Sydney: Group Mentality


I’m back.  I finished the last post one saying I had to wait to see if my letter passed scrutiny – well it did.  I received an offer of further employment, along with a contract stating that I’d be available to work next summer.  I signed and returned the contract, because there was nothing in there stating that I couldn’t resign and take my holiday as I’d planned!  In fact, the contract simply stated that I’d be available to work between 15 Dec and 15 Jan, but it didn’t specify ‘Summer 09/10’ – so I felt even happier with my ‘deception’.

I continued to work my butt off, taking as many shifts as I could pick up and intending to get my name known as a worker and therefore be the first they’d call if there was a spare shift available. I managed to clock up between 70 and 74 hours a fortnight which meant I got a decent pay.  I could survive if I kept doing those hours.  Now I know it doesn’t sound like much (and I’ve certainly done more hours in other jobs), but 70 hours of managing large groups of people, climbing the bridge, learning names, talking to people, taking photos and keeping everyone’s energy up is draining to say the least!  The maximum hours they allow you to do in a fortnight is 76 and I can see why.  Therefore I was extremely grateful when we were told we’d be doing further training to allow us to work different jobs out on the bridge.

We were already competent to do day and night climbs, and we were going to be trained to do twilight climbs (people pay more for those climbs in the hope of seeing a sunset, so you have to take different photos to try to capture the colours in the sky), standby climb relief shifts and bridge crew shifts.  Standby shifts are just that – you help out around the building where required and can be asked to climb if someone goes sick.  Bridge crew shifts are where you are stationed on the bridge for a whole shift, either at the base of the ladders on the eastern side, or at the top of the ladders on the western side of the bridge.  Your job out there is to monitor climbers going up/down the ladders, check attachments, and, most importantly, take climbers back to the building if they decide they can’t continue with the climb (they are called 99’s – required to be removed from the bridge).  To be deemed competent for these extra jobs we were required to do more classroom work, pass a certification climb (with an assessor following us up) and pass another exam.

Now half of my original training group had gone.  They’d decided not to stay on for various reasons, and one guy had not been given the same heads up that I had (re going on holidays and taking more than three months off work) so he’d not been re-employed after our initial three month contract expired.  So our remaining group was tiny and felt a little strange.  As a way of paying tribute to our initial group I’d put all our training photos together into a movie, and each person had chosen their favourite song for their chapter.  I’d gotten everyone to write a few words about each person in the group and I’d included those as well.  The great unveiling happened in the first classroom session we had since half the group had left.  Those who’d left came back for the unveiling and I had great pleasure in watching each person reading what had been written about them and seeing their eyes light up – as well as a few tears (or close to) as we all reminisced about the intense, yet fun time we’d shared.

When we’d finished the classroom training we had more “on the bridge” training, then we got rostered for our certification climbs.  A few went before me and failed, and we took the attitude that it was another four hours work up our sleeves if we had to repeat it.  I did mine and passed.  Then we had the exam – it was an 80% pass mark and I passed – 93% overall.  Unfortunately the commentary section got the better of everyone else and they all had to re-sit that component.  Because I’d passed all mine straight away I was able to start doing twilights and crew shifts and it was nice to get a break from the repetitive climbing.  Though in all the twilights I’ve done now, I’ve probably seen only a handful of nice sunsets while out there.  Often there is too much cloud to get really nice colours in the sky.  Which is disappointing for the climbers who’ve paid extra money to see a sunset, but I’m not in control of the weather, so don’t blame me!

I have to say that I’ve been amazed at the group psychology/ sheep mentality of the groups you take up.  I can see the advantageous side of it, that they are all just happy to follow each other around and not deviate from what I direct the first person to do, but it can be extremely frustrating too.  For example, when we’re in the building demonstrating how to attach and wear the belts and accessories and use the simulator, if the first person stops at a certain point then everyone else stops behind them, and it’s the rare person who breaks that line and moves forward or around the corner, even when it means they can’t see me if they stay in the line.  I’m dumfounded at the stupidity of it.  I’ve tried saying different things to groups to try to find something that eliminates the issue, but nothing works.  No matter how many times I say “gather around so you can all see”, I am constantly following that by saying “come closer, come around the buckets here, some of you need to come down this side too”.  And I find that most climbers are too scared to break away from the majority, when they’re asked a question in front of the group.  For example, at the accessories bay we offer hats, beanies, gloves and hankies.  Once someone takes one thing, everyone else takes them too.  Gloves are put out for night climbs, and occasionally during the day too.  I’ve never worn them, and few climbers take them.  So, I ask if anyone gets especially cold hands and would like gloves.  I say we have them on offer but I won’t bother demonstrating how they’re attached if no one wants to take them.  I look around at each person, and they all shake their heads no.  Then as we move onto the simulator, I see one person reach into the tub and take some gloves and try to figure out how to attach them.  That then starts a rush of a couple of others also grabbing gloves.  So I have to delay my demonstration on the simulator to individually attach each person’s gloves when I could have done a group demo if they’d just had the guts to say “yes, I want gloves”.  Ahhhh!

It’s the same mentality when we get to the water fountains to have a drink.  It doesn’t matter how often I say “have a drink if you like”, because if I don’t then the majority of the group wont.  If I do, then the majority of the group also has a drink.  It is amazing to watch.  And useful sometimes – say I’m running a few minutes late then I won’t even mention the water fountain, and even though it’s in plain sight and everyone walks right past it, most won’t have a drink.  Sometimes one person will, then everyone after them in the group will also stop and have a drink.  The psychology of it astounds me.  Group mentality and not wanting to break ranks, even if they are wanting whatever it is on offer, has a stronger hold on them than their own wants and needs.  No wonder most people fail to get what they want out of life, if they are too scared to go against the perceived ‘norm’ and do something different.

Granted we get the pain in the bum climbers who simply don’t listen to anything you say and continue talking the whole time you are.  They attach everything wrong and pose a safety hazard, yet they are not being brave and breaking ranks, they are plain rude and self absorbed.  I sometimes wonder why people even chose to come on the climb if they don’t want to listen to the basic instructions of how to wear the equipment properly, let alone enjoy and absorb the experience out on the bridge.  It can be both fascinating and frustrating.

I’ve also found it interesting how much people will believe what you say.  I guess you’re in the position where they think you know what you’re talking about, and I prefer to pass on correct information, but I know some climb leaders make up answers to all sorts of questions and palm it off as the correct answer.  Again it’s a rare climber who will challenge and query that information, although you do get those who try to correct everything you say and become finicky about the minute details.  Both ends of the spectrum I guess.  I have had some really stupid questions asked of me, and I’ve heard of questions asked of other climb leaders.  Two of the most astonishing whilst standing on top of the bridge would be “Is that Alcatraz?” (asked of another climb leader while the climber pointed to Fort Denison in the middle of the Harbour) and “So where is New South Wales?” (asked of me when I’d just pointed out the basic landmarks of Bondi Beach, Manly and the Blue Mountains).  I didn’t know whether my climber was serious or not, but he wasn’t smiling when he asked.  I said “We’re in NSW now”, and the reply was “So which way is it?”  I looked at him waiting for him to laugh, but he didn’t.  I said “We’re in the state of NSW.  Sydney is in NSW.  That’s north, east, south and west.  This is NSW”, to which he said “Oh, right”.  Seriously mate, what did your flight ticket say when you booked it?  That you were flying into Sydney, then you were going to visit NSW, then Cairns, then back home to the States????   The other climbers were all laughing behind their hands, and I had to try hard, very hard, not to laugh too.   Some people.  I have to say there is a general consensus among the climb leaders of people from certain countries asking some of the stupidest questions – and of being the most arrogant, self absorbed etc.  Not everyone from those countries is the same, of course, but as a general rule they are.

Ok  off to bed for me now, I’ll try to write again soon.

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