Be the 10%
I recently re-read a fascinating book by Ben Sherwood called The Survivor’s Club, which recounts tale after tale of survival stories, explaining what works and what doesn’t when it comes to surviving. In plane crashes, for instance, apparently many crashes are survivable as long as you remember that you have 90 seconds in general to get off a plane safely. Mr. Sherwood’s advice is to keep footwear on for take-off and landing, know where your main and back up exits are (and choose seats close to exits), and don’t drink on flights so you are alert. The biggest take-away scientists got from many disasters studied, is that in terms of human behavior, 10% of all people will get in the way and hinder others’ safety, 80% will pretend that nothing bad is happening and freeze, and 10% will make a difference.
Two years ago, just after having read this book for the first time, I flew home with my two children but without my husband from Tokyo to Newark en route to Boston. The 13 hour flight from Tokyo had terrible turbulence the entire flight and the food was terrible, so that when we landed, the kids felt sick and exhausted. But because of our quick lay-over, we had to push our way through customs and immigration and then run for our next flight. My 11 year-old daughter felt panicked and sick when we boarded the flight to Boston at the last minute. (We were so late, everyone was seated and ready to go and the doors were closing.) We were just about to sit down in our seats when my daughter collapsed in the aisle. In that moment, everything went to slow motion as I looked at my child, out stone cold. I had no idea what had happened and was terrified. I turned to a plane packed with 300 people and shouted at the top of my lungs, “Is there a doctor on board?” Another few seconds went by slowly with no one responding, until finally a doctor’s hand went up, a pediatric cardiologist, and then a nurse. (The flight attendants, who are trained for emergencies, had zero interest in helping.) The nurse asked the flight full of people who had Benadryl, since my daughter was awake by then but having an allergic reaction. 25 people raised their hands. I surveyed the hundreds of people witness to this emergency, and most people were looking down at their phones, pretending that nothing was happening at all. And 10% looked actively pissed that this little girl was getting in the way of their travel plans. And there it was: 10% helped, 80% ignored the problem, and 10% got in the way.
The good news is that my daughter was fine– she had fainted and was having a mild allergic reaction to something she had eaten. I later learned what happened to the nice doctor who helped us and even advocated for us to be able to stay on that flight since my daughter was now fine. (We were ultimately kicked off the flight and had to wait another few hours until my daughter was deemed safe to fly). But when the Middle Eastern doctor went to the cockpit to talk to the pilot, they thought he might be a terrorist, so they pushed him back to his seat. I learned about this because he is colleagues with my friend’s husband. I never forgot how people acted on that plane. And I remembered from the book that in a life or death situation in which you are trying to survive, some people will be there to help, but most people will get in your way, so you need to be able to advocate for yourself and have a plan.
As you think about what your world stage is, however large or small, remember that you want to always be and surround yourself with the top 10%, not just in emergencies, but in life in general. There will always be the 10% who get in the way of your dreams, as well as the 80% who don’t understand the urgency of your dreams, thinking that you have all the time in the world to do what you love, so why not just wait another 10 years? 10% will be supportive of you and act on their own dreams as well. Those are the people to surround yourself with. If you commit to being the top 10%, nothing can stop you.