Becoming more aware of others can help us all
Recently, I spent time with my brother and sister-in-law, both of whom are pilots for United Airlines. On several occasions, I overheard them talking about “SA.” It was clearly a code used by pilots that I had not heard. When I asked what it stood for, I learned it meant “situational awareness.”
Pilots always need to know what is going on 360 degrees around them, as well as above and below their airplanes. If not, a disaster will result. In my own profession, physicians are always assessing the severity of a patient’s symptoms, hoping to avoid a disaster.
The same is true in everyday life. Parents are always on alert, aware of their children; avoiding the next spill or injury is an ever-present concern. Drivers watch for the mistakes others on — and beside — the road may make.
On the other hand, there are times we think the person next to us is clueless about what is about to happen: the person blocking the aisle while others are trying to pass and the driver looking at a phone when the light turns green. We all can come up with examples.
In most cases, situational awareness involves assessing the level of danger around us. It seeks an escape plan, looks for obstacles to that plan and determines what support is available if we need it.
But what if we focused more on understanding the situations the people around us are struggling with and what we can do to support them? Are you aware of the life situation of those you work with every day? We all struggle with family issues, and words of support can help others through hard times.
If a mother in the grocery store has a 2-year-old ready to throw a tantrum, why not let her go first through the checkout lane? Rather than judging her parenting abilities, consider that the child may be hungry or due for a nap. Half a dozen other things may already have made the family’s day stressful. It costs nothing to acknowledge that and be kind.
Getting out of our own bubbles makes the world around us more pleasant for everyone.
Everyday situational awareness is not just relevant to potential danger and responding to stress with kindness. It extends to expressing gratitude for what holds us up and makes our lives meaningful. How many moments come and go each day when we could express gratitude, whether to God or to one another? How many moments do we miss when we could be more intentionally aware of a situation and welcome the meaning it brings to our life?
I admit I have been guilty of sitting on the couch watching sports, unaware when my wife comes in carrying groceries. Thankfully, I have discovered the pause button on the DVR. Pressing pause in other situations might also be a skill worth learning.
My pilot brother and sister-in-law are totally attuned to SA in all they do. Perhaps the rest of us should make it a part of our lives as well.