I was thinking back today to an incident that happened almost six years ago, when I was among the first to arrive at an airplane crash, right along with the pilot. You may have seen it on the news, some college prof from a lefty school made a lot of money selling footage of it to the media (yeah, that always struck me as funny, a socialist making money off of other people's misery. But do they really know of any other way?)
The aircraft impacted the ground a bit more than a hundred feet from where I was standing, with my friends, at supersonic speed. At one point as it was about to auger in, it had actually been pointed at us and I had everyone ready to run. Instead we just hit the ground and hoped that none of the debris would hit us. Fortunately for us, it didn't. But ten other people weren't so lucky, and of course the pilot was killed instantly as well.
Now I was a fan of the pilot and the airplane (though I'd never really met the pilot personally) and that year I was cheering him on, after he'd been robbed of the championship the year before because of an idiot in a thunder mustang and a bunch of officials who really weren't up to snuff (in short, they canceled the last race and gave the award to the winner of the previous heat). On the previous lap before the crash, I had noticed something that wasn't quite right, which I now know was the aircraft starting to deform and break up. I suspect my report on this behavior to the NTSB probably clued them into a number of things (yes, I made a report, I used to be a flight test engineer for Grumman Aerospace, trained to observe and all that crap). But of course none of us knew what really happened at the time.
Then the report came out, and while there is still one question that they were never able to answer - why wasn't there a fireball when the aircraft hit the ground, they were able to answer why it hit the ground.
The pilot screwed up, like a big dog, and he killed not only himself, but ten other people and wounded dozens more (some horrendously). It wasn't the extreme modifications he made to his airplane, no, it was a lack of proper maintenance and a refusal to stop as his airplane started to show signs of exceeding its design limitations.
The bad maintenance had to do with the trim flap that caused the accident. It came off the aircraft because the bolts holding it on were older than many of the spectators, they were way too old to have been used on that aircraft anymore, and they hadn't been properly fastened.
Also, the plane was obviously starting to break up as he flew it, because the canopy no longer sat flush on the canopy rail. That would have been glaringly obvious in the cockpit that his aircraft was in the process of coming apart. There was no way he could have possibly missed that. He should have knocked it off at that point. But he chose not to. So yes, he caused the crash and he bears full responsibility for everything that happened.
But even if he hadn't been aware of all of that, he still would have borne complete responsibility.
You see, I learned in the Air Force that you, the pilot in command, are responsible for whatever happens to your airplane. No matter what it is. Even if one of the guys in maintenance messes up something that was their job, it's still your responsibility, your fault. Because you own that airplane while you're in it and you should have found that problem or known better. It's your butt on the line after all. You don't just kick the tires and light the fires, you're supposed to do a walk around, look at important parts, and read the maintenance logs.
Now I want you to think about that previous paragraph a moment.
We were taught that if anything goes wrong, if anything bad happens, we own it. It's our fault. Period. No excuses, not ever. It's our responsibility.
Now compare that to what people today are taught, what you've been taught. I was brought up to take responsibility for my actions, but the USAF taught me that I'm responsible for everything that goes on around me, and if something bad happens to me, it's my fault. Not someone else's, mine. That might sound extreme to you, or bizarre, or perhaps even abusive. But you quickly come to realize that they're right.
You are the master of your own destiny and you are the one that controls what happens to you. If something goes wrong that you didn't think of, well then damnit, you should have thought about that, shouldn't you? This whole owning of your own destiny, of taking responsibility, leads you to start looking at things more carefully, of choosing your actions with a little more care to your own personal wellbeing and survival. Of being aware of things around you, and stopping to take care of that little annoying issue instead of putting it off until later, because there just might not be a later and just how stupid will you feel when it bites you on the ass?
So if you get robbed, for example, it's your fault. How come? Simple: Why didn't you see it coming? Why were you in a place where thieves hangout? Why didn't you have a contingency to deal with it? Why did you attract their attention?
You get in a car accident: Why weren't you watching out for that guy? Why didn't you have someplace to go when they made that mistake? Why didn't you know what to do when 'X' broke on your car? Why wasn't your car properly maintained?
You start applying that logic to your life and when things go bad, or wrong, as they invariably do, you don't sit there and blame others, (well okay, maybe you do a bit to your friends and others in public - we're only human after all), but instead, when you sit down to think about what happened, the first thought to go through your head is: Where did I go wrong? Followed by: What did I do wrong? And you usually end up with: How do I keep this from happening again? No, instead you're most likely the person with a plan, and the person who does something to either stop what's happening, avoid what's happening, or minimize what's happening.
You've seen those people who have bad things happening to them again and again, right? They make all sorts of excuses, telling us how it's not their fault! But the truth is, they're the ones doing it to themselves. I know, I've been there; we've all probably been there at one point or another. But after the second time I made changes to myself to make sure that there wasn't going to be a third time. Because I knew it was my fault, because I've decided that I'm the master of my own destiny.
I've seen too many people locked into cycles of bad circumstances as they just keep telling everyone how it's not their fault, and so they never take ownership of the situation, they never try to fix what's broken or what's wrong, or do something about the thing that is constantly ruining their life. They never find a solution.
Now let's go back to that September day in 2011 when someone tried to drop an airplane on me and my friends. I supposed a lot of you are saying 'well what the hell are you going to do about that?'
Simple, pay attention, weigh your options, and act on them. For several seconds that sucker was literally lined up to hit us, so we all got ready to run. But before we could it changed its target (P-factor) and so we hit the ground instead. When you're only a couple of inches above the ground and there are coolers everywhere, as well as other low level obstructions, that's the best option you have. And because there wasn't a fireball, we all survived without injury.
Now most problems in life do not come at us with the speed of a P-51 mustang in a supersonic dive at full throttle. However that doesn't exclude you from thinking about just what might happen. Did I think someone might drop an airplane on me that day before I went? Of course I did, I was heading to an event where accidents are expected and people do die. It even says on the ticket that you can be injured or killed and they take no responsibility. So I owned it before I even set foot there.
Well life really isn't any different, is it? The stakes are high, it's your life after all, and things are going to happen to you, good and bad, throughout it. So once you become an adult, once you've been handed the responsibility for your own life, you need to own both the good and the bad that will come your way.
Because until you do that you'll never avoid so many of the bad things that can, and do, happen to people everyday. And no, I'm not saying that bad things will never visit you, there will always be those few things that truly are beyond your control. But so much of it is, and until you admit to understanding that the person in the mirror is the one that makes things happen both for you and to you, you'll never be the master of your own destiny.