The nightwatchman is always fooled

The nightwatchman is on the lookout for the intruder. He is instructed to be vigilant. He has learned by rote the common routes, and he has devised certain stratagems for staying awake, for being alert.

But the danger always comes by surprise whenever and wherever he was not looking. He was looking but not for this. Was on the lookout but for something else. Luckily, this time it turned out to be nothing. He is advised in future, lest he lose his post, to be more vigilant. He braces himself to do so, slapping cold water on his face.

We are all told to be nightwatchmen of our lives and thus set ourselves up to be duped. After the gate is breached unbeknownst to us, we instruct ourselves to be more vigilant, less incautious. Yet could it be that we will never be vigilant enough, the surprise always coming out beyond or beneath the lookout, and would we not be wiser if we learned to take notice of this, got good at responding timely, nimbly, and gracefully to whatever has slipped past our initial notice? I am turning the whole thing around. The key is not foresight or resilience, not overfamiliarization, but perceptive, clear-thinking responsiveness.

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