Following Instructions

This morning, waiting in the aisle of Southwest Flight 931 to choose my seat, I was talking with a man from San Antonio I’d met in the boarding area.   We were both experienced business travelers exchanging … as experienced business travelers do … stories of cities visited and flights endured.  The flight attendant, who appeared to be almost as old as I am … remember when they were all young and glamorous?  probably not … was giving her full flight speech.   Ladies and gentlemen, this is a very full flight.  There is limited overhead space for carry-on luggage, so please place any  items such as computer bags, cameras, coats or hats under the seat in front of you. As she was finishing, the man in front of me stuffed his computer bag into a partially full bin and farther down the aisle, a woman was doing the same with her coat and purse.   My temporary traveling companion and I just looked at each other and laughed.

One of the first things we’re taught in grammar school is the importance of following instructions.  Apparently that doesn’t come naturally to us as a species.  I know that because being married to a teacher, one of the complaints I hear most when students aren’t progressing is, He doesn’t follow instructions.  There’s a freeway junction near our home in California that is marked miles in advance, 55 FWY SOUTH, KEEP LEFT, yet as you approach the exit ramp, at least 55% of the cars in the right lanes are making last minute lane changes to the left. In the supermarket, we regularly find ourselves behind 20-item shoppers in the 12 Items or Less express lanes (people Urban Dictionary so aptly name expressholes).   How many of us have assembled a piece of Ikea furniture without reading the instructions, only to discover one leg is on backwards?

Why is it that we don’t follow instructions?  Thinking about it, I came up with several reasons.  In this fast-paced society of ours, we think that skipping the instructions may save precious time.  Sometimes that doesn’t work out (as in taking apart and reassembling that Ikea table) and sometimes it saves time at the expense of others (as in last minute lane changers and expressholes).   Which suggests another reason … we tend to be a very self-centered species.  The selectively deaf man stuffing his computer bag into the overhead bin isn’t bad, he’s just inconsiderate.   And then there are those of us … Older Eyes certainty excluded … that think we’re too smart for instructions, even after experience shows we’re not.

I wonder … would life actually be better if listened to our kindergarten teachers and followed instructions?   What do you think?

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2 Comments on “Following Instructions”

  1. territerri Says:

    Life would definitely be better if everyone followed instructions. Sometimes I feel as if all I do at work is explain to customers how to complete their loan applications… even though the instructions are clearly available on the website. I think for some people, they see a big lump of words and their brains shut down. It’s just too much to process.

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