Obeying signs

Friday, April 12, 2013

One of the first things educators teach their students is to read signs. It can be a matter of life or death. If a child does not know that S T O P means to stop they may be seriously injured or even killed. When going to a foreign country one of the things travelers must know is how to read the signs that tell them where to go, and that keeps them safe. The driver's license test makes sure that those who get certified as legal drivers know the meaning of the various traffic signs. There is no question that we need to read and obey signs for our own good.

However. Lately I have been seeing many signs that should not be obeyed literally. For example, at the cancer clinic where we have spent much time recently, each door to each room or cubicle has a small machine that dispenses a liquid to kill the germs on your hands. However the sign at the bottom says, "Hold hands at this line for three seconds." OK, my daughter was with me so we went and stood by the machine holding each other's hands and nothing happened in three, six or even 60 seconds. It was pleasant to be holding my adult daughter's hands, but it didn't really make us free of germs. Perhaps we misread the instructions?

At almost every junction along important highways there are advertising signs telling us about the values or pleasures that we who are passing by could experience at a certain place of business. Quite often the sign reads, in very large letters, possibly in red, "TURN HERE." If we had turned at that spot we would have ended up in a ditch, headed into a tree, or perhaps even had an unexpected visit at a resident's home along the highway. Did they really mean we should wait until the intersection?

Some business people fully understand the problem when people read signs in a hurry. A restaurant in the Ozarks that we visited lately had a large hand written sign on the right hand side of a double glass door. The sign said, "Use Other Door." A smaller sign on the left side of the double door read, "This is the Other Door!" These were the only doors in plain view of the two doors, but evidently a business person with a sense of humor solved the confusion problem with the signs.

All instructions that are misunderstood are not written ones. Verbal instructions can get very confusing if they are taken literally. Back seat drivers can contribute to this chaos. A voice from the back, or the passenger seat, saying, "Right here is where we turn" can cause havoc when the direction needed to take for the turn was left. It's possible that this conversation can be extended for minutes, maybe even hours or years depending on the amount of confusion brought about by the instruction.

I have often wanted to skip across an intersection when the flashing light says, "Don't Walk." The command does not specify moving across the street, but merely refers to the method of passing across. I'm afraid that my middle age plus status stands in the way of such actions, and when I was not even middle age I don't remember any such signs.

Thinking back to our medical message earlier, I remembered to put the new prescription bottle that had been ordered back in the proper drawer for pill time. The directions on the bottle say, "Take one pill every day for two weeks." I'm worried about the condition that pill will be in when it has been taken for 14 days. I don't want to outguess the doctor, but is that really what he meant?

Maybe the familiar saying we use in our family so often (especially when I use the wrong child's name to tell some news item) should be used in many of these cases. "You mean what I know."