On being … a sign of the times

By Ingrid Sapona

Earlier this month one of my sisters attended an “active shooter” seminar at her place of employment. She works at a university and while her school hasn’t had an “active shooter” situation, U.S. campuses certainly seem to be magnets for them.

I was caught by surprise when she casually mentioned attending, then talked about the things she learned. Apparently the recommended procedure is: run, hide, fight. I said I can understand the run and hide part, but the fight idea reminded me of the nonsense Ben Carson said after the Umpqua Community College shooting in early October. (For those who missed the story, in the wake of 11 dead and 7 injured, Carson said he thinks people should have rushed the shooter – after all, “the shooter can only shoot one person at a time”.)

My sister went on to explain a bit more about the things they learned. For example, when you’re running away, run with your hands up so that law enforcement officers don’t shoot you. Jeesh, I thought. While I’m glad she went to the seminar, I can’t believe the university felt there’s a need for it.

Perhaps sensing my disquiet, she mentioned that the run, hide, fight mantra reminds her of stop, drop, roll. When I said I’d never heard that trio, she explained that it’s it’s something they teach school kids if their clothes catch fire. I guess that was after my time, as all we had were fire drills.

We then “reminisced” about air raid drills from when we were growing up. I vividly remember hearing the simulated siren sound over the PA system and then all of us crawling under our desk and covering our heads with our arms. She too remembered that, and the fact that the motion was referred to as “duck and cover”. 

Back then, I knew the air raid drills were meant to protect us in case of a nuclear attack. But, I also remember doubting how ducking and covering my head would offer much protection from the plume of a mushroom cloud. Indeed, my most vivid recollection about those drills was the fear it instilled in me about how dangerous the world must be.

After my sister and I got off the phone, I couldn’t help feeling despair that everyday folks are being trained about what to do in an active shooter situation. I wondered if soon elementary school kids in the U.S. will start learning the run, hide, fight mantra. Wouldn’t surprise me, really. After all, maybe such training isn’t really any more traumatizing than duck and cover drills.

Though that thought may not be welcome, I find it comforting in a way. I guess because looking at it that way gives me a bit of perspective. It reminds me that people wanting to cause others harm is nothing new – just the ways they can go about it change. Maybe learning mantras like “duck and cover”, “stop, drop, roll”, or “run, hide, fight” is just a coping mechanism that people use – a way of feeling empowered in the face of fear.

The conversation my sister and I had about the active shooter training happened a couple weeks before the attack in Paris. In the days that followed that event, I watched with admiration how people did their best to take back their city and the café society they cherish. I’m sure many Parisians have adopted their own coping mechanisms, perhaps they make a point of noting the closest exit when they are in a restaurant, the Metro, and so on. But, they clearly also realize that if they surrender their lifestyle, terrorists win.

And, as the city of Brussels went into near lock down in the aftermath of the Paris attack, another coping mechanism surfaced: social media. Apparently, as Belgian authorities were moving about, conducting raids and what have you, some folks took to social media with news about what was going on in their neighborhoods. The police then publicly asked people to stop commenting on what was going on because such information could be used by the suspects.

Soon after the police request, on the hashtag people had been using to report the police activities they were observing, people startedposting humorous pictures of cats. According to the Associated Press, people posted photos of cats in all kinds of situations, including holding their hands up, posing as police snipers, and even blatantly ignoring police warnings to stay away from windows. The next day, after completing 22 raids, the police acknowledged the cooperation by posting a picture on social media of cat food with the message: “For cats who helped us last night … Help Yourself!”

Though it certainly seems to me that the world is a scarier place than it used to be, I realize there has always been – and there likely always will be – things to fear. In this light, I guess active shooter training is just a sign of the times.

© 2015 Ingrid Sapona


On being ... green eyed

By Ingrid Sapona

I’ll admit right off the top, today’s column isn’t really about eye colour. My inspiration for the column was a story in the Toronto Star last week. Its headline read: Taming the green-eyed monster, a matter of maturity, study finds. I wasn’t familiar with the expression, “green-eyed monster” so my curiosity was piqued.

Well, as you may have guessed, the story was about envy. (I was familiar with the expression “green with envy”, but I have no idea where it comes from. Maybe it’s from some green-eyed monster of myth or fairy tale.) Anyway, the article reported on a study into how the experience of envying differs with age and gender.

I know what you’re thinking: it sounds like some lightweight “research” sponsored by some internet dating site or something. It wasn’t. The research, which was published in the November issue of Basic and Applied Social Psychology, was conducted by Prof. Christine Harris and graduate student Nicole Henniger of the University of California at San Diego. Their conclusions were based on survey responses of 925 participants from 18 to 80 years old.

In the article, Harris talked about envy as a “social emotion”. She pointed out that, as one of the seven deadly sins, envy’s been seen as motivating everything from evil stepmothers in folk stories to Occupy Wall Street protesters. I never thought of envy in those terms, did you?

For the study, participants were asked to recall a time in the last year when they envied some they knew personally. Those who did were then asked a series of questions designed to find out the nature of the envy and the gender and age of the person they remember feeling envy about. The categories of envy participants were asked to consider were: scholastic success, social success (which the reporter interpreted as status), looks, romantic success (hmmm… not sure what that means), monetary success, and occupational achievement.

Turns out, envy of other people’s education, looks, romance, and status all diminish with age. In fact, of those four areas, the only one that still even registers for those over 30 is romantic success. And, by the half century mark (those 50 and over), envy over romance is pretty much gone. Harris’ theory is that as we get older we become less concerned with things like our appearance and we come to accept our social status.

Envy of monetary success, however, moderately increases with age. Envy of occupational achievements, on the other hand, apparently peaks in your 40s, and then declines in your 50s. The authors mention that one reason occupational envy may decline is because people in their 50s may be looking ahead to retirement.

In thinking about the study, I was struck by the fact that the findings certainly seem to reflect my life. Though I honestly don’t recall feeling envious in each of those areas, I’m sure at different points in my life I felt each of those to some degree. But the really good news is that from the vantage point of my mid-50s, I’m happy to say that like the bulk of the survey participants, the green-eyed monster doesn’t have much of a hold on me.

Mind you, I have my own theories about why envy subsides as we age. The way I see it, in our youth we’re on pretty much the same path as our peers, all trying to achieve similar things. So, comparisons are inevitable and if you perceive someone is ahead of you or has some advantage over you, envy might bubble up.

But, as we get older, our focus widens and we realize that a fulfilling life involves making the most of our own qualities and experiences. We also come to appreciate just what we have. And, we come to realize that even if someone has things we don’t, they also have their share of trials, tribulations, and heartache.

So, by now I’m sure you see what I mean – this column isn’t about eye colour at all. But you know, it’s not really even about envy. It’s about one of the really cool things about growing old…

© 2015 Ingrid Sapona