Safety: Not My Circus, Not My Monkeys

There is an old Polish phrase that reads, “Not my circus, not my monkeys,” and it refers to the mindset of not getting involved in events that don't concern us. In others words, “It's none of my business.” And while that attitude may be an appropriate viewpoint in certain situations, your flying club is not one of them.

Your club, or any club for that matter, should be a cohesive organization bringing together a group of people with the same interest for the same reason. And while the club may be a singular entity for legal reasons, in reality it's not a nebulous “thing” out's a group of individuals, people. A club's strength, or lack thereof, lies in that cohesion of each individual member to the group's overall mission and goal. Everyone has a part to play, and everyone's participation counts.

Inclusion in a club offers a primal draw that is ingrained in our human psyche. In his book, Tribe: On Homecoming and Belonging, journalist Sebastian Junger tells of historical moments in the early days of the United States where educated European settlers abandoned their colony to join Native American tribes, perplexing anyone who tried to understand why. Many surmise it was the egalitarian nature of the tribe, and European settlers found comfort in the equality of the group where everyone worked for the survival of the tribe as a whole. Those who did not pull their weight were punished. On the other end of the spectrum, those who hoarded resources from the tribe were often confronted by other members. It was each member's duty to look out for the group, not just themselves.

What does this have to do with a flying club? Haven't we evolved beyond such behavior? No, we haven't. Scientists believe our brains have not evolved as quickly as our social structures have, and our ways of thinking are still a little behind the times. So it makes sense then, when a member of a flying club who is not pulling their weight, or worse yet, actually exhibits behavior that threatens the cohesion of the club, ruffles some feathers; our brains are still very much tribal. Humans have understood for centuries that individual actions count and affect the welfare of the group. It may be a small matter, but if one member of our club consistently leaves the airplane in worse shape for us to fly—bugs stuck to the windscreen and leading edges, folded charts thrown haphazardly in the back seat, avionics left on, not refueling after a flight—it threatens, at least to our primal psyches, the cohesion of the group.

Or it may not be a small matter. Pilots have walked out to preflight an airplane and found substantial damage—everything from a bent prop tip to firewall damage from a hard landing—that went unreported by the previous pilot. The actions of one can affect the safety of the entire club.

This mindset extends out from just our flying club. As pilots, we are members of a much larger, more diverse group, general aviation. But a club it still is. We have a responsibility to that club to be the best, safest pilot we can. Any deviation from that reflects poorly on general aviation and pilots as a whole. Airshow pilot Sean D. Tucker talks about this in his chat with AOPA Air Safety Institute's Executive Director, Richard McSpadden, in the “There I Was” podcast series, Episode 3. Tucker makes the point that as pilots we have a responsibility to the general public; he rightly mentions we have a standard of excellence to uphold. General aviation works better when we, as members of that group, police each other. You can listen to that episode, Episode 3, along with other episodes here.

We will all belong to a variety of groups, or clubs, over the course of our lives. Whether that is a church group, a flying club, or a larger industry like aviation, the strength of each group starts with the strength of the individual member. We have a responsibility not only to the whole, but to each other.

This is your circus, and these are your monkeys. It's up to each of us make this flying circus fun, and safe, for all to enjoy!


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