Lots of shit going on in the world recently. Ebola. Global Warming. Ferguson. Congress. Rape Culture. GamerGate. Bigotry. Hatred.
Makes the head swim. Makes you frustrated. Makes you angry. Makes you wonder what to do, ’cause we’ve gotta do SOMETHING, don’t we?
I remembered something I was taught when I was learning to fly. I heard it echoed a couple of times last week at the Armstrong NASA Social.
In all of these cases, the category was “EMERGENCY!!!” Bad things were happening in the plane. Fire. Pieces falling off. Out of control. Ground getting bigger real fast.
In every instance, the first rule, of course, is, “Don’t panic.” It’s not just a buzzline from Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy. In a “situation”, you might be close to dying. If you panic, the odds of dying approach 1.00 very quickly. Your odds might not be great, but they can only get worse if you panic.
Which leads to the second rule – “Don’t make it worse.” Like the Hippocratic Oath for pilots, it reminds us that there’s no situation that can’t be made worse. Maybe you can make it better, maybe you can’t. Buy you can always make it worse. Don’t do that.
To assist in executing Rule One and Rule Two, Rule Three is to, “Take a deep breath or five.” This might be more of a suggestion than a rule, since there might be times when the fire is in the cockpit NOW, or the mountain in front of you as you come out of the clouds is RIGHT THERE. But those are the exceptions. Most crises build and grow, a chain of errors, poor decisions, and bad luck.
So when you realize you’re at the end of such a chain and it’s about to be a “bad day,” take a couple of deep breaths, don’t panic, and don’t make the situation worse.
The suggestion I’ve heard for the next step, when you’re evaluating the danger in your situation, is to see if you’re in mortal danger this second. For example, following an earthquake, if you’re trapped under rubble and you smell gas leaking, you’re in deep guano right this second. But for the vast majority of us, even if you got banged up a little, you’re probably safe this second. There could be fires to come, aftershocks, further damage, lack of food & water for days, looting… But this second, you’re okay. You can plan from there to make sure you’re still safe in a minute, an hour, a day, a week.
Viewing heaping piles of the idiotic, insane, and vitriolic shit that seems to sometimes fill the news and FaceBook and Twitter and the conversation around the water cooler, it’s natural and easy to get angry, to want to react, to want to strike out, to want to do something now to change things. The topic doesn’t matter. Ebola, global warming, Ferguson, Congress, rape culture, GamerGate, bigotry, or hatred.
I’m not saying that there’s nothing we can do about these things, and I’m not saying that we shouldn’t take action to change these things. Quite the opposite.
But… Don’t panic. Don’t make it worse. Take a few deep breaths. See if you personally are in mortal danger at this second.
Then let’s figure out ways to make these things better. Hopefully we’ll make things better by working together, but we’ll do it one individual at a time if necessary. We’ll do it while remembering all of the really good things in the world that balance out some of the really terrible things. We’ll get there, but it’s a marathon, not a spring.
Don’t make it worse.
Take a few deep breaths.