I was on a dive in the Gulf with my friend Roger. We stepped off the boat together under clear skies, double-checking our equipment as we sank to the sea floor. I noticed that the anchor line was almost vertical, only as long as the water was deep . . . a 1:1 ratio of rope length to ocean depth. I was young, but I had my captain’s license and knew the rules: a 3:1 ratio of rope length to depth is the minimum for normal seas and 7:1 to 10:1 for stormy seas. This allows the anchor to hold. I was briefly concerned, but the captain was an older man. Surely he planned to play out more line.
After the dive we swam back underwater, to the distinctive patch where the anchor lay. It was gone. We surfaced where the boat should be, in choppy water under dark gray skies. A storm had blown up and, not surprisingly, the boat was nowhere in sight. We inflated our vests and bobbed in the sea, knowing the slim chances of being found. Fortunately, Roger had an expensive light for his underwater camera. He held this above his head, turning in circle after circle, firing the flash. I prayed that the batteries would last. Finally the boat appeared and the people were as happy to see us as we were to see them. I was unreasonably, irrationally lucky. And I resolved to speak up in the future.
I saw the glittering remains of a car crash, bits of plastic and broken glass, in a blind intersection near an elementary school. I saw new crash debris there two weeks later. Cities aren’t flush with money, but I imagined a cheap fix. I called the appropriate officials, explained the problem and an affordable solution. I waxed eloquent about the bad press if a child was killed there after a string of recorded accidents, and mentioned tax savings from not dealing with frequent wrecks.
This combination almost always works: 1. Outline the problem. 2. Mention negative consequences of ignoring the problem. 3. Suggest a solution. 4. Mention positive consequences and savings. Two weeks later, the city had cut down the monstrous bush on the corner that hid cars from sight and painted yellow warning lines. I saw no more crash evidence at this intersection.
Please do not assume that anyone else will speak up. I was at a park with a large playground when a child screamed. A happy cry is different from a terror scream and my legs were churning toward that scream before I knew it. I reached the wood fort just as the mother did. A young boy had slipped his body under a board and was hanging by his head. She sprinted to the top while I held the boy up from below, in an unspoken alliance. There was no time for words. We worked together carefully to free him. The boy seemed OK and left with his mother.
I took a closer look at the fort and called the city. I explained the accident in detail, noting that the gap was too wide and needed another board. I elaborated on how any young child could squeeze through, and the next one might be paralyzed with a broken neck. The next day, the problem was fixed. No one else called the city, not even the boy’s mother. So, speak up! You could save many lives.