Situationally Oblivious

Being Situationally Oblivious

My roommate and I have many similarities. One of them is situational awareness. We were bemoaning the fact that many people don’t seem to have any … hence this article

Briefly, situational awareness is the ability to know what is going on around you.

Situational awareness is the ability to notice and understand your environment, process what is occurring, and recognize your situation in the environment and how you (and those close to you) might be affected. This is what I call ongoing situational awareness. That is, as you are awake and going through your day and doing your daily activities, that you are aware of what is going on around you. You do it when you’re driving (or you should), you should do it when you’re walking around, and you should do it even when you’re sitting at your desk or are at home. I.e. you should be aware of what vehicles near you are doing, people around you, you should have an awareness of what the ambient noises are so that if something occurs that is abnormal you can take note of it, if you see movement out of the corner of your eye where no movement should be, or hear an unfamiliar noise etc. You should be that aware.

Really what you are listening to is that important???

Really what you are listening to is that important???

Being so focused that you never perceive your environment is dangerous. And when I say focused, I’m being generous. What I notice in most people is that they tend to be completely oblivious to what goes on around them. Not focused on something else, just clueless. It’s just not smart to have stuff going on around you that you don’t know about. I truly don’t understand people that wander around with headphones in, staring at or listening to their phones. Why not just paint a huge target on your back and flashing red arrow with a sign that says “I’m a situationally oblivious moron. Please target me.”?

Without going into lots of detail (And a brief search on the web will reveal scads of information on situational awareness, what it is, and how to develop it), this does not have to be as exhausting as it sounds. The ideal state to be in is ‘relaxed awareness’. You are calm, with normal respiration and heart rate. You are simply maintaining a wide focused awareness of what is going on around you. That does not mean you are darting glances everywhere and being ultra-paranoid … you will just draw attention to yourself. Another undesirable thing.

I regard situational awareness as both a mindset and a skill. And honestly, if you don’t have the mindset, then it is unlikely you will be able to develop the skill set to any great extent.

The mindset should be something like this.

1.      Threats exist

2.      You, and only you, are responsible for yourself and your safety


The primary element in establishing this mindset is to recognize that threats exist. Ignorance or denial of a threat make a person's chances of quickly recognizing an emerging threat and avoiding it highly unlikely. Bad things do happen. Apathy, denial, and complacency can be deadly.

The world, in most places, and in most circumstances, is relatively safe. But at the same time, it is nonetheless still dangerous. The threats are everywhere. From having a puddle of water on a slippery kitchen floor, to having an aggressive driver on the road, to walking down a street in a crowded metropolis where it is possible to have purse snatchers, to living in a combat zone like Iraq, or being on a sidewalk in Stockholm. As you can see, there is a broad spectrum of dangers. And in every single one of the instances I mentioned, being situationally aware can be an advantage.

But, going back to the mindset. The second attribute of the mindset is that you must be responsible for yourself at all times. You cannot expect other people or governments to be responsible for your safety 100% of the time. Yes, I regard governments as fundamentally incompetent. However, in many places they do basically impose some kind of rule of law, which is generally followed. However, that does not mean that everything is safe. And if you think that, you are stupid. It doesn’t matter if there are generally policeman around, that will not stop a bag snatcher if you are silly enough to be walking down a crowded street with your laptop or bag held very loosely and away from your body. And if you get your possessions snatched in a situation like that, the only person that you can look to for blame, is yourself.

So, to repeat, the mindset is this. Threats exist. The world, although generally safe (regardless of what you see in the media), can be dangerous. And, you must understand, regardless of what general societal protections you think ought to be in place or are in place, you, personally, are nonetheless responsible for yourself. And only you. And I think that you can see that if you don’t have that mindset, then it will be very difficult for you to take situational awareness skills seriously, simply because you don’t think you’re the one that ought to be responsible for your own safety.

Now yes, I know I was in the military, but that is not where I learned situational awareness. I learned about it at the age of 13 from reading military science fiction novels. Since, even at that early age, I had every intention to be a soldier, I identified this as a critical skill, and worked on it. Now, if a 13-year-old can figure out that this is a skill worth having, I’m totally bemused to run into people who are supposedly adults, who don’t have it.

Now the other facet of this is what I call world situational awareness. And again, I note that most people, for the most part, tend to be oblivious to this kind of thing. You should know, even if only on a somewhat basic level, what is going on in the world. Nobody expects you to be an expert on the political parties in another country, but you should be aware that there are other countries and that they do have political parties. You should be more than passingly aware of whatever passes for politics in your own country (no matter how depressing that may be). You should have some grasp of religions, cultures, morays, cuisine, etc. It is critical. And in today’s world where information is so omnipresent, one has absolutely no excuse for being oblivious to the world.

Now, I am a Westerner who doesn’t live in the West. I can, very grudgingly, grant that a, I don’t know, office worker in Saskatchewan, that has never been outside of their home province, might not be that aware of what is going on in Vietnam or Lao. But they should at least know where they are. But having had to spend some time in North America and Europe, I can tell you that many people are totally ignorant about what goes on outside their own country. And the tourists who visit other countries? I see Westerners in Asia all the time who have no clue about the countries that they are in. Asians can be just as bad. Chinese tourists are spectacularly bad at this.

And I don’t care whether you live or work someplace, or are just a tourist, you should be aware of the country you’re in. You should be aware of its culture, its ‘dos’ and ‘don’ts’, and the way that people are expected to behave. I don’t expect everybody to be a polyglot, but at the least you want to be able to enunciate ‘please’, ‘thank you’, and ‘I’m sorry’ or ‘excuse me’ in the language of the country that you are in. I don’t think that’s asking too much. It is appalling to me that people in this day and age remain so ethnocentric, which I regard as a facet of being situationally oblivious.

So. Why have world situational awareness? Because the world is very highly inter-connected. People that rant about the ‘evils’ of globalization don’t get that. They rant about it on their smart phone, which was probably designed in the United States, built in China, with parts from Korea, and raw materials that originated anywhere from Africa, to Russia and Australia. And on top of that, the apps they use may have been written in India and designed by Europeans, not to mention that when they call technical support, they may be talking to someone anywhere in the world.

Look at how a bunch of illiterate, misogynistic morons in the Middle East have affected the world. And people want to stick their heads in the sand and ignore everything outside their own little sand patch?

Situational awareness is a survival trait. Being aware of your surroundings and the world in which you live is nothing short of common sense. When you are aware, it gives you the ability to react to situations more quickly and more correctly, and in some cases just being aware about what is going on, is enough to avoid a possibly bad situation.

And being situationally aware is not a genetic trait. It can be learned, you just need to want to learn it. It occurs to me that if more people were situationally aware, the world might be a better place.

So. Be responsible for yourself. Be situationally aware.