I was thinking about the events in our lives that are usually not consciously asked for, but that ultimately can catapult an individual from mediocrity to heroism, almost overnight.  Allow me to explain.

Captain Chesley Sullenberger was a fantastic pilot before January 15, 2009.  He had logged well over 15,000 hours in over 35 years of problem-free flying.  He was awarded “top flier” in his Air Force class in 1973 after training and then even student-teaching flight there.  He even created his own side business in 2007, Safety Reliability Methods Inc., which is a safety consulting business (how fitting).

If I’m flying, I want someone like Captain “Sulley” flying my plane!  Without any verifiable evidence, however, I’m guessing that this type of pilot is not very rare.  There are dozens, if not hundreds or perhaps even thousands of people with immaculate flying records.  How many of these perfect fliers have a fan page on facebook?  Sulley’s fan page has almost 600,000 fans today. What really is the difference between Sullenberger and all the other great pilots with immaculate safety records?

For those who don’t know, US Airways flight 1549 flew through a large flock of birds just a few minutes after taking off from New York.  Both engines were completely disabled, and the captain had to do an emergency landing with the plane.  Without any ability to propel the plane, he did not have an airport within range where he could make the emergency landing, and so he decided to land the plane, along with his crew and 155 passengers, on a stretch of the Hudson River.  Everyone survived and according to a February 2009 airing of 60 Minutes, Sullenberger walked through the entire plane twice to make sure every passenger was off the plane before he grabbed his things and evacuated. 

President Bush and President-elect Obama both called to thank him for keeping passengers safe.  The good captain was invited to interview with countless media outlets, was given multiple awards and has had several books written about him and his miraculous experience.

I haven’t had the opportunity to ask, but my guess is that if Sully would have known ahead of time that his airplane would completely lose propulsion just a few minutes into flight, he would have chosen not to fly the plane that day.  My point is Sulley didn’t ask for heroism, a crisis created it in him.  I doubt that most true heroes face any day hoping for some catastrophe to strike just so that they can prove themselves great.  At the same time, I bet there are people with more education than me that can somehow prove that, among other things, it is the beliefs that a hero takes into a crisis that allow them to perform miraculously when faced with danger.  In Chinese, the word for crisis is made up of two characters, “wei” and “ji.”  Wei means danger and ji means opportunity.  A crisis by definition is as much an opportunity as it is a dangerous circumstance.

Great difficulty creates opportunity, but only for those who’s beliefs support that opportunity.  Small difficulties also have small opportunities in them.  I believe that all of us have the ability to be heroes and to do great things, because by small and simple things, great things can come about.  The challenge, should you choose to accept it, is to find the opportunity within the danger.


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