Each and every day, we all go about our business happy in the knowledge that, for the most part, we know and understand everything that’s around us. We don’t really consider the specifics of so many things, that it’s a far too regular occurrence that we could ‘zone out’ because we just expect that everything will work the way it always has.
The picture above is taken from Google Maps and shows the footbridge that sits over the A20 road in Ditton, Kent. It’s a bridge that I’ve walked over a great many times over the years as I lived on one side, and the schools I went to from ages 5 to 13 were on the other. It’s a solid structure and hasn’t changed over the years. It sits there no matter the weather, and provides a grateful public with a method to cross a very busy main road.
The reason I bring this up is that every time I walked over the bridge, save for the occasional icy morning, I never felt the need to hold onto the railings. I was happy to march up and over and then down the other side freely swinging my arms from an early age. It never ever crossed my mind that I was in danger up there so I just went on my way happily.
But take the railings away, now it’s much more dangerous and I doubt very much that anyone would want to risk making their way over just in case.
Now this is the challenging part.
Why wouldn’t I be just as able to walk over that bridge without the railings there as I had with them in place?
I was able to happily stroll over the top of that bridge without a care in the world, never coming close to the edge of the concrete platform and not even threatening the possibility of ever grazing my hand onto the metal barriers, yet take them away and I’m sure I’d be reduced to crawling over the bridge on my hands and knees if I even did that. I didn’t use the barriers but they were there to give me the protection if I asked for it.
I recognise that this is a relatively odd example but how about this one.
Another picture from Google Maps but this time it’s of the old aqueduct in Aberdulais. Another area that I know well thanks to spending a huge amount of time playing around here when I was a child visiting my family in Neath.
Now you can see from the image, the aqueduct travels over the river to the canal on the far side and it’s easy to walk across the aqueduct to the other side. Importantly, there are no barriers.
When the water level is low as in the picture, it’s simple to just casually wander over the old structure and we did regularly. There was a twenty foot drop to the river but we just carried on. Now I’ve also walked over the aqueduct when the river level was much higher. Huge heavy rain had swelled the river to have reached up to around three feet from the top and it was thundering along at a remarkable speed. Walking over the same familiar pathway became vastly more terrifying because of the increased proximity of the water.
I recognise that there was more danger from the risk provided by the force of the water hitting the aqueduct and the chance that a fallen tree could have been washed up and onto us as we walked so please don’t think that I’m just saying that each situation should be treated the same. What I’m looking at is how the change of a single element of what we do can spin us out of our comfort zone but that before we let the spinning commence, maybe just by examining the details of what it was that’s been altered can allow us to handle the change more smoothly.
In each of the examples above, the actual task of being able to walk over the same route, hadn’t changed. I was able to walk over the bridge and the aqueduct without there being any concerns when the surrounding conditions were one way yet the task of doing the same thing with a single detail altered changes the dynamics hugely.
I’m always looking at options for characters in what I write and it can become all too easy to fall down on the idea that something massive is needed to shake up the casual calm of those involved when all you need to do is make something mundane become suddenly more uncomfortable.
Imagine doing this and feeling casually blasé about it.
Jimmy Kimmel Live on You Tube.