Marina Cortês

Ticks of time: on Cosmology, Everest, and Ballet

`Don’t flog, nurture’. How to get the best out of the next generation?

Marina Cortês landing in a Californian drop zone.

Brian Germain, the US-based skydive instructor, motivational speaker, author, canopy designer, and expert on the psychology of fear, who I have followed for the last 10+ years wrote a Facebook post today about teaching new generations of skydivers.

(Full transcript below if you don’t hold a Facebook account.)

It ended with:

Don’t flog, nurture.

I wish Brian’s post was shouted out over rooftops to ballet masters around the world, who still teach through humiliation, and brute force. Education in the (hard core) arts follows today the old model Brian describes. 

This is maybe the reason why I am still alive today, despite engaging in high risk activities — adventuring, skydiving and mountaineering. I was forged in an old school russian style ballet conservatoire, and I can endure extreme difficulty. 

*However* I would not wish for my children or any youngsters what I endured in the arts, no matter how strong it has made me.

Nurture indeed. The world (and the air) will take care of presenting harshness to our students.

I was once nearly run over by a landing cessna, as an Accelerated Free Fall (AFF) student, and was abandoned twice at 23,000 ft on Everest. 

(Caption: Skydiving Ground School, Empuria Brava Drop Zone, Barcelona, Spain, 2013)

Exquisite loving tutors got me out of these and many other adventures… One year later I was higher in the sky, but on the ground, in Tibet:

Cortês at the summit of Mt. Cho-Oyu in Tibet, 27 thousand feet high.
Cortês at the summit of Mt. Cho-Oyu in Tibet, 27 thousand feet high, in 2014.

Original text by Germain:

In the old days, some fondly reminisce, if a skydiver made a mistake, they got chewed out by the experienced jumpers so they would never make that mistake again. It was for their own good, some would say. In fact, cruel, heartless shaming was the core model of skydiving instruction. If your screwed up, you were publicly humiliated. Many still romanticize this model of education. It worked to a certain degree, in the way that a sledgehammer can be used to drive in screw. We have more effective ways now. It’s called kindness and mutual respect, and a scientific process of discovering truth, rather than echoed opinions forced down the students’ throats through repetitive programming, even when what was being taught was empirically incorrect or incomplete. We cannot throw away the past. We have learned much through how we once did things, and many of these lessons remain as true today as they were when first spoken.

The downright meanness, however, the disrespectful forceful communication might have been intended to demonstrate the urgency of the message, but for a budding pilot seeking to feel like a pilot, this is not the way. Tell them the truth. Make it clear. Explain exactly what was wrong with their actions, and move forward to expecting that they will do the right things next time. Don’t flog, nurture.

Some state that a heavy-handed response is still required in matters of life and death. Perhaps, sometimes, these impulses stem from our own emotional response, and this fear turns into punitive, disproportionate vengeance. A cruel ass chewing is never unnecessary, however grounding them for a while sometimes is. There must be consequences for poor judgment, but the heartless methods always have undesireable side effects.

One option is using an powerful emotional bookmark, but with a kind hand. In other words, we can tell the story of the full effects of such actions in elaborate detail, and how it will impact others. This vivid visualization will bring up an emotional response in most, and when it doesn’t, they must be grounded to make a clear statement that such behavior is unacceptable. Skydiving is a privilege, not a right, and that privilege can be taken away if you don’t act in a responsible manner.

Disrespectful speeches have more effects than we realize. The echoes of the emotional pain lead to resentment, resistance, and the bad vibes that ultimately undo relationships. It is ultimately the friendships that save our lives in this sport. Cooperative communication is an vital component to safety when doing dangerous things, and our interpersonal emotional climate is an inseparable component to the long game. We must stick together, and be kind to each other because we are ultimately one dropzone, one sport, one people. It is this awareness that will allow us to work together to solve all that life brings us as opportunities for cooperation. All things are either love, or a call for love; love of skydiving, and love of skydivers.

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