A recent incident in which my friend became temporarily blind got me thinking about awareness, in particular, being aware of one’s surroundings (a popular topic for martial artists and ninja enthusiasts). Here’s the excerpt of our conversation.

“Have you ever been blind temporarily?”, my friend suddenly asked.

“Blacking out or an actual loss of sight?”, I clarified.

“Loss of sight.”

“Nope… Why?”

Something was amiss and her look of worry confirmed that.

“Nah… It’s just that my vision was gone for two minutes while on the train.”

“What!? Didn’t you panic? No one noticed your expression?”

“A little… But no one noticed. Last I saw, everyone was using their phones.”

Though absurd, it was no surprise that no one noticed the distraught expression of a fellow commuter who had gone blind. Most train passengers on morning commute would be either asleep or engrossed with their phones.

In martial arts, awareness is a requirement for effective self-defence. On a basic level, being situationally aware forewarns you of danger before and when it happens. On the next level, awareness allows you to intuitively know your immediate environment to better prepare youself for a fight-or-flight response; to know your escape route and objects that can be used for personal protection (as weapons or obstacles to hide behind). This outlines the common thought about awareness – to avoid danger.

Another application of awareness has to do with courtesy and respect, something that is sadly lost on many people. On my commute to work during rush hour, I have lost count of the times I yelled “excuse me” in frustration when someone chooses to use their phones while walking. They inadvertently block the crowds of people rushing to work and occasionally knock into other commuters from being distracted. This lack of awareness might even be hazardous. To put it bluntly, you are asking for it if you choose to keep your eyes on your phone while crossing the road and get knocked down. Some would call this natural selection at work.

Using phone while meeting with friends

On the same topic of awareness and courtesy, I have observed individuals being distracted by their phones while conversing with someone else. While this is a mark of being discourteous, the consequence of not being aware in a conversation can be far worse than disrespect. What if the person you were speaking with was trying to broach a sensitive topic or needed some form of attention? This means a lot to someone who is going through a tough situation. Maybe, the act of just looking up from the damn phone would save someone who is suicidal.

And this brings me back full circle to my friend who was blind for two minutes. Being aware could save someone from a bad day or even death. It wasn’t until that conversation that it occurred to me that one of the purposes of awareness is to save someone else; an act of compassion. We do have a duty to other people, don’t we?

Awareness is noticing, knowing and responding. How do you become more aware of your surroundings? Start by cutting away modern-day distractions and stop multi-tasking. Look up from your phone more often and turn off your headphones.

And if you are walking, crossing the road or driving, put that damn phone away! Don’t be a nuisance to others and a hazard to yourself.

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