Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Learn Basic Skills: Most of Us Should Know How to Drive

The marvelous science fiction writer and linguist Suzette Haden Elgin has a post on her Live Journal about learning to drive again. She lives in a rural area of Arkansas, but depends on her husband to do the driving.

Elgin, who is over 70 and often writes frankly on issues of aging, is making sure she can drive because she knows she could end up needing to take care of her husband at some point -- what if he was too ill to drive?

But situations like that don't just happen to older people; they can happen to any of us. And while I would argue that developing community -- family, close friends, neighbors, or at best of all combination of all three -- is an important part of self defense, there will always be situations when you are the only person who can do something.

The unskilled person who rises to the occasion makes for exciting cinema -- think of all those movies about the unskilled flight attendant or passenger who lands the plane -- but in real life, it's a lot easier to deal with a crisis when you already know how to do the basic things, like drive a car.

I'm not saying everyone needs to learn how to drive, of course; the actual basic skills you need depend greatly on where you live. If you live in Manhattan, for example, you don't really need to know how to drive, though you do need to know how to hail a cab and find the right subway stop. And not everyone can drive; some people have disabilities that make it impossible.

But if you live in a sprawling city with bad public transportation -- as do large numbers of us in the US -- or in the country, driving is a skill you need, even if you don't drive regularly or own a car. If you have a disability that prevents you from driving, then you need to plan how you will handle a situation if your regular transportation situation falls through.

Driving is an example of a basic skill. There are others. Off the top of my head, I come up with knowing how to quickly evacuate a building if you live or work in a highrise, knowing how to turn off the water to your house in case a pipe breaks, and knowing how to get home in case some disaster blocks your usual path. There are dozens -- maybe hundreds -- of others.

The unexpected happens and most of us freak out to one degree or another when it does. If you can handle the basic things when a crisis hits, you'll find it easier to be calm and deal with the larger problem.

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