Turning the tides on child drowning
Rebecca Wear Robinson
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Changing Perceptions

by Rebecca Wear Robinson on September 25, 2013

SwimmerHas your perception of something ever changed in an instant with a word or an action? Changing someone’s perception about water – what is possible, what is dangerous, what is challenging, what is exhilarating – can change them forever.

Last week I talked about flawed perceptions, about what happens when perceptions of water lead them to do dangerous things, like wade into flood water or come too close to rushing torrents.

It is important to remember that we can change perceptions positively, just as the ‘Don’t Drink And Drive’ campaign permanently changed people’s perceptions of mixing alcohol and driving.

I heard two great stories this week about positively changed perceptions. The first anecdote came in response to the most popular blog I’ve ever written, “Africans Are The Best Swimmers”.   In the blog, I talk about what history tells us – that prior to the period of slavery in the U.S., the African people were, by all accounts, expert watermen and “the best swimmers in the world”. And yet thanks to perceptions developed by slavery and a widely discredited academic report that ‘explained’ that the physiology of black people renders them incapable of floating, conventional wisdom has convinced many that people of color can’t swim. These perceptions have led to much higher rates of drowning and much lower participation in swimming classes in minorities. But those perceptions can be changed positively. I received the following e-mail this week, “I’m on a team of African American Triathletes and I speak about this article all the time to get them to get over their fear of Open Water Swim.  When they hear that “We” were the Best swimmers in the World a lightbulb goes off and they, we, perform AMAZINGLY!”

The second anecdote is from the recent U.S. National Park Service All-Women Lifeguard Tournament.  Apparently the U.S. Navy SEALS had a recruiting tent at the Tournament and after watching the women compete, these U.S. Navy SEALS – who rank among the most physically fit, brave, and well-trained men in the world – were overheard to express nothing but well-earned admiration for these women-lifeguards’ impressive level of competitive performance. Regardless of what preconceptions these men may or may not have had just a few hours earlier, before the start of the Tournament, their perception of these women surf-lifesavers was definitely positive by the end of the tournament.

Positive words and actions can change perceptions.

What words and actions are you using to change flawed perceptions about water?

If you think we can change how people think and act around water, click here to Tweet ‘@RebeccaSaveKids We Can Change How People Act Around Water! http://bit.ly/1bFKtNE #stopdrowning’

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