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David Bouchier: Be Prepared

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“Be Prepared” is the motto of the scouts in America, as it was when I was briefly a scout in England. The motto made no lasting impression on me at the time because my scouting career was so short that I had no time to get prepared for anything. My knots were unorthodox, and my good deeds were not much of a success either.

But the recent round of East Coast storms has brought that old motto back to mind. In the anxious 21st century, we are advised to be prepared for every possible kind of disaster all the time. Some of us are not psychologically gifted in this way. We prefer to anticipate the good things in life rather than the bad ones. But everyone has his or her own personal level of preparedness, and we all prepare for different emergencies in different ways. My wife, for example, is always prepared for hurricanes. She has a go-bag for evacuation, a store of food and candles and a battery-powered radio so we won’t miss any of the bad news. Since Hurricane Sandy we have moved up to a new level of preparedness, with two oil lamps and a supply of long Victorian novels.

Women on the whole seem better at being prepared than men. They think ahead and tend to have useful things like band aids and tweezers that you never expect to need at all until you need them in a hurry. It must be something to do with being the caring sex. Men do prepare in their own clumsy way. I am well prepared for a shortage of wine or printer ink cartridges, for example. My spare tire is always inflated, and my library card is always up to date. But that’s as far as I am willing to go. I used to carry a spare dog leash in case we found a lost dog, but we never did. We can’t possibly be prepared for everything. There are just too many disasters waiting to happen, including a brand-new virus, a comet strike, the collapse of the internet, and the end of shopping as we know it. We can’t worry about them all.

So how far should we go? It seems reasonable to have things like fire extinguishers and smoke alarms around the house, but less reasonable to load up with tasers and assault weapons. Quite a lot of our neighbors have boats parked beside their homes. The boats never go to sea from one year to the next, so we can only assume that they are there ready for the big flood — domestic Noah’s Arks in miniature. This suggests an excessive degree of pessimism.

When it comes to being prepared, the true champions are the survivalists, still waiting impatiently for the apocalypse in their underground bunkers. They think they are completely safe unless they venture outside their fortress and catch a virus. How ridiculous! But how ridiculous is it? Thinking about their security makes us feel insecure. Perhaps we all need to become survivalists? We’re halfway there already. We have food, and a drawer full of flashlight batteries, and enough paper clips and aspirins to last a lifetime. All we need is an inflatable boat, a 5,000-watt generator and an impregnable bunker in the basement. Then we’ll be prepared for just about anything.

Copyright: David Bouchier


David began as a print journalist in London and taught at a British university for almost 20 years. He joined WSHU as a weekly commentator in 1992, becoming host of Sunday Matinee in 1996.