Canaries in a coal mine (apropos nothing)
[This post is brought to you by Matthew Inman. Reading http://theoatmeal.com/comics/believe made me realize I don't listen enough and Verisatium's https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UBVV8pch1dM made me realize why thinking is hard. I am writing this to remind myself when I forget and jump on some phrase.]
Various generations ago, part of my family was coal miners and some of their lore was still passed down many many years later. One of those was about the proverbial canary. A lot of people like to think that they are being a canary when they bring up a problem that they believe will cause great harm.. singing louder because they have run out of air.
That isn't what a canary does. The birds in the mines go silent when the air runs out. They may have died or are on the verge of being dead. They got quieter and quieter and what the miners listened for was the lack of noise from birds versus more noise. Of course it is very very hard to hear the birds in the first place in a mine because they aren't quiet places. There is hammering, and shoveling and footsteps echoing down long tubes.. so you might think.. bring more birds.. that just added more distractions and miners would get into fights because the damn birds never shut up. So the birds were few and far between and people would have to check up on the birds every now and then to see if they were still kicking. Safer mines would have some old fellow stay near the bird and if it died/passed out they would begin ringing a bell which could be heard down the hole.
So if analogies were 1:1, the time to worry is not when people are complaining a lot on a mailing list about some change. In fact if everyone complains, then you could interpret that you have too many birds and not enough miners so go ahead. The time to worry would be when things have changed but no one complains. Then you probably really need to look at getting out of the mine (or most likely you will find it is too late).
However analogies are rarely 1:1 or even 1:20. People are not birds, and you should pay attention to when changes cause a lot of consternation. Listen to why the change is causing problems or pain. Take some time to process it, and see what can be done to either alter the change or find a way for the person who is in pain to get out of pain.