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Fly the plane

06/26/2012 @ 1:17pm

My youngest daughter called the other day.  She told me that she’d been out with one of her friends, looking for a restaurant they’d never been to before.  The friend was driving and missed a turn, almost got on the Interstate by mistake, and then started to run a red light before my daughter yelled.  She was pretty flustered and my daughter said that she told her about a bit of advice that I’d given more than once.  

“Fly the plane,“ I’d say.  It’s not actually my line; I stole it from a book I read about learning to fly.  It seems that a common cause of plane crashes is that pilots are distracted by a warning light, a noisy passenger, or perhaps a mongoose getting loose, and because of the distraction forget that they always need to focus on the most important thing first.   In other words, “fly the plane.”

When she told me, I was very excited.  First because one of my children actually remembered something I tried to teach them.  Let’s face it – I talk quite a bit.  I think my family could be forgiven if everything I said started to blur together after a while.  But another reason for excitement was that my daughter’s friend thought it was some pretty good advice.

Yeah, imagine that.

It is good advice, though.  It’s one of those deceptively simple little slogans that sounds stupid at first, but, given some thought, contains a great deal of wisdom in not very many words.  And it applies to a lot more situations than flying airplanes or negotiating city traffic.

I’m not one of those guys who spends a lot of time talking about the “good old days.”  Anyone who has spent as much time as I have pitching manure through a barn window or shoveling two-wheel drive pickups out of snow banks can certainly appreciate some advancements in civilization.  But it does seem to me that we’ve lost our way; we don’t appear to have much of a handle on what matters and what doesn’t.

Perhaps there’s nothing really new about that.  The ancient Egyptians spent massive amounts of time and effort building pyramids so the pharaohs could have a comfy place to wait for eternity.   The folks living on Easter Island spent their time carving gigantic bodies out of rock, and hauling them down and setting them up to overlook the ocean.  There was a time when being a member of the European aristocracy meant your place in society was determined by how far the toes of your shoes curled up.  A knight could wear shoes with toes 18 inches long, a baron could go up to 24 inches, and a prince could wear shoes with toes as long as he liked.  To top it off, a small chain connected their shoe tips to their knees so they didn’t trip. That had to take a lot of time to supervise.  It’s not like they didn’t have other things to worry about – Genghis Khan and the Black Death come to mind.  

So, maybe I’m being a little too hard on our modern obsession with things that don’t matter.  On the other hand, all those societies that forgot to fly the plane went down in the dust, resulting in a long slow climb back up and no guarantee of success.  

I don’t need to tell you what matters.  Anyway, your list is probably different from mine.  But the more time we’re distracted, the more we take our eye off the horizon, the greater the chance that something truly catastrophic will occur.  

Don’t forget to fly the plane.  If we do that, most everything else will fall into place.

Copyright 2011 Brent Olson

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