I stay in a lot of hotels in my line of work. A lot. And depending on the size of city I’m visiting, the choices for hotels can be either quite robust…or much less so. i was staying in a hotel not long ago where they charmingly misspelled “hotel”, using an “m” instead of an “h”. I was reminded of Olde English towns where you are apt to see signs posted which read, “Ye Olde Taverne” and such. Okay, it wasn’t quite that, but the choices were a bit limited!
As a former smoker, I hold nothing against someone who chooses to smoke. Though like most former smokers, I prefer not to stay in a room that has recently been visited by a prodigious smoker. Naturally, I always request n0nsmoking rooms, and as I reached my room for the night, I was struck by the prominently displayed “No Smoking” sign. Yet as I swiped my magic key card, the door beeped and flashed green at me, and I gently pushed the door open…I was struck by a wall of stale cigarette smoke, a bit like walking into a blues club hours after closing. Without even the soothing strings and pained wails of an old bluesman to make it worthwhile.
I pulled the door closed, called the front desk with my cell phone, and told the very nice gentleman that the room wasn’t acceptable, that I needed a room that did not smell like cigarette smoke. He sounded confused, and insisted that it was a No Smoking room. I agreed with him, that this was in fact what the sign said. However, someone before me had ignored the sign. He said that he would attempt to find me another room, but would get to the bottom of it. I walked back to the office to exchange key cards and he met me, his brow furrowed. He had the look of a man who has been struggling with some very complex math problems. Again he reiterated that it was a non-smoking room. He wanted to see this for himself, brought another key card, and we walked together to discover whether I was playing some cruel prank on him. After he already appeared to have been taunted by complex maths. Sometimes for some people, the torment never seems to end.
We reached the first room, and he gestured to the next door down, handing me the new key card. “But this room as well is non smoking,” he insisted, pointing to the sign. The two signs matched perfectly, making it clear that in fact they both were not to be smoked in or trifled with. I agreed, and invited him to open the door for himself and take a whiff. He did and immediately became distressed. “You have smoked in this room, which is clearly identified as a “Non-Smoking” room!” He was serious, and very upset.
I smiled, pointed out that I had only enough time to get my original key card, walk back to this door, and open it. Hardly enough time to pull out a pack of Luckies, light one up, stink up the room (the smell of which frankly could not be explained by a single cigarette – this room had been slow-smoked over a period of hours). He seemed unconvinced, but I shrugged and said, “I don’t smoke, so the idea is silly. I specifically requested a Non-Smoking room. I take very little for granted, sir, but I do take you at your word – If this is in fact a non smoking room as both you and the sign say, then the previous inhabitant should not have smoked in here. Clearly he did. I still trust you – I don’t think you did it. But someone did. Your nose tells you that right now, doesn’t it?”
Still suspicious, although appearing to see my point (or perhaps making some mental headway with that math problem), he smiled while saying, “Well your new room is next door – we should check it out.” I agreed, and as we opened that door, to nothing but clean air, I suggested, conspiratorially, “If I were you, I’d look through the records to find out who stayed in that room last and figure out who broke the rules and who will pay for the cleaning!”
He grinned, “I will catch the culprit!” He said it as though he fully expected that I now was emotionally invested and would be nagging him daily regarding the outcome.
I pointed out that there was another solution if he were so inclined – to simply make that a Smoking room. He could paint over the “No” on the “No Smoking” sign, find a Smoking room that didn’t smell like it had been used as such, and make that the new Non Smoking room to take the place of the first. He liked this logic, and I thanked him for a most stimulating exploration.
The thing more than anything else that struck me is how he didn’t even initially consider it a possibility that the rule had been broken. The sign was so absolute in its correctness that it almost was more important than facts our senses could perceive. A bit like a “Wet Floor” sign…is the floor in fact wet until the sign is taken down? I would say no, but what if the sign is dictating as much reality to the average person than do their own senses? What could we be overlooking every day in such a world?
At the very least, I would suggest that you we should practice becoming very comfortable thinking for ourselves, trusting our own senses, our own intuitions, and seeking out people who encourage us to sharpen these skills.
As I drifted off to sleep that night, I remember clearly wondering just how often this happens around me that I don’t notice. Sometimes the “sign” or the statement of reality from some trusted authority is much more subtle than this. In such situations, it would be easy to just follow their direction without noticing that direction makes no sense.
Though let’s take it just a step further. What if you made a point of determining what environmental authorities, such as signs or “policies” are dictating the current state of events for you or the people around you? I’m not encouraging anarchy here, only suggesting that we actively perceive our environments. What’s really going on, versus how much of what we believe is happening is just due to our being told that it’s happening?
Here’s an even more interesting thought: What would happen if we all woke up and began using our own senses, and thinking for ourselves? How would the colors of our world brighten? How would our understanding of our surroundings clarify?
And…what could you accomplish if you noticed that your own senses knew more about reality than did a sign that may have been put up months, or even years ago?