Thursday, February 11, 2010

We, as a society, cannot read signs.

Just as the title suggests, I've come to the conclusion that the vast majority of us cannot read signs most of the time.

And this doesn't just mean street signs and store signs, but also some of the less obvious signs conveyed to us by our friends, family members and even strangers on the street.

Now, I know some of you are sitting there thinking "I don't understand what he's talking about - signs are pretty obvious and you'd have to be an idiot to miss most of them."

Well, my friends, we are indeed a society of idiots. For example, just today I saw a woman back out of her parking spot and proceed to exit the parking lot through the entrance, which was marked by a large sign in red lettering that read "NOT AN EXIT."

As soon as I exited the parking lot the correct way, I witnessed someone run a stoplight, followed by a college student riding her bike in front of me while I turned because she didn't read the bright orange "don't walk" sign on the street light.

I really think drivers/pedestrians are the biggest violators of what you could call "sign law." I've seen more people ignore signs while driving than anything else.

However, what bothers me the most is that when these people disregard what the signs indicate the people who have the right of way are still the ones who end up suffering.

Case in point: A couple of years ago, a student on the University of Illinois campus was killed when she walked right out into a crosswalk and WALKED INTO A BUS. Yup. Walked right into the side of a bus and was killed.

First of all, how do you miss a bus? I mean, really? It's big, makes noise and is pretty visible unless you're Helen Keller or Stevie Wonder.

The bus driver not only couldn't continue her job and was forced to leave, but she has had psychological problems ever since. Yes, it's sad that someone lost her life, but given how stupid you have to be to walk into and be run over by a bus, she wasn't exactly trying hard too hard at self-preservation.

Now, what if that girl had lived? I guarantee she and her family would have sued the University and the Mass Transit District and won, even though she's the one who used the crosswalk improperly (note to all you pedestrians, just because motorists have to yield at crosswalks doesn't mean if a car is about to cross through it, you have the right to run out in front of them. If you do this to me, I will hit you and proceed to ask you what the hell you were thinking while you writhe in pain as I dial 9-1-1).

Just think, all this could have been prevented by paying attention to signs. The sign of bus conveyed by the sounds it makes and its large presence. The "don't walk" sign that was likely blinking. Be smart, people - put your phone down for a second and realize where you are.

Similarly, my very own brother fell victim to someone who couldn't read a stop sign on his recumbent bicycle (those bikes where you sit back like a chair and pedal). My brother was preparing to turn right onto another street when out of the corner of his eye, he saw this cyclist run the stop sign and run right into the side of his truck.

The oblivious cyclist proceeded to berate my brother for being in HIS way even though my brother had the right of way. Luckily for my brother, a police officer witnessed the entire thing. He stopped and approached the cyclist and informed him he would be ticketed for running a stop sign and, if he didn't stop, thrown into the squad car for verbally assaulting my brother (note to cyclists, if you don't know already, you have to follow the exact same rules of the road as automobile drivers, so if you pull out in front of me on your bicycle and I don't see you and I hit you, it's your fault - not mine. Please, pay attention).

However, I digress; the point is, I really wish people would consider for a moment that there are other people around them and signs directing them where to go/what to do when they think "I'm going to run that red light," or "I'm going to cross the street without looking." All it takes is paying attention to ones surroundings and being aware of things like flashing lights and florescent signs.

Anyway, switching gears a little bit, sometimes the signs we miss aren't as subtle as a blinking light or a brightly-painted surface. In fact, sometimes the signs we miss are in the way things are said or displayed in the body language of our friends/family/those around us.

What's more, many times these signs are often indicative of wants or wishes could help a situation one might be experiencing.

My marriage, for example, is full of those times when what is being or has been said isn't always exactly what's being said.

Some easy ones are when I'm on my computer or on the Xbox and she says to me "you should put that away," is usually another way of saying "lets watch some TV together on the couch."

However, there also some not-so-easy to understand signs I've received, whether they have come in the form of a tone of voice suggesting frustration (with me, or otherwise) or a specific body language that hints of anxiousness.

To be honest, discerning these not-so-simple signs has been a growing experience for me. As I come upon my second year of marriage, I've been lucky enough to learn from the instances in which I was unable to read the signs, if only to be able to read them clearly the next time.

Each time I have to endure the failures in my recognition of these signs, I am offered a way to see it more clearly the next time it shows its face, even if it is slightly different than the last time.

The caveat to this is, I have to be willing to see these signs when there is a next time, for the purpose of there being a next time. Because if I ignore the signs after I've seen the consequences of doing so, there will come a time when I will pay with more than just an upset wife.

On a similar level, our friends and family and even the strangers we interact with on a daily basis, have subtle ways of exhibiting outward signs.

Take a day to yourself and spend some time people watching at the mall or in a very public place and just try and determine what the body language or facial features of the people passing by may indicate.

You may see some people who are having the best days of their lives by all accounts. In the same regard, you may see some people who are struggling to put on the faces they are showing.

What you do with those signs is up to you. Perhaps you know someone who is showing signs that are a cry for help, and all you need to do is offer yourself as a shoulder or an ear. Maybe a frustrating situation for a friend while offer a sign to you that you can lend a hand to solve the problem.

Whatever the case, the more we notice the signs around us, the better equipped we will be to address them.

I'm not saying we're always going to see the signs we are meant to see - whether they are obvious or not. We are, after all, only human and flawed ones at that.

However, if we make an effort to be more attentive in our daily routines and thorough in our personal lives as we work on our relationships, the signs we notice will increase over time.

And, hopefully, our lives will be better for it.

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