Recently, the State Farm Insurance Company announced its decision to stop writing new protection policies for owners of businesses and homes in California. That got me to playing with the metaphor of “the canary in the coal mine,” an allusion to their warning coal miners about the presence of deadly gases. Because State Farm is a venerable enterprise—over 101 years old—that thought led to these ponderings about old canaries who sound warnings.
I’m a State Farm customer—have been since I bought our first car. When I heard the news, I trusted that State Farm had done solid thinking about its losses in California. Continuing to behave normally could be difficult, if not expensive. The pullout served as a warning. The metaphorical canary in this case was a respected, older enterprise. An older canary, as it were….
Those thoughts got me to wondering about other places in life where the canaries might be revered seniors. How any of us who are older might be part of a canary cohort (of any age) who offer careful, considerate counsel about perhaps-unseen dangers: Grandparents whose life stories include problems or difficulties; retired mentors with younger employees; high school guidance counselors, life coaches, ESL teachers helping students navigate this country’s culture or certified financial planners advising young families.
By definition, the possible dangers that (older) canaries sense are unseen. Having experienced many perilous circumstances over our lifetimes, we might notice risks where others miss them. From the perspective of our many years, we can divine what’s precarious, and we can use our standing as esteemed elders to caution those around us.
Yes, this analogy breaks down pretty quickly: The warning of real coal mine canaries consisted of the cessation of their singing—their sudden deaths. They couldn’t know what was wrong until right before they sacrificed their own lives. Thankfully, those of us who are still sniffing out what may be hazardous can continue to sound alarms, counsel wisdom and change our own behaviors to reflect what’s unsafe. That’s what State Farm did. And like a good neighbor/canary, State Farm is (still) here!
So, too, with the rest of us who do canary work….
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