“Chopper down,” the radio sputtered. This was a first. In the worst way. After all, this was supposed to be an ordinary mission. There was no added danger this night. There certainly was no reason to have expected this.
“We have to go get them! I’ll start running the ‘Before Takeoff Checklist,” the flight engineer suggested excitedly. This was difficult to stomach. There are some guys who just want to get into the ‘action’. He was one of those guys. I, on the other hand, was not. I remember my uncle, who was in the Navy, describing how once a helicopter caught fire as it landed on the ship. He recounted how so many guys ran towards the fire. A Sunday stroll was the pace he chose. That always stuck with me.
“Sir, do you want me to let them know the helicopter needs to be destroyed once everyone is clear?” asked the aircraft commander. The unit commander was on board this particular mission. He sometimes sat in the back of the helicopter to make sure he didn’t lose touch with what’s really going on as he only watches the missions on a screen most other days. Again, I was shocked. Wow. This is getting real, really fast.
The flight engineer pushed again for achieving ‘hero status’ in one mission, so finally I addressed him. “Look, we don’t even know what happened. If they were shot down, it probably isn’t the smartest thing to go fly into range of that weapon, is it?”
Confusion like this was relatively rare. But as pilots have a knack for analyzing past mistakes to avoid making them again, we knew what to do. We called it the ‘conservative response rule.’ This was a helpful tool to use in cases of disagreement among the crew. Basically, past aircraft mishaps revealed that when there is disagreement, the more conservative option voiced should be followed until more data can be gathered.
In the above example, one crew-member wanted to fly, the other wanted to wait. The more conservative idea was to wait, therefore we waited. Waited only until more information was available.
That’s the key to this rule. Even the name ‘conservative response rule’, brings to mind always doing the conservative thing, but that’s a severe misunderstanding which can hamstring entire missions. There are times during flights that being aggressive and daring is the right decision. The point of this rule is to make sure everyone is in agreement that selfless bravery is called for. If there is not agreement, stick to the conservative course of action until more information is available.
What’s the practical application to grounded life? Outdoor activities come to mind. How many times have we been with friends and disagreement shows up about what to do next? Say, climbing a mountain as a storm is brewing. Some want to continue, because they say the storm will surely pass. Others suggest turning back. Friendships have been lost over such situations.
As for me, I say stick with the pilots. Turn back or at least wait a while to see how the storm develops. Dead aircrew are longing for you to learn from their mistakes.
Unlike other ‘lessons learned’, this one has a specific audience. Within each of our friend groups, there are those who are natural leaders. If this is you, next time there is disagreement, put this rule to good use. Besides enhancing your status (rightfully so), it just might keep people and relationships intact.
The reason pilots debrief a flight after landing is to see what lessons the experience can offer. The end goal being to use the lessons learned to improve their performance during the next flight. A continual striving, as it were. But, at its core, experience is not an exclusively positive thing. If left unquestioned, it can have negative consequences too. Seasoned pilots know this all too well.
I’m talking about the danger in mistaking the current situation to be the same as a past experience. For pilots, this occurs most when troubleshooting a malfunction. Pilots have a tendency to enjoy being able to say, “Oh, that’s nothing to worry about, I’ve seen it before.” However, choosing a course of quickly reaching a conclusion without proper evaluation of the situation can create larger problems down the road. For pilots in the air, this course, if uninterrupted, leads to death. While grounded people don’t face immediate death for mistaking “this” for “that”, the result is definitely unpleasant.
Who can’t relate to this lesson? I’ve had many, many arguments with loved ones that only after they went to great pains to rephrase and re-rephrase their point did I realize, “Hey, while it seemed like they just wanted to re-hash some past grievance, it actually turns out they aren’t thinking about it at all.” I then experience the wonderful feeling of dumbfounded shame. All the energy I had been putting into the argument up to that point was misguided. Instead of devaluing their position and jumping to the conclusion that this was the “same ol’, same ol'”, I should have given them the benefit of the the doubt and really listened.
Ask yourself, “Have I ever actually been hurt because I gave the benefit of the doubt to the other person until more information could be gathered?” Unlike pilots, who have a strict and short time-table to work with, I have seen no reason to act under the guise that life has a time table. We can take all the time in the world to hear each other out. In fact, that might lead to a longer life in the end anyhow.
I can hear a few of you right now, “But that’s the thing… I really don’t have the time to deal with (Insert your favorite combatant).” Hmm. Sure. Okay. We’ll do it your way then. Instead of being patient and seeking understanding, which has been proven time and again to result in strengthening relationships (regardless the outcome of that particular discussion), let’s rush to a bad decision. Come to think of it, I now see why you want to rush to a bad decision. If I rush to a bad decision, I will then have even more time for even more rushed, bad decisions based on misunderstandings. Just think about how many bad decisions I’ll be able to make in one lifetime if I hurry! Sorry, no. I’ll take my cues from pilots. If their unique and ongoing relationship with death teaches them to gather all the data before making a decision, rather than forcing the current problem to look like a past experience, then I, too, will treat every situation as unique until proven otherwise.
What about you? How will you use this experience?