Learned Helplessness

Back to my trip to Thailand and Cambodia ..  So much wisdom gained from this trip and so little time to pass it all along.  I don’t claim to be an expert in anything I write about .. simply my observations and opinions.  Feel free to refute or agree..

I was home for just a couple days and was blown away by a certain aspect of life I had grown quite used to.   The constant noise of sirens .. be it the police hunting down someone not wearing their seatbelts, or an ambulance rushing to a medical emergency or exaggeration, or the fire trucks bursting through the city to a fire or false alarm.  I live in a pseudo city of 50k people that apparently get into some sort of trouble every 10 to 15 minutes .. helplessness.  Or perhaps the civil servants are under pressure to justify their piece of the taxpaying pie.  Either way, it’s terribly disruptive and unnerving.

I was only in South East Asia for 5 weeks and China for 6 months but one thing is for sure.. they don’t live with the constant authoritative assertions of sirens and horns from emergency vehicles.  In fact, in 5 weeks I never heard a single siren .. nor witnessed a single high speed emergency response vehicle ripping through the city with it’s lights blaring.  In 6 months in China, I maybe witnessed 1 emergency vehicle doing it’s thing .. and I lived in a city of 5 million people.

Why is this ?  Because they don’t have these services ?  Wrong .. police everywhere armed to the teeth .. on standby .. on watch .. on patrol.  I saw hospitals and ambulances scattered throughout the cities .. and I saw fire stations filled with trucks and employees ( or volunteers ).  Why are they so quiet ?  Is there a lack of “problems” in Asian cities and towns ?

There is no lack back home on Canadian and American soil! Problems are part of everyday life over here .. in fact, we glorify these problems and their saviours with low budget television programs like “Cops” where you get to watch people in uniforms power-trip on down and out members of society.  Are we really this helpless over here ?  Do we really need this much help?  ..  is there really a fire or medical emergency every 15 minutes in a town of 50,000 people ?  Really ?

Driving :  First thing to note in the Asian cities I went to, is that there isn’t really any speeding or reckless driving going on over there.  It should be noted that if a complete stranger to Asia were to visit and see the driving that goes on, they would be blown away..  the apparent chaos and lack of traffic rules .. scooters and motorcycles driving between lanes and cars .. pedestrians crossing anywhere anytime .. street lights not always the determining factor of the flow of traffic .. a lack of helmets and seatbelts .. U-turns anywhere .. people driving on sidewalks or walking streets or paths ..  Apparent chaos !!  Not so …  I call this freedom and social harmony.  People drive way more responsibly than they do here in the Americas ..

There are plenty of high end street racing bikes roaming around but I doubt they ever get out of second or third gear.  Everyone seems to drive at a good pace, respecting each others place on the road.  Pedestrians are comfortable entering traffic and making their way through as needed.  Once in a while, you see a police officer directing traffic .. and everything flows nicely .. So what appears to be chaos, is actually a very well oiled machine with little or no need for police oversight.  I saw 2 accidents in Thailand ..and both were foreigners on scooters who had dropped their bikes all on their own .. their accident didn’t not involve another motorist nor was the result of another motorist’s actions.  Other than this, I witnessed no accidents, no speeding, no reckless driving .. no need for police intervention.. and trust me, I was looking for it.

In a place where there seems to be less rules governing civilian behaviour, I was amazed at how well things got along without big brother taking care of everyone.

Ambulances:  I never heard one .. I was never near to a medical emergency .. and there weren’t any in ear shot . blocks away from my location.  People must be getting into accidents .. people must be getting old and dying .. or getting sick.  We hear negativity all the time surrounding the state of cleanliness in these foreign countries .. surely, people must be diseased and full of sickness.  Is no one having a heart attack ?  Any strokes happening ?  Anyone cutting off limbs or falling off substandard scaffolding ?  Apparently not.  Are these people more responsible maybe ?  Are we simply unhealthy, helpless and feeble in the Americas ?

Firetrucks :  Never saw a fire .. I saw many situations that would stress out our Western fire marshalls .. things that would not pass “code’ here at home .. activities that would never be allowed back at home ..  but not a singe problem. Not a single need to turn on the sirens and go ripping through the streets.  Why is it, that in a place where there seems to be a clear lack of rules and regulations surrounding electricity and fires, that things get along just fine.. ?

We are learning helplessness here in the West.  We are like children in constant need of oversight .. of parenting.  We have so many rules and regulations that we cannot act and be responsible for ourselves.  The rules do this for us.  For example:  In most provinces in Canada, it is against the law to not wear your seatbelt.  It is a law that forces you to wear something that helps and protects you.  Do we really need a law for this ?  Can we not be in charge of at least our own personal safety in a vehicle ?  Or do we really need a parent telling us to wear it, and if we don’t there will be a serious consequence.  Learned helplessness .. And I believe that with this commanding control of the simplest of safety actions, comes an attitude of .. “if I get into an accident, the safety belt will save me.  It’s ok to get into an accident because insurance will pay for the damage and the seatbelt will save my life.  Everything is taken care of .. I don’t have to try .. I don’t have to watch .. I don’t have to be responsible because big brother is doing this for me.”

I might be way off base with all of this .. but this is what I see.  I see a society so paranoid about health issues and sanitation that they have become pincushions for pharmaceutical entities .. hand sanitizers in every room of public buildings .. MacDonalds and their many competitors as main staples of nutrition in every city .. Big Box store Drugstores every 5 blocks .. Flu shots and antibiotics for every ailment.  We are fed badness .. we get sick .. we take so many pills and drugs that we compromise our body’s ability for fend for itself.  We are overweight, unhealthy, needy and helpless.

And finally, the rules and regulations .. the building permits .. the fire codes .. Health and Safety boards .. All sounds very helpful .. but are they ?  Or once again, are we just children looking for approval from our parent.  Are all the dangers and potential problems outlinds and detailed for us already so that we don’t need to think about them .. to act prudently .. to critically think about what we are doing.  We’ve been robbed of our ability to think for ourselves ..  at gun point.. or with threats of financial penalties and loss of society’s privileges.

People in Thailand and Cambodia seemed pretty happy to me.  It was extremely rare to see an overweight person .. a person in trouble .. a traffic accident .. a speeder or reckless driver .. a police officer harassing citizens .. a pharmacy larger than a Max Milk .. an ambulance saving the day or a fire truck impressing us with it’s power and might.  I sit here typing .. very envious of their lives .. feeling a bit trapped and helpless here in the “free world”.  Knowledge is power as they say .. and I am taking a few pointers from my travels .. I am shaking free of this learned helplessness..  and so should you.

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