Friday, March 27, 2015

Why do we have a strong emotional connection to air crashes?

Statistics tells us that air travel is one of the safest modes of transportation. For example, during 2013, the NHTSC recorded 32,719 deaths from vehicle crashes in the United States while at the same time, the Bureau of Aircraft Accidents Archives recorded 459 deaths from airplane crashes. This latter statistic is worldwide and not just crashes occurring in the U.S.

According to a recent USA Today article, airlines expect to carry 134.8 million travelers during 2015, a figure that I find staggering; I would never have guessed that. Doing some quick math, this puts the odds of being killed in an air crash at around 1 in 300,000. That's not quite as safe as the odds of being struck by lightning which according to NOAA is 1 in 960,000, but it's still safe enough for me to keep flying.

Since airplane crashes are so rare and the results so devastating, these events are decidedly newsworthy and receive deserved attention and analysis. We demand to know what happened, why it happened, what could have been done to prevent the crash, and what steps can be taken to ensure that the same thing can never occur again.  As a result of our demands, both government and industry tend to respond with uncharacteristic speed in implementing needed improvements.

Why do humans manifest such a strong emotional connection to air crashes but give barely a second thought to the much larger number of deaths from traffic accidents? In statistical terms, which represents the bigger tragedy?

I believe the answer lies with the fact that when we step onto an airplane, we relinquish total control of our freedom and place our lives into the hands of complete strangers. We humble ourselves and willingly consent to become prisoners of the crew. We park our butts into cramped, uncomfortable seats and wait for permission to loosen our seat belts and to use our electronic devices. We are told when we can eat and when it is necessary to return our tray tables to their fully closed and locked positions. Most humiliating of all, we must wait until the captain decides when we are allowed to go to the bathroom.

In any other scenario this behavior would be considered abusive, but we put up with it because we understand the high stakes involved and that sometimes safety trumps our personal dignity.

We place our trust in the crew and on the airlines in general that in return for our subjugation they will keep us safe. If the facts reported are true about the crash this week of Germanwings Flight 9525, then the action of Co-Pilot Andreas Lubitz represents a gross betrayal of that trust and plays to our worst nightmares of being utterly helpless as an airline passenger. We can imagine being there and can empathize with those poor souls during their final moments. That's why we feel so emotionally connected.

To make matter worse, Lufthansa CEO Carsten Spohr reported that Lubitz was a fairly experienced co-pilot with 630 flight hours and was "100 percent fit" to fly. Apparently, Lubitz's employer disregarded evidence of the man's alleged psychological problems. A black eye for just Lufthansa or an indictment of the entire industry?

Sobering thoughts for the next time you consider flying.

Do you agree with my analysis, or am I missing something here?

Sunday, March 1, 2015

What I learned from Leonard Nimoy.

Leonard Nimoy, one of the world's most identifiable actors, passed away on Friday, February 27, 2015 at age 83. I attended a lecture that Mr. Nimoy presented at my college during my undergrad years. This was during the early 1970s. What I remember most from that lecture was how determined Nimoy seemed to distance himself from his role as Spock. After the presentation and during the Q&A, he voiced frustration with the crowd, because most of the questions centered on the Spock character.

When one of the audience members pressed him about being Spock, he accused her of being a Klingon. We got a good laugh at that, except I don't believe he was trying to be funny. I believe he had meant it as a pejorative.

It was clear to me that the man wanted to be taken seriously as Leonard Nimoy and not as Mr. Spock. He also wanted to be recognized for his many other achievements as an actor, director, and writer. I understand this. Don't all of us want to be taken seriously for who we are?

It didn't surprise me to read in a Leonard Nimoy Obituary published by, "In the years immediately after "Star Trek" left television, Nimoy tried to shun the role..."

Nimoy's portrayal of Spock was so iconic that I will forever associate him with that character. Apparently, so does the rest of the world as revealed in these words from the obit, "Although Leonard Nimoy followed his 1966-69 "Star Trek" run with a notable career as both an actor and director, in the public's mind he would always be Spock."

In time, Nimoy accepted his association with Spock and grew to embrace it. Another quote from the obit:

"Of course the role changed my career— or rather, gave me one. It made me wealthy by most standards and opened up vast opportunities. It also affected me personally, socially, psychologically, emotionally. ... What started out as a welcome job to a hungry actor has become a constant and ongoing influence in my thinking and lifestyle."

Whenever someone passes, it provides us all an opportunity to reflect on that person's life and learn from it. Given the Nimoy/Spock duality that dogged this man to the end, we come to realize that everything we do and say impacts how people perceive us. Nimoy could not escape the perception people had of him as Spock. In my opinion, that association was a positive one. As he acknowledged in the above quote, it served him well.

Very few of us achieve the popularity of a man like Leonard Nimoy or his beloved character, Mr. Spock, yet all of us are perceived as a persona of our own making among the circle of humanity we touch.

How are you perceived?

A sobering thought with an implied warning. Beware of what you do and say. It may become forever associated with you.

Live Long and Prosper.