A Tweet Changed My Actions, and Maybe Saved My Life
Social media tends to be sound and fury signifying nothing, at least most of the time. It seems that ultimately, no one changes their mind or actions based on it.
But several months ago, I saw a tweet that actually did make me stop and ponder. In it, someone wrote that two friends had drowned over the weekend in an accident where they would have survived if they’d been wearing their life jackets. That this tragedy could have so easily been avoided stuck with me.
I kayak a couple times a week. I’ve always carried a life jacket, but it’s stuffed behind the seat. I’m not required to wear it, and even if it were full of water, the kayak itself still floats.
Not wearing my life jacket was the same as driving without my seatbelt buckled.
The same logic applies to kayaking. When would I need a life jacket? In the event of an accident. But the very nature of the word means it would be unexpected. What good is the life jacket behind my seat going to do? If I were hit by a boat and knocked overboard unconscious, for example, how much good would the jacket—or even the still floating kayak—do me?
I’ve graduated the Royal Danish Navy’s Fromandkorpset Combat Swim School, which is a nice way of saying I was very cold in the North Sea for several weeks and swam very long distances, learning the fundamental rule that dry suits aren’t dry. But while I was there, one of their elite soldiers—the equivalent of Navy SEALs in the U.S.—drowned during a mission because he was knocked unconscious by the concussion of an explosion. Even the most well-trained and well-prepared people are not impervious to accidents—myself included.
The more I thought about various worst-case scenarios—much like we used to “war game” our missions in Special Forces during isolation prior to deployment—the more I realized that not wearing my life jacket was the same as driving without my seatbelt buckled.
From that day forward, even on the calmest water, I started wearing the life jacket. The first time I did so, I realized how useless it was stuffed behind my seat: I didn’t even have it adjusted correctly. Adjusting it for proper fit in an actual emergency would have obviously been too late.
I soon realized how incredibly fortuitous it was that a simple tweet had led me to change my ways.
And I soon realized how incredibly fortuitous it was that a simple tweet had led me to change my ways.
Normally I kayak on the placid Tennessee River. But recently I went kayaking down the much more turbulent Little River out of the Smoky Mountains. I hit a submerged rock and the kayak went over in swift and deep water. I was swept along in rocky whitewater quite a ways before I was able to swim the waterlogged kayak to shore. If I had not had my life vest on, the situation could have been even more perilous. Also, I was in a ravine where I couldn’t be seen from the higher shoreline. If I’d been seriously injured, no one would have known I was there, so my whistle would have been essential.
I also was incredibly thankful I had added a tether to my paddle. There were a couple of times, as I was being battered and swept downriver, that I lost my grip on the kayak—but I still had hold of the paddle because of that tether. To keep my phone, wallet, and keys dry, I used waterproof containers—and I was pleasantly surprised at how well they worked.
In that harrowing experience in the Little River, I managed to get to some rocks near the edge of the ravine. I couldn’t turn the water-filled kayak over or lift it out, so I spent a long time, waist-deep in cold water, pumping it out (with my hand pump) before I could lift it out to drain. Without my safety gear? That situation would have been immensely worse.
Thanks to one tweet, I went through the three stages of change as I teach in my writing and prep/survival classes:
- Moment of enlightenment: Two people died because they didn’t wear their life vests; I don’t wear mine.
- Make a decision: Wear mine.
- Sustained action: Always wear it.
At a time when echo chambers seem to dominate social media, it’s good to acknowledge that it can still instigate positive change — or even save a life.