Looking and Seeing…..

I have become increasingly disenchanted with newspapers, which have evolved from the business of reporting the news of the day to making the news of the day. That being said, I do enjoy the section in USA Today where they offer a sound bite from each of the states in America. This past week, after reviewing this section, I was struck by how little I remembered from this review, which in turn reminded me of a consideration that often has tragic consequences. I am writing today to remind my readers that looking and seeing are two entirely different concepts. Let’s have a look at the differences.

One of the tenants of good airmanship when you are a pilot, licensed or not, is the pre-flight inspection of the airplane you are about to fly. A conscientious pilot conducts this examination each time he or she is preparing for a flight, however short the flight may be. This inspection encompasses checking many things, from oil levels to the condition of the propeller and control surfaces. You check to see if water has somehow worked it’s way into your fuel tanks, the tires are inflated, and that birds have not constructed a bird-mansion on top of your engine….among many other things. This examination is relatively easy and is often taken for granted, which can have dire consequences if you approach it from the standpoint of looking but not seeing potential problems. It happens.

Another example of the disconnect between seeing and looking happens often in the case of automobile crashes. Assuming the drivers in a crash survive and are able to talk, it is astounding how many times an investigating officer is told by a driver that he or she “looked but did not see” the other car. This usually occurs at intersections familiar to the driver and taken for granted. I am sure that in most cases, the driver did “look” but it is obvious by the result they did not see an approaching vehicle. You see, looking is a function of the eyes, while seeing requires the brain to be working in conjunction with the eyes. Traffic officers are all too familiar with the disconnect between the eyes and the brain, resulting in bent metal or worse, broken people.

In the case of airplanes, conscientious airmen rely on a printed checklist of items to review before we throttle up and blast off. These checklists are time consuming, however critical to the safe operation of an airplane. In the commercial flying world, where checklists are viewed with the same sanctity as the word of God, missing a checklist item in a flight review is sure to gain you time with the chief pilot in a conversation you would rather avoid. In the automobile world, looking and not seeing can result in a plethora of consequences ranging from simply embarrassing to tragic. The seeing/looking concept is the reason we have stop signs, as they offer a driver a precious moment or two to connect the brain to the eyes, of which the benefits are obvious.

A mental exercise that I now employ when reviewing the USA Today state review is to recount the news from Missouri and the surrounding states from memory. I use this simple review process to remind me that is is not enough to simply look at something, although the news is often of no value to me. Before this mental exercise, it was surprising how often that I could not recall the news from Missouri alone!

As a final thought on this topic, police officers are trained to look and see as an occupational necessity. You absolutely must look and see if you are going to recall, accurately, details such as colors, dress, hairstyles and numbers as in the case of license plates. The next time you walk through your supermarket, try and recall the individuals you saw in the previous aisle. You will then grasp this concept in it’s entirety.

I suspect we all could benefit from tuning up the connection between brain and eye. This tune up is of particular value to those of us who have lived long enough let our minds go to sleep. Are you doing more looking than seeing? Think about it……

Have a great weekend.


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