x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 23 July 2017

The wisdom of security guards

My time working as a security guards taught me some valuable life lessons.

They are an almost invisible part of the Abu Dhabi landscape, found in malls, shops, hotels and social gatherings.

Not that we pay attention, of course, because that's what security guards do: remain unobtrusive until the situation calls for otherwise.

I try to make an effort and greet security guards whenever I encounter them. Some reply nonchalantly, others are either suspicious, frazzled or genuinely friendly. I would like to think that I understand their reactions better than most, as I, too, am a former man in uniform.

My reason for signing up for a security guard course in Australia almost 10 years ago was not due to a financial obligation. It was for the less honourable reason of avoiding any mentally taxing jobs. I figured all I would have to do was stand around and administer encouraging or warning gestures, if need be.

The intensity of the training, however, was more reflective of someone joining the marines.

During the intensive two-week course I studied various psychological behaviours, physical combat training, learnt how to administer CPR and even deliver a baby. By the time I received the diploma I felt I could fill in for Bruce Lee, Dr House or Oprah, depending on the incident.

However, the skills I learnt were rarely called upon. My first job was guarding semi-built homes from vandals attempting to steal recently installed heating equipment.

After proving adept at protecting bricks and mortar, I was promoted to look after teenagers at their debutante ball.

I wish it was my calm, measured tone that persuaded the group of youngsters to give me the cigarettes hidden under the table. However it probably had more to do with the murderous glare of my partner that night, a 6ft 7in rugby player standing behind me, which had the youngsters quickly handing over their stash.

Eventually I was transferred to protecting a large chemical plant on the outskirts of Melbourne. Other than chasing rabbits and locking factory doors, it also proved a pretty low-key gig.

In fact, my biggest enemy was the bone-crushing weariness and boredom that comes after months of working night shifts.

It also gave birth to what my fellow security guards darkly call The Vladivostok Syndrome: that empty feeling of being a lone sentry in an abandoned post.

I still look back at my security guard years fondly and regard that time as a key learning experience. I learnt to master patience, not to mention working in the dark, after countless night shifts. I also learnt how to balance empathy with professionalism, when escorting traumatised and angry workers after being summarily dismissed from their jobs. And I became adept at typing security reports with all the correct facts and figures.

All of which helped when I landed my next job - in a newsroom.