Election day is only weeks away across America. What used to be a one-day event has stretched into a weeks-long period of collecting absentee ballots by mail and voters streaming to early voting locations. We pick up sides vehemently, often characterizing our own friends and neighbors as the enemy, evil doers who are bent on the destruction of our community, our state, or our country — all because they tend to vote for a team other than the one we identify with.
We took a wrong turn somewhere along the way. At this point it’s not important what caused our redirection and it’s certainly of no use to ferret out those we perceive as the guilty parties in a vain attempt to bring them to justice.
A better use of our time and resources would be to get back to basics, put ourselves on the right track, support our peers even when they reside in neighboring camps, and work toward solutions rather than jabber-jawing about blame.
In the beginning the land we call home was a convoluted mish-mash of largely disorganized people from all over the globe. We spoke different languages, had different customs, ate different food, and worshiped at various temples and churches. We were a mess, but we found themes to unite us. Freedom was a big one. Nebulous as that term might be, we coalesced around the idea, fought for it, and won.
That’s the story we hear, anyway. It’s not true. Not entirely anyway. But it’s the story we’ve become accustomed to and so we perpetuate it — probably because it’s easier than really digging in and identifying a more accurate, more nuanced story that is considerably less riveting to tell, even if it is closer to the truth.
When the British Colonies went to war against the crown, only about one-third of the population was in favor of independence. Another third was loyal to the king, and about a third didn’t care one way or the other. They just wanted to be left alone to do their own thing.
The truth is the American political landscape has always been a mess. It’s always been a shoving match between warring factions that see their peers as obstacles to progress and themselves as saviors. It’s just the way it is.
It’s our nature. Even if it’s not in our best interest to continue this way, we persist. Not because it’s beneficial, but because it’s traditional.
It’s hard to break a chain, even if the links are made up of nothing more solid than personal behavior and closely held beliefs. Intangible as they may be, those traits can be stronger than steel.
Aviation is much the same. It always has been. Early on there were those who wanted to design airplanes that went fast. Opposing them were the dreamers who wanted to build machines that could carry large loads. One side saw speed as the answer, the other saw the capacity to carry passengers or freight as the more reasonable goal. Over the years we’ve continued to fragment into more and more disparate camps.
Today we have the ultralighters, the light-sport crowd, warbird enthusiasts, the classics, the mainstream general aviators, seaplane operators, rotorcraft enthusiasts, balloon fliers, gliders, sky divers, biplane specialists, type club members, and homebuilders. And that’s just scratching the surface.
The challenge is for aviation as an industry to learn the difference between diversity, which is a strength, and fragmentation, which is a weakness. So far, we’re not doing so well.
We’re at loggerheads more often than we’re in sync. Rather than support each other and find common ground, we tend to protect our turf, amazingly, to the exclusion of the exact people who might be our best supporters should we ever find ourselves in a tough spot.
This short-sighted, snobbish mentality has not served us well. But we persist. Not because it is in our best interest, but because it is traditional.
I hope you’re starting to see a parallel here. The way we act politically and the way we act aeronautically is similar. The results will be similar in the long run too.
Do you think the nation as a whole is headed in a productive direction? Do you think general aviation is thriving as it should?
If your answer to those questions is in the affirmative, then by all means continue on the path you’re on.
However, if you suspect we might be able to do better in either arena, I would encourage you to take a new perspective on the old problems. A change of course is the judicious choice.
Rather than banding together to keep this group or that off your field, why not band together to find a way to safely and productively work together to expand the opportunities at your airport? Rather than view the fledgling flying club as a competitor to your flight school, why not explore opportunities to join forces and mutually benefit each other?
We can diversify what we do, or we can fall into an ever-fragmented version of the industry. One path will make us stronger, more attractive, and more economically viable.
The other will tear us to shreds and pit us against each other, in effect strengthening the argument made by those who want us to cease operations and move on down the road.
We each have a decision to make. You can’t rely on your neighbor to do it for you. Each of us has to think and act individually.
So think carefully before you act. The consequences of your vote could have a long lasting and very powerful impact on the world we live in.
I hope with all my heart we make the right decision and then stand as supporters of the outcome with pride.