Short essays written for the La Jolla Veteran's Hospital newsletter in La Jolla, California
Do you notice that in today's complex society there are some fearsome things that can occur? An immediate example, probably fresh in everyone's minds, is the crash water landing of US Air flight #1549 an A320 Airbus in the Hudson River minutes after takeoff from La Guardia Airport, just a couple of months ago. Some people also feel they have to worry about the impending dire events that may occur in the future. Consider what Jesus said to His followers: "And which of you by being anxious can add one cubit to his span of life?" (Mt 6: 27). Solomon, king and prophet, respected by Christians, Jews and Moslems, the writer of the Book of Proverbs (12:25), notes: “Anxiety in a man's heart weighs him down ” Particularly apt are Gandhi's words: "There is nothing that wastes the body like worry, and one who has any faith in God should be ashamed to worry about anything whatsoever."[i]
Once again our spiritual ancestors lead the way in pointing out a solution to us "Jesus answered them, "My Father is working still, and I am working." (Jn 5:17). And as St. James (2:18) counseled: " and I by my works will show you my faith." Psychologists and business consultants have suggested lessons which can be learned from the disastrous plane crash and which can shift us from aimless worry to fruitful work. Clinical science terms this process "meta-cognition" (Flavell, 1976): thinking and ordering your own thinking and then practicing and regulating your behavior (or work).
Pre-planning: The pilot, Chesley Burnett Sullenberger III, (Sully) who gained a pilot's license at 14, was consistently evaluated at the 99th percentile in every academic category, and received the Outstanding Cadet in Airmanship Award at his graduation from the USAF Academy . He went on to be trained and become a researcher, and trainer in flying and landing under duress, including gliding (he held an FAA Gliding license) and water landings.
Emotional Control: Numerous newspaper reports indicate the totally detached professionalism of this pilot.[ii] According to numerous media reports, "Sully," without self-concern, walked the aisle of the plane twice to make sure everyone was out. He knew his first priority once the plane hit the water. He followed the Pre-planning protocol. Achieving such emotional control, for us, takes the same practice it did for 'Sully" in his professional career. For guidelines in this 'emotional control: basic training or boot camp' which we can practice now see: Morelli, 2006a,c.
Behavioral Execution: Not only did "Sully" have to act fast when his plane encountered engine trouble upon takeoff, but he had to make instantaneous judgments. For example, his gilder pilot experience and knowledge and practice of water landings intuitively provided him with the information to land in the river. Before landing, he gave the now famous "Brace for impact" warning. After landing, he twice walked up and down the plane, ensuring no one was left on board the soon-to-be-sinking aircraft.
So too, let us work toward helping ourselves deal with the unexpected dire events of life. If we focus on 'worry' instead of working on the problems, we double our problems. Now we have two problems to focus on: the original potentially dire event and secondly, the emotional problem created by ourselves, that is, our worry about the problem. Emotional problems block clear thinking and problem solving, which lead to even more problems. Psychologically, let us train ourselves to learn and practice effective strategies to deal with the exigencies, the urgent situations of life (Morelli, 2006b). Spiritual preparation includes meditating on St. Paul's words: "Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a workman who has no need to be ashamed." (2Tm 2:15), and the words of Jesus: "all things are possible with God. (Mk 10:27).
Flavell, J. H. (1976) Metacognitive aspects of problem solving. In L. B. Resnick (Ed.), The nature of intelligence. Hillsdale , NJ : Erlbaum.
Morelli, G. (2006a, July 02). Assertiveness and Christian Charity.http://www.orthodoxytoday.org/articles6/MorelliAssertiveness.php
Morelli, G. (2006b, March 6). Asceticism and Psychology in the Modern World. http://www.orthodoxytoday.org/articles6/MorelliMonasticism.php
Morelli, G. (2006c, October 05). Overcoming Depression: Cognitive Scientific Psychology and the Church Fathers. http://www.orthodoxytoday.org/articles6/MorelliDepression.php