Alertness vs. carelessness

Being aware of what is taking place around me so I can have the right responses.

Alertness is a simple yet powerful concept. Used wisely, alertness to surrounding circumstances can give you an edge on approaching dangers and emerging opportunities.

Alertness is a form of information indexing. Our minds create a general list of the objects and opportunities which pass within reach of our attention. However, we can give attention to only a relative few of these, so many are either ignored or filed away in memory. Alertness is exercising our ability to notice and file away information for future reference as needed.

Fifteen-year-old Kate Shelley was helping her mother clean up after dinner as the storm of July 6, 1881, raged outside. Kate listened carefully when she heard something clanking in the distance near the railroad track running alongside the creek. On stormy nights, a crew often checked the tracks ahead of the late-night train. As she completed her chores, Kate remained alert to what was happening outside. Suddenly, she heard a loud crack, timbers creaking and snapping, a bell ringing out of control. Then it was silent. Kate immediately connected the sounds and realized what had happened. The bridge had collapsed and the engine had fallen into the creek. Kate rushed out to see if the men on the train were all right. Wet and muddy, the shivering girl emerged from the woods where the railroad tracks crossed the creek. The tracks ended abruptly, suspended over the darkness below. Hearing the voices of the men who were trapped in the wreck and rising waters, Kate continued running to the station ahead to deliver the news of the accident. The station attendants sprang to action and disappeared into the night to rescue the men trapped in the creek and the telegraph operator was able to stop the midnight express in time. Hundreds of lives were saved on that night because a 15-year-old was alert and took the initiative to warn others.

At home, gather various objects and have your children close their eyes as you tap, drop, open and close, activate or otherwise make noise with the objects. See if the children can guess what an object is by its sound. Talk to them about alertness and the need for connecting signals in order to determine their meaning, and perhaps read and discuss the Kate Shelley story.

Brought to you by the Four Corners Character Council. Character First! definitions and information used by permission. Copyright Character First Training Institute. www.characterfirst.com.

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