off — no police call, no insurance call, no ambulance call, a simple “flee the scene as quick as possible” maneuver.
My first set of thoughts were in the vein of conspiracy theory: alcohol and drugs involved, criminal record which makes calling the police inadvisable, don’t want to call the insurance company again, she’s NOT your wife, other? Let’s be honest; in the age of CSI, Criminal Minds, Law & Order (choose your flavor), House, Chicago Med, and a host of other shows, we all think we’re doctors, lawyers and detectives…he he he.
Back to the blog…
The second and more prevailing thought I had was, “How did you not see what was right in front of you?” I asked the question based on what I had just witnessed (the tree crashing) but I began to process it through the lens of my experiences. I’ve surely had many instances where the obvious simply is not obvious; the friend I wanted to hang with even though he was a thief, the 15 extra minutes I stayed at the party when I knew I should have left, the item I purchased knowing I couldn’t afford it. As I sat back and thought through them, the majority of these instances happened when my emotion over-rode my intellect and I confused what was factually correct with what felt correct. I was blinded by my emotion and as Andy Stanley would state in his “Ask It” podcast, “Emotions make the obvious less obvious” and “Emotionally charged environments are not ideal for decision making.”
I recently read an article suggesting the brain can process 720 different possibilities at once when you’re in a calm and stress free state. This is why you can think about so many different things at once and while the article doesn’t specifically call this out, I suspect this is why you can trick yourself into truly thinking you are good at multi-tasking. However, when the brain is in a stressed state the number of possibilities the brain can process dramatically shrinks to 120. When in this stressed state the brain automatically attempts to limit the number of “useless” artifacts of data to assist with making the quickest possible decision and get out of the stressed state. Again, while the article doesn’t specifically call out each and every emotion I suspect any emotional state will decrease your ability to process larger quantities of data at once.
The above may provide some insight to answer my initial question of “How did you not see what was right in front of you?” However, it also opens up a second and potentially more appropriate question which is, “How do I avoid running into the invisible object in front of me?” Based on my own experiences there are two things I wish I would have done in some of those “Is there a tree in front of me” moments:
1 — Slow down and question myself. The pace and speed at which we are expected to operate and excel in is getting faster by the minute. Also as we mature in life we tend to increase the levels of responsibility we have, career or family, and the ramification of making decisions take on more weight. All of these are inducers to enhanced levels of emotion, potentially poor decisions and in some cases, missed opportunities. Slowing down and taking time to think about the end from the beginning can assist us with ensuring we’re making the appropriate decision while obtaining everything we need to out of the process. As Jeremiah the prophet says, “Slow down. Take a deep breath. What’s the hurry? Why wear yourself out? Just what are you after anyway?” – Jeremiah 2:25 MSG
2 — Find people with better eyesight than me. The old philosophical thought experiment asks “If a tree falls in a forest and no one is around to hear it, does it make a sound?” I’m no philosopher, but for the context of this article the answer is “not only does it make a sound, but it will be lying there until someone finds it.” Therefore, if you decide to go out into the woods please make sure you bring people with better eyesight so they can see the tree and warn you before you run into it. The safety in counsel is directly proportionate to the counsel’s lack of emotional involvement; they are not as closely coupled to the voyage as you are thus their vision is not as susceptible to clouding as yours is. It’s also why people will support you when you won’t support yourself; refer to my blog post on “Bet On Me, Bet On You, or Bet on Both” for more about this.
The above things are very simple and frankly, these are things we know we need to do but often do not do at the right time. Often the best advice is advice we already know and we just require to be reminded of that which we already know. Simply knowing is not enough as the power is in the doing.
After all of this, I still have many unanswered questions about that night. Was the driver paying attention to what was literally in front of him or was he focused elsewhere? Did he really not see the tree or did he see it but chose to ignore it? If he was thinking about something else, was that something worth all of the inconvenience that hitting the tree caused? Would heeding some of the advice above spared him from later inconvenience? Did thinking about the future at the expense of the present cause more inconvenience in both aspects of time? Would staying focused on the now enhance or increase future enjoyment? Are any of these questions relevant to me?
I know that all of these questions are relevant to me. While I don’t have all of the answers I surely have thoughts about all of them. Who knows, maybe one day some of those thoughts will become blog posts. One thing is certain; experience causes perfect vision as we can all see the tree AFTER the experience. The challenge is to discipline ourselves to see the tree BEFORE the accident. For me, thinking through the questions and heeding the steps above will relieve me from ever asking “Where did that tree come from?”
For the curious, here are a few pics of the tree after the crash. Please do not ask about the nut that subsequently split his head open while climbing on the tree in a drunken stupor. While it probably was a good story I was sound asleep for that fiasco.
The feature picture in this post is from Nanjing, China. I will admit that I do not recall the significance of the building in the picture. Honestly this wasn’t even our main destination during the evening; it was simply a building that was “on the way” to or from our destination. That being said, it’s one of my favorite shots and had I not slowed down long enough to notice the building to my right I would have never captured the image. Apparently I took some of my own advice at least once.