Sunday, February 8, 2009

Keeping your cool

[Video by Youralone]
We have been watching the 60 Minutes interview with Captain Sully Sullenberger, the perfect hero for the new age of responsibility. I remarked to Tom that this is a highly visible event, with people thanking him for saving their lives - but that for all these years, every time Captain Sully flew, he was sober, focused, and professional. Who knows how many disasters he evaded, in the same way that we might be going through a parking lot and stop because some fool is backing out in a hurry, and there is no accident; no one gets hurt, no one applauds. You don't make the headlines. Sully saved 155 lives not because he magnificently tapped some superpower, but because for decades he took his work seriously.

I think we are additionally fascinated because he kept his cool. Questioned, he admitted that when he realized what had happened to the engines, he was struck by a greater fear than he had ever known. The interviewer asked him how he could continue being cool in the face of that fear. He answered that he put the fear aside, because he needed to be completely focused on the job he had to do. What is fear, after all? A physical sensation based on a perception. A sort of mental emission that will quickly pass away in the stream of our mental emissions.

I remember fondly a guy whose lecture I went to once, long ago, though I don't remember his name; he had been following Grizzly Bears, studying them. He told of hiking around a bend in the trail and there was a mother Grizzly standing up on her hind legs. I don't recall what he did, if he told us, but he must have kept his head, because there he was, showing us his slides. Someone asked him how he felt at the time. Interestingly, he didn't refer to emotion, but to a sudden insight. He said, "That's when you realize you are not the top of the food chain." Keeping your head; the alternative to losing your cool.

(The Slim Whitman song is the fruit of one of those internet searches, this time for "cool" that leads you somewhere interesting. This song was around when I was a child. To me in those pre-television days, it presented a breathtaking narrative.)

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