Why did the owl and the pussycat get so confused about what not to flush?

Have you ever wished you hadn't bothered typing a comment on social media? I was going to write this article some time ago following a bizarre interaction on Instagram – I’ll come to that later. But I’ve been compelled to write this now because of the situation we now find ourselves in and the continual irony I see whilst standing patiently 2 metres away from my people in a queue. My thoughts were drawn to the question, "what can this teach us about being clear in our messaging and making it super simple for people to make more conscious choices now and in the future?"

Why Humanity Destroyed Itself

Here is a video from one of our favourite sources, The School of Life, “Why Humanity Destroyed Itself”. The video, posted 3 years ago, offers a simple insight into why humans do what we do. They offer three reasons why humanity will destroy itself – all to do with the wiring of our brain – Tribalism, Short Term Thinking and Wishful Thinking.

Tribalism – I don’t like you because you don’t have the same beliefs/outlook/passport colour as me therefore I will kill you. Or at the very least, do what I can to prove you are wrong and I am right. Even if that means finding evidence and making it fit my mould.

Short Term Thinking – I can’t see past the end of my nose. I have an inability to think of the consequences of my actions beyond a few years so I won’t bother doing anything and will deal with it as and when/if it ever happens.

Wishful Thinking – I don’t want to assess why that went wrong or what I did right. I won’t bother planning for the worst or putting a contingency in place. It’ll probably never happen anyway. I know we have all this evidence but I’ll just ignore it and hope it will all be fine.

From The School of Life YouTube Channel

We may have a fully functioning brain yet we’re still bound by the irrational reptilian/chimp brain. So we generally don't use the big part of our logical brain to think clearly and make sound decisions. No matter what we might tell ourselves. It’s the reason we do silly things. It’s the reason we make the same mistakes over and over again. It’s one of the reasons people buy stuff they don’t need. It’s one of the reasons people buy stuff without thinking about what it is they’re buying. And could it be the reason why people sit idling the engine in their cars during a pandemic and don’t think to wear masks at any other time?

The owl and the pussycat went to sea but didn't really think to see…

The owl and the pussycat went to sea in a beautiful pea green boat. The boat was powered by oil and the engine would chug along and spew black smoke that often caused the owl and the pussycat to cough and splutter. Whilst at sea, they were often surrounded by boats and ships and planes flying overhead. The sea was covered in plastic and fishing gear. But they didn’t seem to mind. In fact they didn’t really think about it at all. They were used to it.

One day, the owl flew to the pier to meet the pussycat. Eventually the pussycat arrived, it’s whiskers and mouth covered over with a muzzle. “Why are you wearing that muzzle?” asked the owl. “A factory has opened right next door to our home", replied the pussycat, "it smells really bad and there’s lots of people coming in and out in cars. So I put this on to stop the smell and so that I could breathe a little better”. “Oh I see,” said the owl. “But you’re not there anymore, you’re here by the sea. And we’re going out in our boat. Surely you don’t need it anymore.” “Yes, you’re quite right”, said the pussycat. He took off the muzzle, the owl turned on the engine and off they went in their beautiful pea green boat.

Irony and idleness

There are people wearing masks during the current pandemic who would never think to wear one at any other time. Yet everyday, before the pandemic, we were exposed to levels of pollution that affect our lungs and our respiratory system. Hope Street in Glasgow has been declared the most polluted street in Scotland. We wander around the streets of Glasgow, and in our own home towns, beside buses, old black cabs and white vans spewing invisible (sometimes very visible black plumes) of noxious gases from their exhausts without much consideration for the effects on our respiratory health.

Just in the last few weeks during lockdown, I've been stood in queues to go into shops whilst hearing the constant rattle of engines idling. The driver sat inside as they comply with physical distancing rules but fail to comply with the law on idling. Saving themselves from the prospect of catching a virus but not finding it necessary to follow the rules around switching off your engine when stationary. Failing to grasp that by their engine rumbling away, they are creating a different kind of respiratory problem and virus.

This failure to recognise that idling is illegal, or even if it wasn't, that it is harmful illustrates the difference between clear v unclear messaging.

People are being compliant with physical distancing, standing 2 metres apart because the Government have made it very clear – through consistent and repeated messaging on TV, social media, radio and with the help of visual aids like stickers on the floor, what that requirement is. The reason we still have people idling in cars during a pandemic is that the Government have done no such campaign to stop drivers idling, continuing to cause pollution, lung disease and respiratory problems. Collectively, and ‘en masse’, we humans need things dumbed down and spelled out for us clearly and concisely.

The owl and the pussycat went to the shops in a beautiful pea green Tesla

The owl and the pussycat went to the shops in a beautiful pea green Tesla. The owl and the pussycat were careful about what they bought. They would visit ‘zero waste’ shops and choose products that were better for them and for the environment. But on this particular day, they had returned from a road trip around Scotland and needed to stock up on some essentials. A visit to the local 'zero waste' shop wasn't possible. So off they went to the supermarket ready to choose carefully what they needed to buy.

They picked up vegetables that were loose and free of packaging. They bypassed ready made sauces in plastic packaging in favour of tins of tomatoes so they could make their own fresh sauces. They came to the household cleaning aisle and needed to buy some toilet paper.

They spotted packets of what was described as moist toilet tissues, which looked very similar to their usual brand and so they popped a few packs in their trolley. They paid for their shopping. And wandered outside to put it all into the boot of their beautiful pea green Tesla. One lovely Sunday morning they ran out of the moist toilet tissue they'd bought at the supermarket. The owl used the last square. And so she took the packet from the bathroom and went to dispose of it in the landfill bin. Which is when she couldn’t believe what she saw.