Locate the Nearest Exit

Any of us who fly from time to time know the familiar flight attendants’ spiel. Besides the wise reminder to “adjust your own mask before helping others”, we are told to “find the exits closest to you, keeping in mind that your closest exit may be behind you.”

I comply. Not only do I find the exits, I also decide which will be easiest to reach, even if it isn’t the closest.

In 1980, a fire started in the MGM Grand Hotel in Las Vegas, killing 85 people. That disaster and others in the early 80’s taught me to find the exit on my hotel floor.

I’m not afraid. I have a better understanding of probability than the average Joe, due to numerous classes on it and a career in financial management. I know the probability of an airplane emergency or a hotel disaster is exceedingly low, and I run more risk every time I get in my car. But I look. After all, it only takes a moment to register this information.

The probability of being a victim in a mass shooting also is exceedingly low. (The current rate of occurrence, however, is many times greater than the airplane disaster or the hotel fire.) However, up until now I’ve considered this type of violence to be either TARGETED (not at me) or RANDOM (low probability). Now it feels like the potential for it is everywhere.

In 1991, before we moved to Iowa, a mass shooter at the University of Iowa killed four faculty members and a student, and seriously injured another, before killing himself. Since the shooting I studied at UI and taught there. On Valentine’s Day of 2008, a mass shooter at Northern Illinois University killed five people and wounded 21 more, before killing himself. Two of my college degrees are from NIU and I taught there, also. The murders were in a classroom I’d frequently used. There is no way to kid myself that mass shootings can’t happen where I am. The potential for it is everywhere.

Last night before I fell asleep, I conceded that the wise move is to locate the exits, in every public place I visit. Jim and I planned to attend the annual “Thieves’ Market” at the university union this morning. Mentally I located the exits of the rooms used for the market’s vendors.

Today while we spoke with a photographer selling his wares, the building fire alarm began to blare. The photographer was reluctant to leave his booth. I pointed down the aisle. “Your nearest exit is about 100 yards that way. When you need to leave it will be easy to get out.” Jim and I headed out the door.

Public health risks are addressed in every realm but firearms. Automobiles, yard darts, hotels and airplanes, sudafed, all are highly regulated to improve public health and safety. The one thing intended to kill us is not.

I am not afraid. I am sad and ashamed that we accept the violence, that it has become so commonplace, and that my only defense is to locate the nearest exit.



33 thoughts on “Locate the Nearest Exit

  1. Jim in IA

    I agree with you completely. We can do something about this as a nation if we choose to put our best minds to the task. Think of the many other great things we’ve done. Hell, we’ve put people on the Moon. We’ve elimated diseases. Choosing to do nothing is unacceptable to me.

  2. KerryCan

    What a sad commentary, that we are looking for exits wherever we go. Like others, I am so sick to death of hearing about “thoughts and prayers” when these shootings occur–what good do they do? It’s way past time to actually DO something.

  3. Steve Morris

    It doesn’t actually require “great minds” to fix this problem. Every other developed nation in the world has already solved it. It just needs people like you to somehow convince the other 50% of Americans to do it. I hope you can.

  4. jimfetig

    As a career soldier I had to accept the possibility I might be killed in a training accident or battle. On a day-to-day basis, military service is safe and the probability of being injured or worse is low.

    In that context it would seem that it’s growing more dangerous to live in normal civil life given the extreme proliferation of military grade assault weapons and ammunition and the expanding memes of ammosexual culture that prompt Freudian swagger, intimidation and aggression.

    Thus, as we go about our daily business, it’s not the bullet with our name on it that we should fear. The higher probability of danger lies in the bullet marked to whom it may concern.

    That’s a sad state of affairs.

  5. Jim in IA

    Sad indeed. The paralyzing grip on legislators needs to be broken. There is very high approval for action by the public. We each need to call or write to tell them to do the right thing.

  6. Almost Iowa

    I try to talk to people. Sometimes it is more productive to listen to them than to try to convince them of anything. A while back, I was talking to a “gun-guy” neighbor and I have to give him credit, he popped off one of the more interesting comments I have heard on the subject.

    He said, “The NRA taught us that it was cool to shoot at paper targets, it was Hollywood who taught us it was cool to shoot at people.”

    The next time you watch a shoot-em-up movie, stop to realize that script writers, producers, sound crews, cinematographers and special effects people work long hours and spend tremendous amounts of money – to make slaughter appealing.

    We can limit the ability of people to get their hands on guns – but maybe we should think about addressing our addiction to porn of violence.

    1. Melanie McNeil Post author

      Those are movies I rarely watch, but agreed, they are popular and surely have an affect on us all. YES on listening more than talking. Also asking questions helps to get others to clarify their thoughts.

      Thanks for reading and commenting today.

  7. BJ Good

    Words that pop into my mind on the epidemic of U.S.A. gun violence are mad, sad, frustrated, and discouraged. As always I appreciate your “and here is another way to look at it” approach.

  8. Steve Gingold

    All I can say is that I agree with your post, Melanie. Words are failing me. I see the rise of hatred and distrust and don’t see a way to get through to the antagonists. We are stuck in the middle.

    1. Melanie McNeil Post author

      Stuck, yes. I don’t feel like I’m in the middle on this, though. The thing I most don’t understand is those who purposely use fear to their advantage. Now granted, most marketing runs on fear. Afraid the gals will be grossed out by your dandruff? Afraid you’ll die and leave your loved ones with no money? Afraid you won’t have the new toy all your friends have? Solution to all these fears is to buy something. This fear being sold is different, though. This fear isn’t just to sell something, it’s also to fuel hate. … too much too much too much.

      1. Steve Gingold

        By in the middle I don’t mean in our beliefs, but in our willingness to talk, to understand and to negotiate civilly without spewing the hate, to come to meaningful places that get us somewhere…not divided by insults and threats.

  9. Pat T.

    Again… thank you, Melanie, for expressing it so very well…
    (You write so eloquently… just what is in my heavy heart… )

  10. Debra

    Yes. Yes to everything you said. Gun violence isn’t going to be solved by gun control. It is a public health issue. That so many people feel such despair and rage and fear is a symptom of systemic disorder. And what a coincidence to read this today. Just last night a friend of ours was saying that ‘due to all the recent gun violence’ he is thinking of getting a gun. A guy whose day job is working with artificial intelligence yet he seemed oblivious of basic statistics & probability. My husband and I were flabbergasted. I wanted to say ‘due to all the recent corporate malfeasance’ resulting in hundreds of daily deaths and illnesses I was thinking of becoming a food activist. Or, ‘Due to all the recent car accident deaths and injuries I am committed more than ever to using public transit.’ There are real threats out there that we actually have some power over.

    1. Melanie McNeil Post author

      I’ll admit I’m not sure what you’re saying. I absolutely believe that gun control will help reduce gun violence. Certainly we do have “systemic disorder” as you say, and that is the underlying problem. But we DO have power over how that the symptoms of that systemic disorder are displayed, if we choose to use it.

      1. Debra

        I think the violence of this society is partly a consequence of the inequality that is structured into a capitalist culture and I seriously doubt that there is either the political will or even a populist will to address that. Though people and our environment are suffering people keep misunderstanding the true source of their problems. So white males who believe they see a real reduction in their power and wealth create men’s rights groups and blame women for their problems or turn to alcohol or other forms of despair.When African Americans speak up about real system abuses people dismiss their complaints with toss off lines like: all lives matter. So groups fights amongst each other instead of looking for solutions. Guys like Trump deliberately redirect their anger toward immigrants and Muslims. I live in the south and I see how people are latching onto these easy targets with far too much glee instead of demanding the kinds of real changes that will truly benefit them. I would be thrilled if people did find some solidarity and started to demand change but I don’t see much evidence that is happening. As long as people keep redirecting their energies away from solving those real issues there will be gun violence. That and a public campaign that teaches people that solving problems begins with words instead of violence …. I sometimes think we all need to return to kindergarten!

  11. Mrs. P

    I remember talking to a fireman once, he told me the first thing he did when he went anywhere was to look for the exits. Ever since then I’ve adopted this habit. It came in handy one day when I was at a movie theater with my father. He got around using a walker and on this day a fire broke out in the mall next to the theater. Though he was a bit challenged by the stairs, we were able to get out quickly.

    1. Melanie McNeil Post author

      I’m glad you were prepared that way. I’m not a worrier by nature so I don’t spend a lot of time on that kind of thinking, but as you know, just taking a look around does make you more aware and ready, if needed. Thanks, Mrs. P.

  12. Melissa Pierson

    I am not afraid, either, but locating the exits is prudent. When I was growing up my dad always emphasized that. When driving he taught me to notice not just the car in front of me but what was going on in front of him, if possible, and the guy behind, and possible escape routes with my car should something happen. It is second nature to me now. I’ve come to the conclusion that the human species is inherently violent and so I’m more moved by evidence to the contrary than shocked by evidence that supports that.

    1. Melanie McNeil Post author

      I tried to teach our daughter, a star high school volleyball setter, to treat the roads like she would the court — know what’s likely to happen on all sides of her. Sounds like what your dad said. Yes, I think we are violent by nature. I also think our nature is to be very tender and giving. We get to choose which characteristics are expressed. I think, though, many people don’t think of it as a conscious choice. That’s too bad.


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