First response could be described as the human experience, blared through concert amplifiers.
We do our work right on that line where ‘life as we know it’ collides with stress, confusion and sometimes tragedy. Cold streets covered in broken glass, eerily dark rainy nights, hellfire flames ripping through the picture windows of what was a family home; we not only see with our eyes, we feel with our very souls, this intense human experience.
Our work requires a vigorous character built upon high quality values that we each choose for ourselves.
This month, we have decided to highlight the best of these first responder values.
The goal of this short series is to reveal a few of the personal codes that make first responders such a special tribe. With a New Year and decade on the horizon, we want these articles to start the conversations at our stations about what it means to truly work from our values and how we can all set a higher standard for the calling.
We begin with the ‘dashboard value’ itself - awareness.
In a broad sense, awareness is the state of being conscious of something. Just like the dashboard of instruments and gauges in any complex machine reveals system performance, awareness provides a consciousness to the human experience. It gives us the ability to observe a situation, a relationship or even our own life performance, in order to then choose our responses.
Awareness is the complete opposite of being on ‘auto-pilot’ or ‘zoned out.’ When we practice awareness, we are constantly observing and evaluating - our selves, our relationships and the world around us. Let’s briefly look at 3 versions of awareness: self awareness, cultural awareness and situational awareness.
Self-awareness is the ability to look at our life - our assumptions, our experiences, our current skills, our habits, our beliefs and our choices. It is viewing the direction in which we are currently heading and it is being able to see the possibilities.
Self-awareness provides us with the questions that will guide our growth.
How do I respond to challenges?
What can I do to improve my skills?
“The greatest of faults, is to be conscious of none.”
A slightly deeper sense of self awareness gives us the ability to observe why we do what we do and addresses the question - what has led me, to be, who I am right now?
What assumptions do I have that limit me?
Which of my habits are holding me back; and which would move me forward?
When we choose to live with self-awareness, we set the stage for all personal growth, we assess where we are and make changes, all while we monitor the progress.
We use awareness to become better versions of ourselves while we learn the ways that we integrate with and affect others.
Imagine that your employer announces ‘big, big raises and positive changes are coming to the company at the turn of the New Year.’ You would naturally be pretty excited, right?
Now, imagine that they also announce, that for fairness sake and to obtain the best talent, they will be interviewing outside the company as well. They plan to re-hire the entire staff into these better paying positions. You are welcome to apply as well.
As you practice and behave right now, would you get re-hired?
If you’re at least a little worried about the process, consider this: imagine your replacement.
What exactly would they have over you?
What physical skills, what emotional intelligence, what social awareness would they have that you do not?
What would it take to reach that better version of yourself?
That is self-awareness.
Use it to course-correct your career performance, reinforce your healthy habits and make improvements in the way we show up for others, effective immediately.
Cultural awareness is our consciousness of the beliefs, actions and behaviors of the groups around us. The groups that we are in and also the ones that we are not. Simply put, it is the recognition of others in our world, their impact on us, and our affect on them. It is recognizing how networked we are, how we all are part of something much larger, much more connected.
It’s realizing, that we all are needed, we all have a contribution, we all are asked to show up and put out in life.
As first responders, this level of awareness must be even greater. It’s what makes us what we are. Awareness is the necessary foundation of empathy and accountability. We should practice this consciousness as often as we can, one person at a time.
“I see you.”
Sawubona is an East African greeting that translates simply, “I see you; you are important to me.” It emphasizes the impact of placing our attention on another person. Sawubona reminds us to acknowledge the needs of others and to see the individual within the larger group. When placed in action by a first responder, it validates the emergency of the person that called for help, and lets them know that their call has been answered.
The reality, is that we are hard-wired to help others. Our neurological and social evolution dictates that we must work with, serve and protect the group.
To be culturally aware is to see that even our simplest actions (or inactions) can have rippling effects through our workplace, our families and communities.
Without thinking too much about it, reflexively score the feel of the groups around you day by day. Your family, your network of friends, your workplace. On a scale of 0 to 10, 0 representing completely toxic, untrusting, poorly performing; 10 representing a fully inclusive, highly reflective, constantly improving team that values every individual contribution.
Is the score representative of the type of home life, community and career that you have always wanted for yourself?
What amount of that score has been affected by your actions or inactions?
What 3 small changes can you make in your attitude and contribution to positively move this score?
For some additional work, immediately, start to use language and actions that let others know that you see them. Put your phone away, make better eye contact, pay attention to your non-verbal communication cues, or simply tell them in some way that you can “see them and see that they need some help.” Then bring it.
Situational awareness gets a lot of discussion in first response. Terms like ‘scene safety’ are driven into our practice from the very beginnings in our responder programs. Images of violently unpredictable individuals, dark unsafe roadsides, flash overs and back drafts all come to mind.
But situational awareness has a much larger component.
“The value of experience is not in seeing much, but in seeing wisely.”
Hour by hour in the day, life events play out in front of us like hundreds of overlapping movie plots. Our families, our co-workers, strangers we meet on emergency calls, neighbors that we know - are all players in the scene. Sometimes we feel as though we can predict the very next thing that will happen, and now and then, we get it right. But, for the most part, life gives us a parade of familiar and new, remarkable and startling, wondrous and frightening, challenging and fulfilling opportunities that we will only see - if we’re looking.
We can only affect that which we see; we see what we’re looking for and we look for what we know. Situational awareness is constantly observing and learning as much as we can as we go through life. It will not only make us safer on scene, it will make us better people. Better people make better responders.
Improving our skill of observation could quite simply, save lives someday.
Take time out of the next several days to very intentionally, in different public locations, practice situational awareness.
Start with the fixed environment you are in; notice the lighting, the traffic pathways though the space, the exits, the free spaces and the dead-ends.
Next, pay attention to the people within the space. Watch how people form groups, how they move past each other, how they act when they are alone. Notice people’s attention spans, their distractions, their reactions to others and their engagement with the rest of the general public.
Do not try to predict anything, do not judge or label any behaviors you see; just observe.
Make note of at least 3 patterns, surprises or discoveries that you made.
Do this as often as possible to raise your situational awareness.
In closing, awareness, on all of its levels, is about honesty. It is looking inward and outward without lenses or filters. It is an assessment of our life and our own course. It is also an empathetic observation of the people in our world. In first response, awareness ranges from threat assessment to the prerequisite of compassion.
Awareness sees the needs. Accountability, leads us to fill them.
Next value up - accountability. See you next time, stay safe!