Summer weather here in Seattle offers almost endless possibilities – variations on boating, of course – as well as many other outdoor activities. More people are out and about on the water and on the beaches: tourists and other visitors, little kids and older students on break from school, and many locals who “stay-cation.” It’s a busy, interesting and vibrant scene. I enjoy the plethora of sights, sounds, experiences, and insights.
I’m continually amazed and intrigued by the diversity. People are in different stages of life; from different places, backgrounds and sometimes cultures. We possess different talents, interests, temperaments, and varying levels of self-awareness. We may harbor differing views about what is important. Each of us carries with us different experiences which have shaped us – so many, many stories behind each one of our faces. I feel a very strong sense of acceptance, connectedness and community here.
A week or two ago, I noticed a newer neighbor come to sit on my nearest neighbors’ stairs. Odd, since I don’t think they are friends or even know each other. It was also curious in that her own place is so close by. In fact, her two young kitten-cats followed her and took the opportunity to explore and look for cool, shady places. I might not have noticed any of this had my windows not been open. I heard her approach.
As she chatted on speakerphone, and made detailed plans to meet later with a friend, I sipped my morning coffee and tried to refocus my attention on what I was writing. Their friendly back-and-forth, though mundane, was impossible to tune out. I tried not to resent the intrusion on this otherwise quiet summer morning…but as you can now attest, I wasn’t completely successful. Still, she seems like a nice, reasonable person – albeit with a different sense of boundaries than I have. Did she just need a change of perspective? What was she thinking? The most likely explanation is that she was unaware that her behavior outside my window was noticed, seemed excessively loud, or may have bothered someone.
Have I been in her shoes? Have you? I suspect there are times when even those of us who are well-intentioned inadvertently do things that cause stress, inconvenience, or have negative repercussions for others. It seems that we humans have blind spots when it comes to how our own actions and behaviors are perceived or the impacts they may have. We may fail to notice or realize if others don’t understand us.
Though I’m noting it here, I chose to let the incident go by. I try to suspend judgement on such seemingly minor irritations, especially those who seem to have good intentions, and who live or spend time in close proximity. In my experience, that’s proven to be a good approach (in most cases). Over time, many neighbors and others in the broader community have become my friends, despite a few very strange, memorable, and worrisome first impressions. Most of us here look out for each other, even though we may not know each other well or even like each other.
I don’t always manage to be chill, but I do try not to get caught up in unnecessary distractions or potentially negative interactions and drama. Still, it’s hard not to lose sight of the bigger picture. I make conscious and valiant efforts to leave time for more intentional and positive moments.
I’m often struck by how any individual or a small group of people have the potential to impact so many others, sometimes in positive ways, sometimes adversely. Key considerations in choosing which battles to wage or whether to engage are how I perceive someone’s intentions, and whether their actions are dangerous, potentially harmful, or merely irritating. I have much less tolerance for ongoing nuisance behavior or that which seems deliberately inconsiderate or intended to provoke. And, I (and, I hope all of us here) have zero tolerance for malicious or mean-spirited actions by those unconcerned if they cause damage or harm to ourselves and/or others.
The possibility that well-intentioned people, people we may know and like, might knowingly or unknowingly cause us harm or compromise our safety, is something that I don’t think all of us have considered or are prepared for. It seems counterintuitive to the notion that since our neighborhood is familiar and feels so friendly and safe, it is safe.
I do notice threats to safety as I spend time in and around my community this summer. Some of the most visible are people who exceed or blatantly defy speed limits, recklessly disregard other posted precautions, continue to use mobile devices while at the wheel/helm, endanger bicyclists or those in small vessels, speed up to cut ahead of someone or cut them off, or blow through stop lights after they’ve turned red. Mentally ill individuals who act out in unexpected ways, and criminals who prey on others are also worrisome, but fortunately not prevalent.
A less visually obvious safety concern is alcohol and substance use. As we approach the Labor Day holiday weekend, top of mind are worries about those who drink heavily, yet still may not hesitate to drive a vehicle or operate a boat. Fortunately, ride-share apps and taxis have helped reduce DUI on our roads. I am unaware of any equivalent service that would reduce BUI. Hopefully someone will see this as an unfulfilled business opportunity… This BUI informational guide delves deeper into the scope of the problem and some other considerations.
Without doubt, the diverse mix of people in our public spaces also includes some who may be impaired or have diminished abilities for other reasons. I was startled to learn last year that studies of salmon caught in Puget Sound showed high levels of chemicals, prescription and over-the-counter drugs, and even cocaine. Opioid abuse is also a significant problem here, as it is in many other places.
I don’t intend to paint a bleak picture or cast judgement, but rather seek to float concerns and observations in the spirit of raising awareness. Identifying and acknowledging that such problems even exist are strong first steps that we can and should build on.
I venture to say that many of us may have found our own abilities impaired at times. If not because of alcohol or drugs, perhaps due to exhaustion, stress, distraction, anger, or other strong emotions. Immaturity and inexperience can also imperil safety. We do seem to have blind spots to our own behavior and how it appears to others in real-time…and we may also view it quite differently when looking back after some time has elapsed.
I enjoy the insights that come with time, as well as the many stories that I’ve accumulated. The photo above illustrates one that I wrote of earlier: my first time on water skis. Though alcohol wasn’t a factor, exhaustion and inexperience played a role. That’s me under the big splash!
Cheers to more wonderful (but safe) summer adventures!