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Fight or Flight

If you happen to catch me staring off into space I am probably thinking about safety. Typically dive safety, but general safety is usually on the table. I have, in fact, followed a vocation for it. Which is weird. I didn’t always. In my younger years I NEVER thought about safety. Actively flaunted it. As an idiot kid, you see, I was a complete goddamned lunatic. I idolized and emulated people like Hunter Thompson, Scott Fitzgerald, and the Marx Brothers. This led to hijinx that put me and the people foolish enough to be anywhere near me directly in harm’s path. It all seemed like a great deal of fun and quite funny at the time. But now, decades later… not a day goes by when I don’t cringe as some madness-fuelled memory bubbles to the surface of my consciousness and pops, expelling a fetid, sulphurous miasma. Some people say, “Oh, how I wish I could go back to when I was XX years old.” I most definitely do not. I was a fucking asshole when I was XX; I deeply dislike that person. Don’t know what changed. Can’t even put my finger on when or why. But, at some point, my thinking shifted from “I’m going to do the craziest shit that pops into my head,” to “Everyone in this room needs to be extremely mindful because there aren’t enough appropriate fire exits.” The handful of people who knew me “back in the day,” often seem either surprised, or even a little suspicious, that I’ve made my life and career focused, now, on such an esoteric version of safety-mindedness. It is not unusual for dive professionals to develop what I’ve always thought of as a “Spidey-sense.” The ability to just know that there is something in the water, right now, is either actively wrong or about to go wrong. The likelihood of it being actual ESP is pretty unlikely. Far more sensibly it’s something like an unconscious register that things are slightly off; some corner of a practiced and experienced mind noticing something that one doesn’t even notice they noticed. In any case: I’ve got it. And it is not hyperbole to say that it has saved lives on more than one occasion. Everything seems to be going just fine… but there’s this niggling feeling that something somewhere with someone is about to go horribly wrong. So your awareness gets turned to 11 and you start watching everyone like a hawk when - out of nowhere - a runaway BCD inflation threatens to launch a diver to the surface like a polaris missile. All those years ago I used to trust that I was safe, despite some of the most maniacally dangerous behaviours, because… I dunno… the sense of immortality that comes with youth? Or because my imbecile heroes always were (despite much of their capers being fiction)? But something or some confluence of things shaped a very different personality. I stopped trusting that everything would just turn out OK. Disappointingly, this mistrust has been validated; sometimes, despite best efforts by myself or similar rescue geeks in my sphere, things haven’t turned out OK. It’s sort of a miracle that I both survived my capricious youth and nor did I kill anyone. Perhaps now, as a safety dork, I’m simply doing penance. And I wonder, of you other safety dorks out there, was there a moment? Did something happen to shift you into being so? Or was it as gradual and imperceptible as it was for me? The core question: what is it that changes a person from recklessness to responsibility? And how do we encourage it?

And, finally, I’d like to invite those of you who knew me when I was a gonzo, mutant, fucking idiot to tell a story that will embarrass me. Something of just how dangerous a person can be, which none of my students would believe. And of those of you who have been diving or training with me, I’d invite you to tell a story of just what a stickler or a nitpicky fanatic I have become. Something that none of the kids who used to scream, “Goddamn it you psychotic dick!” at me would believe.

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