Tuesday, June 23, 2009

The Metro vs. Mott: Closeness is Relative

Yesterday, two stories hit the news that caught the Quarterback's attention. Unless you live in Southeast Michigan (and for many of you, even if you live in Southeast Michigan) you probably only heard about one.

The first story came in the morning. A worker constructing the new C.S.Mott Children's Hospital at the University of Michigan Medical Center was killed by falling debris. The second story you've undoubtedly heard. Two cars on the Washington, D.C. Metro collided at the Maryland border, killing 9 and injuring many more.

On the face of it, the hospital construction accident is literally much closer to home for the Quarterback, who lives in Ann Arbor, MI. Both of my children have been hospitalized at Mott, my son was born next door, and my husband and a number of friends are medical center employees. And yet, I found myself following the coverage of the D.C. crash much more closely. Why?

In this situation, the way our brains are wired to acquire new information is truly working against us. Whenever we learn something new, we try to fit it into what we already know. If we imagine our brains and our memories as a gigantic collection of file cabinets, it is much more efficient to file new information in an existing drawer than it is to build a whole new cabinet.

When I heard the news about the construction death, I opened the drawer marked "Mott hospital." I felt a connection, but not any fear. Nowhere in that drawer is there anyone who is working on the construction site. My connection did not travel anywhere near the death of the worker, it only went by way of the physical location.

When I heard about the train crash, my brain opened the drawer marked "D.C. Metro rider." And found all the times I myself have ridden the Metro, as well as my in-laws, cousins and friends who live in Washington and ride the Metro every day. Even though I could be 99% certain, based on the location of the crash, that none of them were affected, I was pulling out the file that told me they could have been -- the file that said I could have been, too. So my reaction was stronger. If I or someone in my close circle were a construction worker, the reverse might well have been true.

Being close to an event doesn't mean physical proximity. It means identifying with it. Closeness is relative in more ways than one. Thank goodness, the Quarterback's relatives are safe.


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Naomi Zikmund-Fisher
is a clinical social worker, former school Principal and a Crisis Consultant for schools and community organizations. You can learn more about her at www.SchoolCrisisConsultant.com
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