All of us have at sometime in our lives, whether it be our personal or professional life, made a decision we have regretted later. We’ve accepted the less than desirable outcome of our decision, reflected and learnt from it. Many fairytales incorporate a decision making element into their story, none more so than The Fairy Ointment. This English fairytale perfectly demonstrates elements of human error in decision making.

One of the fundamental elements in our decision making is situational awareness. It’s the awareness of our surrounds, where we are, the people, the changes and threats around us. If we’re not cognisant of all these things, it’s likely we don’t have all the information we need to make the right choice. Sometimes we have an inexplicable emotional response, or gut reaction, to aspects of our surrounds but fail to use this in our judgement.

In The Fairy Ointment, a nurse is called upon by a old, untidy man asking for help for his wife and child. Despite her immediate gut reaction, the nurse agrees and is blindfolded by the man before he takes her to his wife. She is sworn to secrecy and the blindfold is only removed when they reach an isolated cottage. Here the nurse observes her surroundings, noting the unimpressive and disorganised environment.

The nurse takes the child and is given ointment to gently wipe over the child’s eyes. Wondering what the ointment is, she pops a little on her own eyes. All of a sudden what she sees around her changes – it’s tidy, pretty and the man isn’t so old and unkept. The nurse doesn’t speak of what she now sees and is returned home, blindfolded, once her work is done.

Sometime later, the nurse is at a market, where she sees the man stealing goods. She calls out his theft and surprised, the old man asks through which eye she can see him. Knowing she must have used some of the ointment, he is furious that his cover as a fairy is jeopardised. Once the nurse tells him which eye she is able to see him through, he blinds her forever in that eye.

Did the nurse use her situational awareness in any of her decision points – no. When the man first knocked on her door, she was presented with information she ignored. Her reaction to how the man presented and his insistence on wearing a blindfold were the first signals of something not being quite right. This information would have been further useful to refer to when the nurse wondered about the ointment. Had the nurse taken all this situational awareness information and used it in her decision, the outcome may have been very different.

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