As a species, human beings are dissatisfied with the status quo. Thank goodness.
Virtually all the great developments in technology, the massive leaps in scientific achievement, have come about because someone was fed up with their perceived limitations. They rebelled. They overcame. Often in the face of real physical and financial peril, they improved the lives of their fellow humans across the globe.
We can be justifiably proud of that. For while we didn’t personally invent the wheel, or capture electricity in a thin, flexible conductor, or calculate the speed required for a satellite to orbit the planet, we’re somehow related to the men and women who did.
So it’s all in the family to some extent. Take a bow. We’re doing pretty well, all things considered.
Now, at the very same time as we take credit (peripherally at least) for some of humanity’s greatest achievements, it’s worth recognizing that we’re equally related to the nay-sayers, the negative Nellys who berate those who dream big and do their best to drag down those who attempt to climb too high on the technological ladder.
There is nothing you can do, nothing you can achieve in life, that is free of critique from people who, more often than not, have no real understanding of what you’re trying to do. Sometimes it will be the guy two seats down at the bar who ridicules your plans. Sometimes it’s a major news organization. Occasionally, it’s the leading scientist in the field.
The best of us persevere anyway, against a pervasive tide of vitriol and personal attacks. Our finest march on toward their intended goal. Sure, they stumble along the way. They fail from time to time. They might even come very near rock bottom on their quest to advance the species.
But the true greats, the people we come to revere in the end, muddle through and get the job done in spite of it all.
If this wasn’t the case, human beings would still be living the hunter/gatherer lifestyle, or we would have become extinct long ago.
Because all of us benefit from the achievements of a few of us. And almost without exception, the majority of us throw rocks and insults at those few brilliant achievers…until they’re proved right. Sometimes, amazingly enough, we continue to hurl abuse in their direction even after they’ve been redeemed by their own creations.
We are a weird and wonderful bunch, we humans.
With all that being said, imagine what might happen if we committed ourselves to a future of respectful discourse, personal integrity, and societal cooperation. Holy quantum leap, Batman. That would really be something.
There may be no better examples of how humanity can improve our collective lot in life than team sports and aviation. Both require the individual to perform at a high level of competence, but simultaneously conform to a master plan that may or may not be to their liking.
There has never been a team that won the SuperBowl, the World Series, the Stanley Cup, or the Word Cup without the individual players committing themselves to the team above themselves.
If the quarterback calls a short pass, but the receiver decides a long reception would be more spectacular – chaos results. If the pitcher waves the catcher off, and the catcher takes personal offense, refusing to catch any more pitches until his suggestions are taken more seriously, the opposing team is going to score a lot of runs while the pitcher/catcher stand-off rages on.
Not long ago I was flying with a friend to a non-towered airport with two good sized runways that intersect at their mid-point. As we monitored the frequency of our destination, a series of calls made me realize that we who fly have a responsibility to rewire our own personal machinery and start recognizing that we operate as part of a system, not as cowboys on the loose.
Over the course of no more than 90 seconds, we heard an airplane announce their departure on Runway 5. Before they could have accelerated to rotation speed, another aircraft called to say they were on a three-mile straight-in to Runway 23. That’s the same hunk of pavement the first airplane was taking off from, headed in the opposite direction. As we marveled at the blatant stupidity of that arrival decision, a third airplane came onto the frequency to say he was on short final for Runway 11.
Yes, at a non-towered airport with intersecting runways, three pilots independently decided to use three different runways, simultaneously.
This is how teams lose big games. This is exactly what causes aviation to lead the news cycle when things turn ugly. And with the situation I’ve just described, there is plenty of opportunity for things to go horribly wrong.
The safety of flight is largely in the hands of those of us who fly. While the weather and the condition of our aircraft are of great importance, a clear blue sky, light winds, and a pristine aircraft cannot impart safety to a situation when the pilot insists on doing the stupidest thing he (or she) could possibly do – simply because there is no controlling authority to instruct them otherwise.
I fly, but only because the Wrights, Glenn Curtiss, and other pioneers of the field made it possible. I have an instrument rating, but without Jimmy Doolittle’s insight, creativity, and exceptional talent, clouds and low visibility might still be grounding me, along with every other thinking pilot.
We can be an asset to aviation, or a liability, but there is very little middle ground in this business. Let’s commit ourselves to respecting the other guy, assuring the safety of ourselves and others, and make this industry the best it can be. When given the opportunity, cooperate.
That’s a far superior goal than simply trying to prove we’re right…right up to the point of impact.