Pure Arete

The ancient Greeks developed many useful concepts which we, in our current vaunted era, would be wise to revisit. One such concept, arete (Ancient Greek: ἀρετή), was used extensively by the Sophists. In its most basic sense, arete means excellence of any kind. It implies effectiveness and it is exhibited whenever and wherever full potential is realized.

When I watch the news, surf the internet and scan the world around me I am always on the lookout for arete. It is the crème de la crème of what the world has to offer and is therefore a very small percentage of what human beings create from moment to moment.

If you’ve watched the news at all lately, you probably caught a glimpse of the story of Elon Musk, a relatively young entrepreneur whose professional achievements have revealed a certain élan, and I would argue, a fair measure of arete. Elon’s first major achievement was the co-creation of Paypal, an invention which earned him the capital necessary to launch other daring and large-scale projects. He parlayed his experience into the creation of a car manufacturing company, Tesla Motors, which produces a fabulous all-electric sports car capable of competing with their competitors which run on fossil fuel, and SpaceX, a company dedicated to building the world’s most advanced rockets and spacecraft.

The SpaceX team recently made history by becoming the only commercial (as opposed to governmental) enterprise to successfully attach to the International Space Station. The craft, Dragon, was launched into orbit from Cape Canaveral on May 22, delivered supplies to the International Space Station on May 25 and is scheduled to be released later this week. Previously only four governments – yes I said g-o-v-e-r-n-m-e-n-t-s – the United States, Russia, Japan and the European Space Agency have accomplished this formidable task. When asked about Dragon’s historic capture, Elon Musk, the 40 year old Chief Designer and founder of SpaceX stated: “Just awesome.” I have to agree. Pure arete.

When asked in a 60 Minutes interview about why he started SpaceX he noted that it was important for us to become a multi-planet species, so that we don’t remain confined on earth until our eventual extinction. One of my goals in life, incidentally, is to help make us a species worth saving.

The discussion of purpose aside, what stood out to me more than Elon Musk’s remarkable achievements is the way he carried himself after being asked how he felt about key members of the space establishment, such as Apollo astronauts Neil Armstrong and Capt. Gene Cernan (Ret.) not supporting his efforts through their objection to the commercialization of the space program. Elon Musk was inspired by these American heroes early in life and their rejection was understandably painful, but displaying arete, he didn’t react, complain or retaliate, he simply extended an invitation for them to come and see the work his team was doing. How better to address their concerns but through firsthand experience?

Well done, Elon. Well done.

On Parenting and Flying

Prepare for the unknown, unexpected and inconceivable . . . after 50 years of flying I’m still learning every time I fly.” ~ Gene Cernan

I’ve learned a great many lessons as an aviator over the years, all of which have left me a better pilot. What I didn’t expect, however, is that those experiences would also improve my parenting skills.

Here are a few of the lessons I discovered in the air that, properly heeded, can make a you a more capable parent on the ground:

  1. A good pilot doesn’t manhandle the controls. A good many pilots are “Type A” personality and they must learn to resist the temptation to force the aircraft to submit to their will. Most aircraft are inherently stable and as such respond more favorable to a gentle touch. Lesson learned: Just as a thumb and a finger on the yoke are almost always more effective than two clenched fists, finding the least forceful intervention when dealing with children provides for an overall smoother experience for both parent and child.
  2. A good pilot uses all available resources. This is true in both pre-flight planning and during the flight. In small aircraft a pilot may even enlist the help of his passengers to keep an eye out for traffic on a busy day. Lesson learned: children love to participate, long to be helpful and love new challenges. Look to include them creatively in what you are doing, especially around the house. And don’t be afraid to ask for help from others who have more experience than you.
  3. A good pilot stays ahead of the aircraft. Many aviation accidents occur because an inexperienced (in relation to the craft or the mission) pilot gets behind the aircraft in his thinking. This is an uncomfortable and unsafe position that every pilot finds himself in at some point in his flying career. In such critical moments he must take a deep breath and say to himself: “Fly the airplane.” Lesson learned: Your children are going to get out ahead of you every now and again. Don’t sweat it! You’re an adult and there is no better time than this to take a deep breath and bring your experience (both to-do and to-not-do) to bear on the situation.
  4. A good pilot learns not to let distractions consume his focus. Distractions are inevitable. A strange noise, an unfamiliar sensation, an unusual sequence of events can happen when you least expect it (if not during every flight over large bodies of water). Take note, keep it in perspective, but don’t forget to…yes, you guessed it…fly the airplane! Lesson learned: Be willing to be surprised by your children. They will inevitably come to you out of left field, despite your best attempts at making them good little girls and boys. Stick to the basics where you can…there is no replacement for a loving, caring and attentive parent. By the way, don’t be afraid to do the unexpected with your children. They will love it!

As I mentioned previously, parenting is a sacred trust and there are many lessons which can be translated from other activities in your life if you are observant and keen to connect the dots. I’d love to hear your thoughts and experiences!