Monday, April 05, 2010

Do You Regret Silence or Speech?

Today I am looking for an inspirational poster to give to someone so he can see it while he works out. I know he doesn't want to be a bulgingly muscled bodybuilder, and he's not into any particular sports, so I was looking for something generally inspirational, depicting the healthy human form. I liked this one with the Olympic rings over a muscled golden man wearing a crown of laurels and the chariot. Then I looked closer and realized that it was for the Berlin Olympics in 1936, and decided that Aryan eugenics wasn't what he wanted to have in mind while striving for the ideal.

It's almost impossible to take typical motivational posters  non-ironically after seeing the parodies, but I looked at that category anyway. Then I saw this one. If you can't see the image at right, the quotation is: I often regret that I have spoken; Never that I have been silent. It made me do a double take. Just how chatty was this Publilus Syrus?

I take his point. Sure there are times that it is better to be silent than to speak. By talking too much you might cause others to think/realize that you don't know what you are talking about. You might interrupt someone who would otherwise have given you wisdom. You might embarrass someone by telling them something they could otherwise have been happily oblivious to. You could let slip confidential personal, competitive or military information. You might be talking about your cabin when you should be focusing on maintaining airspeed in icing while intercepting the localizer.

But if Publilius Syrus (Wikipedia and Internet consensus favour that spelling) regrets nothing he has neglected to say, then does he never think of what he could have done? I'm thinking of the first officer who didn't say, "Go around!" in Little Rock, or at least didn't say it in a voice loud enough to be picked up by the cockpit voice recorder, and of all the pilots who ever died because they saw something that wasn't quite right but assumed that the flying pilot had it under control, or that it would be safer for them and the cockpit atmosphere to remain silent than to nitpick a small discrepancy. I guess Publilus Syrus never knew anyone who committed suicide because he thought no one cared about him. Maybe Syrus was so irritating that he didn't have any friends, so none of them ever died leaving him wishing he had told them something. And if he followed his own wisdom, he never spoke out against injustice against others, even though he himself was a former slave.

Ironically it was Syrus' smart mouth that got him out of slavery. Had he remained a silent slave, his master wouldn't have been so impressed by his wisdom and entertainment value as to free him. It appears that Syrus became a professional maxim writer. I guess that's the equivalent of someone who makes a living from a cafepress store today. He was pretty good at his job, considering the number of sayings attributed to him that are still in use today, such as "a rolling stone gathers no moss."

I have no quarrel with "It is a bad plan that admits of no modification," (although if that plan is a published instrument approach, ad hoc modification is a very bad plan indeed).  "If you wish to reach the highest, begin at the lowest," is true, but I prefer the way Lau-Tzu put it. Syrus strikes both sides of the coin with the complementary, "Nothing can be done at once hastily and prudently," and "While we stop to think, we often miss our opportunity." That way whatever you choose to do, you have a quotation to back you up. One of his sayings, "It is a good thing to learn caution from the misfortunes of others," is part of the slogan of the Aviation Safety Newsletter, from which I keep highlighting things I mean to blog about and then not doing so.

According to Wikipedia, he also worked as a mime. I must admit that as a reflection on a performance as a mime, those words are spot on. But I doubt he was so bad a mime that he kept forgetting not to talk.   Another of his sayings, "Let a fool hold his tongue and he will pass for a sage," I think is a clearer expression of the same sentiment, but I still say speak out. If you are a sage, then someone can learn something from you. And if you aren't, someone else will likely speak out and help ameliorate your foolishness. And I suppose there are a dozen readers out there who silently think I'm a fool and should regard Syrus' advice.

And in other news, apparently some Indian pilots don't know how to fly. Indian reporters are having trouble reporting, too. Raw data flying is several steps removed from just turning off the autopilot, and if the pilots can't fly raw data in cruise, the chief pilot should be doing a lot more than sending circulars.


Michael5000 said...

I read that quote and think "Oh yeah, there are SO MANY times I should have kept my mouth shut! And times I was glad I did!

...and then, hmm, there are all those times I was glad I said something....

And, hey, what about those times I WISH I'd said something!?!"

"Life is more situational than you imply, Publilus." -- Michael5000

dpierce said...

I've maintained that maxims aren't meant to be absolute truths; they're tools to focus people in a conversation on a common concept, without having to restate the entire meme verbatim.

In organizations, people agree on common terminology for common ideas. Laypeople often mistake this for jargon for its own sake, but in reality it's used to focus attention on a specific idea in an abbreviated way. Maxims sort of serve the same purpose; condensing a particular wisdom into a phase where a single word won't do.

But wisdoms can be misused, even if they sound good. The earlybird got the worm, but the earlyhunter got the bird ...

(And, it was duck tonight ... the kind served with egg rolls.)

Aviatrix said...

I am SO vindicated for my Easter dinner choice. Guess what was the secret ingredient for Iron Chef America on Easter Sunday!

Sarah said...

Sometimes I wonder whether or not to speak up or remain silent... sometimes while commenting .. on comments. ;)

When I wonder, Twain's quote comes to mind. "It is better to keep your mouth closed and let people think you are a fool than to open it and remove all doubt."

So many topics.. where do I begin? I don't know about workouts motivation, but Hunter S. Thompson has always worked for me.

Wild accident report in Little Rock. An example of what can go wrong in pressing an approach past the point of reason. Yes, there are times to speak up.

I'm not sure what you ( or the Indian journalist ) means by "raw data flying". Is this an Airbus control law thing?

Finally, Easter dinner vindication. Was the secret ingredient an "easter egg" ?

A Squared said...

"raw data" refers to flying solely by reference to the attitude, pitot/static and Nav instruments vis flying with a flight director which is cuing you for the appropriate pitch and roll. Or in other words just basic instrument flying.

Aviatrix said...

The secret ingredient was RABBIT.

John Lennerton said...

Was the rabbit's name Trudy? (obscure movie reference; 10 points for anyone who guesses the movie).

I don't know about anyone else, but I really like it when my pilots are comfortable with 'raw data flying'. The tone of the article made it seem like it just isn't done. While I'm sure the majority of big jets today fly on auto most of the time, I still want the girls and guys sitting in the front row to be comfortable with those pedal thingys on the floor and the steering wheel (or joystick) thingy in front of them. But maybe that's just me.

D.B. said...

I would have said something. But I choose not to.

Aluwings said...

Raw data flying - not so simple as your response, given the nature of modern airliners, the minimal training time available and the difficulty in hand-flying in the upper atmosphere. Also for something as basic as raw-data approachs the procedures and presentation and instrument scans change so drastically, they become an entirely different beast.

Add to that the typically busy airspace parameters, and the speed at which things "happen" this is more challenging than you might expect. Reading between the lines of this (as usual) inadequate news report, I'm pretty sure I've seen similar events on the new generation of automated planes.

It's becoming a complex issue - how to keep pilots current on raw data, in an environment where it is seldom needed let alone routinely used.

Anonymous said...

Oh Boy, would I love to comment on this raw data thing! Better not, though. I will keep my mouth shut!

A Squared said...

I just flew raw data today, from takeoff to top of climb. Astonishingly, the plane didn't spiral out of control.

Anonymous said...

I've known pilots who failed a check ride in the SIM because when the automation was getting in the way they clicked it off and hand-flew the approach with raw data for a while to get things re-stabilized.

That's how fracked up the thinking is in some circles about using or not using the "bells and whistles." I even had one company engineer say he thought the pilots should be "Required" to use the auto-thrust at all times. Sheesh.