“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.” Yes, in some cases, cruel, heartless shaming was the model of skydiving instruction. If you screwed up, you were publicly humiliated.
Many still romanticize this model of education. It works to a certain degree, in the way that a sledgehammer works to drive in a screw. But we have more effective ways now: They’re called kindness and mutual respect. We also have a scientific process of discovering truth. Echoing opinions that may be incorrect or incomplete and forcing them down students' throats through repetitive programming is behind us.
We cannot throw away the past, and we have learned much through how we once did things. Many of these lessons remain as true today as they were when first spoken. The downright meanness, however, must go. Disrespectful, forceful communication–even if it’s intended to demonstrate the urgency of the message—is not the way. Yes, a budding canopy pilot who messed up needs to hear the truth, so tell it to them. Make your message clear. Explain exactly what they did wrong and move forward, expecting that they will do the right thing next time. Don't flog, nurture.
Some instructors justify being heavy-handed because it’s a matter of life and death, but this behavior may stem from their own emotional response to the threat, and this fear turns into punitive, disproportionate vengeance. Grounding a jumper for a period of time may be necessary, but a cruel chewing out never is.
There must be consequences for poor judgment, but heartless methods always have undesirable side effects. A good option after a student’s unacceptable behavior is to create a powerful emotional bookmark using a kind hand. In other words, tell a story in elaborate detail about the full effects of a jumper’s actions on themself and others. This vivid visualization will bring up an emotional response in most people. If it doesn’t, grounding is warranted 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 speech has cascading effects. The echoes of the emotional pain can lead to resentment, resistance and bad vibes that undo relationships (and drop zones). It is ultimately friendships that save lives in this sport. Cooperative communication is a 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 drop zone, 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. Be good to each other, and put down your sledgehammer of truth in favor of more skillful means.
Instead of a traditional chewing out (a short and not-so sweet jab to one's self-worth), try bringing the person to an agonizingly long meeting with several qualified personnel. Keep doing your best to speak up when necessary, but in the most effective way to create behavioral change while building long-term, trusting relationships, rather than creating outcasts who curse your name. Love is always more work and time, but no other way offers such meaningful profits. Invest in authentic kindness to your students, and they will become who and what you hope they will be.
Brian Germain | D-11154,
Safety and Training Advisor
Author of “The Parachute and its Pilot;” featured instructor at adventurewisdom.com