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Pay Attention to Your Surroundings: Advice from a Manatee 🐾

Updated: Nov 7, 2023

Advice from a Manatee from The Whine Bar by Ally Brown CPC

Many of us are familiar with the term situational awareness, or at least we should be for our safety. To clarify just in case, situational awareness, in the simplest of terms, means paying attention to, and being aware of, your surroundings and what is going on around you.

For example, a few years back, I was meeting my husband at the dentist's office as we both had appointments but we were coming from different directions. I arrived at the destination first, or so I thought. As I parked my car, got out of it, and turned towards the building, I was startled by a person whom I sensed standing at my side, only a few feet away. Unbeknownst to me, my husband, driving a giant white pickup truck, followed me for five miles, passed me, and pulled into the parking lot ahead of me. Thankfully, nothing other than my ego ended up being bruised as I quickly learned that I needed to uplevel my skill of being situationally aware.

Fast forward to earlier this week, to an experience that I had while I was running an errand. While in the checkout line waiting for my turn, I could not help but overhear the loud disruptive conversations taking place. What stood out about those conversations? Three people who were at cash registers checking out were having visual phone conversations, while the cashiers were trying to do their jobs only to be drowned out by the focus of their customers engaging loudly with the parties projecting through the speakers on their phones. The increasing anxiety on the cashiers' faces was obvious as they glanced from the people in front of them to the faces of the customers in line with rolling eyes, trying to balance politeness with hinting at the need to end the interruptive conversations.

Thinking about both of these situations made me wonder . . .

If we are supposed to be situationally aware,

do we only need to be situationally aware when our safety may be at risk?

Whatever happened to be situationally aware out of respect for others?

As children, we are taught to push and pull gently with our peers until we achieve equilibrium, metaphorically speaking. It's considered just and fair, and we understand that sometimes, despite the fast food ads, we may not have it our way. However, somewhere along the line, for many, things like stress, loneliness, uncertainty, and even political divide crept in. In doing so, the overall focus seems to have shifted from doing what is for the greater good to doing what is good for the self.

Before you get your dander in an uproar, let me explain.

Have you ever told a joke and had it fall flat?

Have you ever been lost in a conversation or felt left out at a social event?

It may not have been the joke, the subject, or the people at the event that led to the negative reaction. It may have been a lack of situational awareness, which in this case means the inability to read the room. It means picking up on what is going on around you—the people, the setting, your role in it, and what it all means. It means understanding the emotions and thoughts of the people present and responding appropriately. It means being able to pick up on subtle, nonverbal cues such as body language, minute facial expressions, and context clues. It's about respect.

Having spent time in a great deal of time in Florida and having had up close personal experiences with Manatees, I can tell you firsthand that this is an important subject to be aware of.

Manatees are an amazing species of sea mammals, known for their calm, peaceful, and gentle nature. Moving at a speed of only 3-5 miles per hour, these mermaids will surface for approximately three to five minutes to take in air. With each breath they take, 90 percent of the air in their lungs is replaced, and then held underwater for up to 20 minutes. To put this in perspective, humans tend to replace roughly 10 percent of the air in their lungs with each breath, holding it even for a few minutes can be a challenge. This way of breathing and the placement of the manatee's diaphragm helps it maintain control over its exceptional buoyancy.

Now, although they may look like they have the physique of an underwater elephant, a manatee's body is mostly made up of a giant digestive system and it has very little fat for insulation. To get the energy to fuel their slow metabolisms, these herbivores spend the majority of their day in shallow coastal and river areas feasting on about 10 percent of their body weight worth of seagrass, mangrove leaves, and algae. With their low metabolic rate and minimal body fat, in months when the temperatures dip below 60 degrees, to avoid cold stress and possible death, manatees must find their way to warmer river tributaries or the warm waters that are put out by power plants.

November is Manatee Awareness Month. Manatees have been around for millions of years and have no natural predators, but sadly, humans have played a large role in putting all three species of Manatee at risk of extinction as most manatee deaths are caused by humans, and most are due to boat collisions. If humans do not respect the manatee, if they put their desires first, manatee deaths will continue as they are much too slow to escape from the path of a speeding boat. If humans do not respect the manatee, if they do not pay attention to the shadows in the shallows, or the bumps breaking the water's surface, then more manatees will be emblazoned with the scars of the propeller blades, or worse.

You will not likely be injured by a boat propeller from not reading a room, however, a different kind of damage could occur. Instead:

  • Become a more observant person. Taking the temperature of the room will help you to understand the mood of the people and the context of the situation.

  • Learn to read body language. In every social situation, it is important to observe and notice social cues, such as tone of voice, body movements, and facial expressions.

  • Interpret the unspoken rules. In every environment, there are subtle and nuanced rules of how you are expected to behave, and what is acceptable in that environment. ie: OK to have a phone on speaker while in a parking lot or a private room, not OK in the middle of a store.

In the checkout line example above, being able to read the room would have meant that the people checking out would have:

  • made the choice not to use the phone on speaker.

  • ended their calls well before approaching the register.

  • or, at the very least, recognized the cues shared by the cashiers, and the surrounding customers, acknowledged with an apology, and then ended the call as a sign of respect.

Being situationally aware is critical to being able to identify potential hazards, make good decisions, and prevent accidents. Reading the room is a critical part of situational awareness. When you enter any situation, think about how your behavior and your message will be received. Taking other's feelings into consideration helps you know when and if you need to adjust your approach to meet the unspoken rules of a situation.

Thinking about other people's feelings and achieving a balance of equilibrium is not putting your needs aside, it’s a show of respect and an act of kindness.

Just like maneuvering your boat away from a Manatee.

Cheers! 🥂

Need help? Looking for someone to talk to? Please feel free to reach out to me here.


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