A specific memory can be triggered by a sound, a smell or another type of observation. It can be a powerful experience too as the memories can be pretty vivid and “tele-transports” you back, even if it is just for a split second, into the situation and the feelings you had a that moment in time you locked-in the experience into the wiring of your brain.

If I smell certain types of oil and paint (menium / red lead) I vividly remember the enormous engine room of a huge see going vessel which I visited as a young boy accompanying my father, as I often did, on one of his visits to ships of the company he worked for at the time while being in port or in dock. Just one example, you will have your own tele-transportations I guess.

Sometimes you remember seemingly arbitrary things though. Why would I remember a specific titbit of a documentary I saw decades ago on television? It is not triggered by a smell but by a mental trigger in this case: When I realise somebody is fully unaware of being the very source of the miscommunication that let to disaster while the person being so sad things have gone so wrong. It is the opposite of the urge to see conspiracy including yourself as an actor in it, either as an active part creating it or as a target of the conspiracy while factually you are not linked at all.

The British (BBC?) documentary, I am referring to, was about the trauma caused by deadly road accidents to the other driver surviving the ordeal. You would see the person tell his story of the accident which would be replayed visually in a mise en scene.

The part I remember so vividly is about this guy driving his Rolls Royce (!) down a nice lightly bending lane with cars parked on his side of the road somewhere in England. He notices a car parked a little further ahead preparing to drive away. To warn the other driver he flashes his big lights several times and to his terror he sees the car pulling up to the driving lane were he hits the car midway. The driver of the other car did not survive as the heavy weight of the RR as compared to other car did not help the change of survival either.

This guy was traumatised by the event but what bothered him mostly was the fact that he warned the guy he was approaching… Two things struck me:

  1. Blinking your lights several times will by many people be understood as “please go ahead”: a clear case on miscommunication based on the interpretation of a non formalised signal.
  2. The other thing that struck me was that obviously nobody had told the guy that, even unwillingly and unconsciously, he was the very cause of the accident himself. (i.e. A type on non-communications) He was one big bag of self pity, even indirectly claiming being more pity full then the guy that actually died. When triggered in the right circumstances I can see the drooling face of this man full of self pity.

An other example of how miscommunication on words and notions can have far reaching effects is the KLM/PanAm accident at Tenerife in 1977 killing 335 passengers. Many factors were coincidentally needed to create the circumstances of the accident but in the end the chain of events that triggered one of histories biggest airplane accidents to date was caused by differently understanding only one or two words exchanged between the KLM cockpit and the Portuguese control tower in the process of taxiing to the runway.

While these examples indicate different understanding of mere words can lead to deadly accidents also in other circumstances the misunderstanding of words and the differences in notions/meanings these trigger with various people can lead to havoc as well.

Again: use words with care and precision