I moved to North Carolina about 3 weeks ago. Prior to that I’ve lived in Pennsylvania, Minnesota, and Michigan, so I’m used to big snow storms, but I’ve never had to prepare for a hurricane. Two days ago, Hurricane Florence was predicted to be the most powerful hurricane ever to hit the Carolinas, with a direct hit on the coast 130 miles from my home in the Raleigh area, and a direct path here.
So here I am – a person who knows nothing about hurricane preparation, learning at breakneck speed how to prepare for the possibilities of flooding, being without water or power for an extended period of time, and countless other issues. Florence isn’t just some little storm so I could ease into my learning – this was the big one and I had to learn fast.
As I’ve reflected on my experience of the past several days I’ve been reminded of a few things about how humans learn and the impact it makes on how we function at work – and the broader society. Here are my top four:
1. When we have a strong human need, our memories are better.
In less than a week I’ve become a wealth of knowledge about how to store potable water, how long food can last without refrigeration, and the optimal dry foods to keep on hand. At any other time this would have been “nice to know” but now it’s “need to know” and it’s seared in my memory. I am dumping all kinds of other things from my memory (more on that in #3 below) but the most essential things will not – can not – be forgotten. This is why goals are so important. The human brain is wired to hold onto those things it believes are truly important.
2. Almost all learning is informal and social.
I have learned so much from the people around me … at work, from my neighbors, even from the people at the checkout line at the grocery store. And of course there’s CNN and the Internet – and just watching what other people are doing. I didn’t attend a class on hurricane preparation, but I know as much as could have been packed into any 1-day class.
3. Cognitive overload prevents us from functioning optimally.
Yesterday I topped up my gas tank and I stopped into the convenience store for final supplies. It was early morning and they were just unloading the trucks, so I was able to get batteries. The day before my husband, Tom, had taken inventory of our flashlights and batteries and sent me a text with what to buy. But when I found myself at 6am in a convenience store, surrounded by other similar shoppers and nervous energy, when the kind clerk opened the carton of D batteries and asked how many I wanted, I took 3 packs of two. It wasn’t ‘till much later that I remembered that text from my husband. Our lantern uses 4 D batteries, so I needed 4 or 8, not 6. At that moment of stress I forgot that any support resources even existed and just went with my gut, even though I knew at the time I had no idea what the real “answer” was.
4. We are better together.
Mostly, though, I’ve been reminded that we are better together. I’ve lived in my new state for just 3 weeks. I’ve just started to get to know my new neighbors – and in fact, it was only last week that I stopped using my GPS to get to work every day. But I’ve already had neighbors stop by to tell me they’re available if I need anything. And as I watch the efforts of all the people around me, working together to prepare for “the big one” I am reminded of the resiliency of the human spirit and how important it is for us to all work together to achieve our common goals.