I’ve been thinking about the concept of “triage” a lot lately.
I understand that being a borderline hypochondriac doesn’t exactly qualify me to talk about triage as a medical concept, but I think as a more general idea, the concept of triage has a lot to offer. Allow me to explain…
Wikipedia, the most reliable source of information in the world, defines “triage” as:
A process of prioritizing patients based on the severity of their condition so as to treat as many as possible when resources are insufficient for all to be treated immediately. The term comes from the French verb trier, meaning ‘to sort, sift or select.’
Doctors use this concept to sort through their “work”, so to speak, to accurately prioritize what should be happening now, and what should not.
This strikes me as a key life concept.
What if we were to broaden the idea of triage into a more general frame?
I am becoming more and more convinced that, to be truly effective human beings, we must constantly be in a state of awareness, in a position to persistently perform triage on our own lives, to prioritize and systematically assess what we’re doing with the time we have.
We all get the same amount of time every day (roughly 24 hours, last I checked), but for some reason, some folks we meet are highly successful — however we choose to define the term — and some are not.
People that aren’t cutting it suck at triage.
For some reason (or many reasons) these people can’t sort through the myriad details of their lives to be able to separate events and prioritize things. They are either frighteningly lost in the complexity of life or they choose to ignore the fact that they have some control over their impending future.
Part of this I can understand; it is easy to get stuck on autopilot in life, to sail through without ever really taking a look at what we’re doing or where we’re going. But the simple and often devastating fact is that what we’re doing is going to take us somewhere — and it may not be where we want to go.
I also understand it because, frankly, triage is hard. It’s hard to try to take a more objective stance on our lives. It’s a lot of work, and requires a lot of thought.
Sometimes I wonder if people think they are saving themselves trouble by coasting, by just dancing through life. It may work for awhile, but it seems to me that at some point, the gig will be up and we will have to start making decisions. (Sidenote: maybe this is the real curse of work; the fact that entropy exists and we can’t just “be.” Hm; something to ponder another day.) The reality I live in says that gardens need tending, cars need maintenance, flowers need to be watered, and people need to be loved; it’s almost like the universe is built with a incessant obligation for interaction. There’s an intrinsic cause and effect relationship built into the fabric of reality, and like it or not, I think that means us, too.
I think that we must broaden our personal skill base in order to include the art of triage. Prioritizing is one of the essential functions we perform as humans, because it the sister of “choice.” We cannot make decisions without prioritizing them, but that is exactly what many of us try to do. We have become chronic avoiders, letting life slap us in the face as we walk through. We think that we are somehow saving ourselves trouble by evading personal triage, but in fact, we are killing ourselves.
The truth is that for the good of our humanity we must learn the art of triage, or we will never be fully human.
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