Service of Following Instructions

August 4th, 2011

Categories: Communications, Following Instructions, Guidelines, Miscommunication, Restrictions, Words


On a recent Sunday, Jon Jarvis, director of the National Park Service, spoke to the C-Span audience of “Washington Journal” about three who were killed by falling into a waterfall at Yosemite National Park. On the program, “State of America’s National Parks,” Jarvis noted that there were barricades and signs indicating the dangers and that the three ignored all warnings, climbed over the barricade, slipped on the wet rocks and plummeted to their deaths.

So I got to think about instructions especially because I live in a city with roads increasingly painted with bus and bike lane lines with giant white lettering that umpteen taxis and commercial vans ignore, a city where millions cross the street wherever they may be when the light turns green, faghedabout crosswalks.

hot-stoveSome young children must touch a stovetop regardless of how many times they are instructed not to put their fingers near the heat. They continue to test rules into adulthood. Surely successful entrepreneurs, scientists, politicians and corporate chiefs share the trait–they must test and question, usually for the good, though sometimes they get burned. A friend’s brilliant brother–full scholarship at MIT in engineering–blew off all the fingers of one hand when setting off fireworks in high school: Experiment gone bad.

reading-instructionsMany ignore instructions that come with appliances and devices and wonder why, when they click the “on” switch, they don’t work. [I’ve always thought that if many of these companies cared about their instructions they’d hire me or someone like me to write them as most are impossible to follow, but now I’m off point.]

follow-instructions2I took the photo [right] in a doctor’s waiting room. I swear I didn’t style the shot by moving the soda bottle and napkin next to the sign: “Please do not eat or drink in our waiting room we appreciate your cooperation.”

And how many times do able-bodied people slip into a handicapped parking space “just for a second,” to run for some milk, a paper or to buy a lotto ticket?

rxHow many follow instructions that come with pharmaceuticals or doctor’s orders about lifestyle and diet?

What about recipes? Do you strictly adhere? I think it matters when baking, though I got away with brown and white sugar mixed because I didn’t have any light brown sugar to make devil’s food cupcakes the other week.

Are you the type that follows instructions? Have you paid the price when you haven’t? Is there something telling about the personality of a person who consistently does or doesn’t?


4 Responses to “Service of Following Instructions”

  1. Simon Carr Said:

    In the second act of Puccini’s “Tosca,” Tosca sells herself to Chief of Police Scarpia in return for his agreeing to help her terrorist boyfriend, Mario Cavaradossi, escape being shot by a firing squad for having attempted to overthrow the duly constituted government of Rome, i.e.: the Pope. (Sounds like something out of modern international banking, doesn’t it?) Scarpia directs his subordinate, Spoletta, when carrying out the execution,“Scarpia, ‘Come facemmo col Conte Palmieri…’ Spoletta, ‘Un’uccisione…. ” Scarpia, ‘Simulata’ [Scarpia, ‘Like we did with Count Palmieri…’ Spoletta. ‘An execution…’ Scarpia. ‘Simulated.’]” Tosca understands that Scarpia has told Spoletta to fake Mario being shot and acts accordingly, but Spoletta understands that, since they shot the Count, he is to execute Mario. That is what happens with many orders. They mean different things to different people.

    The Navy has a good practice. Sailors when receiving orders from their superiors must repeat the order back to make sure they understand it — not that that would have done Tosca much good.

    Like the American colonists when they were given orders by the British, I believe that a time comes, if you think an order is bad, to disobey it.

    Had I been Spoletta, I would have executed Tosca for attempted prostitution, Scarpia for intending to accept a bribe, and Mario for being a terrorist. Then I would have been Chief of Police, which is sort of how it all turned out anyway.

    Anyway, I gather that’s how they do it in Washington nowadays.

  2. Jeanne Byington Said:


    I wonder if you’d been Spoletta, how might this have affected the music in Tosca?

    There have been times I have not followed instructions. When, in the old days, a boss would tell me to call the media to see “if they received our press materials,” I wouldn’t do what I knew would enrage editors, reporters or producers. I figured if we’d sent a press kit, that’s what a return address is for. If I didn’t have something new to say, I wouldn’t.

    My husband has noted that people who want to get back at a boss whose advice is poor can do so simply by following their instructions to the letter.

  3. Lucrezia Said:

    Much depends on who is giving instructions and why. There should be no sympathy wasted on the dummies who tested the signs at Yosemite Park and fell to their deaths. It’s sad that signs are needed. On the opposite pole, there are those in authority, including parents, who have little to no clue as to how to play that role, and whose advice/instructions frequently end up in business or personal disaster.

    As to Tosca, I can’t say much about the terrorist boy friend, but anyone trying to rid society of religious figures who interfere in lives of others, can’t be all that bad.

  4. Jeanne Byington Said:


    Your first sentence brings me back to a question I’ve asked myself ever since 9/11: Would I have gone into the stairway at the World Trade Center, even though I was instructed to stay at my desk so as to let fireman and police on the stairwells, or would I have said, “heck with this, I’m out of here.” We might say, “Oh, I’d have dashed for the stairs,” but I don’t think anyone knows the answer until they are in such a position.

    With this example yanked from the back to the front of my mind when there’s a fire drill at the office and if nobody in the lobby answers the phone to confirm that it’s a false alarm, I go downstairs.

Leave a Reply

Clicky Web Analytics