Kendall Ruth asks: How many times are you wrong in a day? And out of that number how many times are you willing to admit it?
Did you hear about the two separate incidences of pilots landing large airplanes at the wrong, smaller airports? Both events made their pass through the ever quickening news cycle. You can find plenty of commentary about why and who is at fault and gosh those guys are idiots and “oh I’d never do something that stupid.” Chances are, though, if you are human and you hold tightly to a certain perspective, you have or will do something as seemingly foolish as landing a modified 747 at the smaller, wrong airport, creating such a snafu that you can’t take off without enormous amounts of help.
Pilot Robert Goyer wrote a detailed walk through of all the moving pieces when it comes to landing a plane at an airport. He admits that he too has almost landed at the wrong airport, twice. What is telling is in order to make such a mistake, you have to ignore a lot of incoming data and pretty much block out the help of others. You have to be dead set on seeing things the way you see them with no possibility of change. As he puts it:
“In order to make that change of plans, however, you need to be open to the idea that things may be different than they seem. That attitude of humility and fallibility might in fact be the most important item.”
It begs the question: How many times are you wrong in a day? And out of that number how many times are you willing to admit it?
I had a class at university titled, “Images of Men in Literature.” As enjoyable as it was, the more surprising aspect was such a class existing on a campus that was so obsessed with women’s issues and multiculturalism that white men were constantly dismissed as either completely irrelevant or the source of all societal woes. A short story we read revolved around a father taking his boy hiking in the mountains and getting so lost they almost died. The father studied his maps, read all the books about navigation and survival. By all appearances it looked like he knew what he was doing. What nearly killed them was the dissonance when all his knowledge met the real world. The tension in lay in how the father was unwilling to consider that the landscape and the map were not what they seemed. He was convinced that his book knowledge usurped any measure of reality.
This story stirred quite a bit of conversation in the class of 70% women, 30% men. There were praises for the son taking control and getting he and his dad to safety despite his father’s unwillingness to admit fault. Some couldn’t get over the blind arrogance of the father insisting he was right despite evidence to the contrary.
I had been mountaineering guiding for the two summers before and had my share of feeling lost despite knowing where I was. My training told me to always trust my map because my eyes will convince me that a valley is where it is not supposed to be; because you can’t see what’s over that ridge but the map can. Each time I was “lost” turned out to be a matter of misunderstood perspective. I saw the land in front of me as something it was not. I was making decisions based off a misunderstanding that could have significant impact on the whole of the group.
Years later, when I was in an operational role with the mountaineering guide world, I had a call come in from a guide who thought she was lost. You could hear the panic and fear in her voice. She was in the trees on a ridge, the sun was starting to set, water was scarce and there was nowhere to camp. As we talked over the radio, both looking at the same map, she was convinced she was heading into the wrong valley and toward a cliff. It sounds elementary, but we had to get her to understand which direction was North. She wasn’t trusting her compass – convinced metal in the rocks was moving the needle askew. Once we had North established, she breathed easy. From her perspective, all she saw were trees. Letting go of her perspective, she was open to the possibility of another view on her circumstances, making the right call toward camp.
Maps and instruments, though reliable, can still be misunderstood. Be it pilots landing a plane, guides hiking in the mountains, or you and me making decisions that can change the course of the lives we live. We are masters of our destiny only in so far as we are willing to admit we could be wrong and need a little outside help.
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–Photo: Frank Kehren/Flickr