Nando Parrado's Journey of Acceptance, Love, and Life
by Dr. Hal Shorey, assistant professor of clinical psychology, director of the Psychology and Business Joint Degree Program, and director of Organizational Development Services
In delivering his riveting narrative, Nando Parrado, took his audience on a journey from extreme tragedy, through the depths of despair, and, finally, to finding the strength to persevere and succeed even in the face of seemingly insurmountable odds. He challenged each person in the audience to question whether they would have what it takes to be resilient and rise up in the face of life's difficult challenges. In recounting his story, he said "You can never know" how you would have reacted. Hopefully he is right, and most of us will not have to find out.
Nevertheless, Parrado's story holds important lessons that we can put to use in our lives. There will come times when each of us will face the death of a loved one, lose our livelihoods, or be forced to struggle with severe illness among innumerable other possible adverse circumstances. In these contexts, and even in those we encounter at work or in our daily business dealings, we must engage in difficult negotiations and make tough decisions that have real consequences.
One of Parrado's lessons is that the decisions we make should all be made with intent and with full appreciation that they will yield real results (not always good ones). We also have to realize that the only truly bad decision is failure to make a decision in the first place. In the case of Parrado, if he had not made the decision to leave the wreckage of the plain and traverse the mountains in search of help, no one in his party would have survived.
Another thing that he highlighted is that there is always a way out of a situation. Although we may not see the solution immediately, we must keep looking until the answer presents itself or, as Parrado put it, until we "die trying."
Parrado also suggested that none of us should take ourselves too seriously and that we should realize that much success in life is due to luck. If he had not been in the right place (row 9) on the plane, for example, he would have been killed and none of his latter successes would have been possible. For those of us who are attached to celebrating our success, Parrado gave a measure for how to keep egos in check – "do you know what happens when you die... nothing!" When he returned home two and a half months after the start of his ordeal, and having been presumed dead, life in his neighborhood and his town went on as normal. This led him to opine that we are all replaceable, regardless of our position in life. It follows that rather than celebrating our status and success, we should focus on celebrating love, our connections, and the relationships we hold dear.
He spoke about how family and relationships are what is there for us in the end. Family and relationships are also what enable us to succeed in the first place. Teams (social, work, or sports) also are like families. Teams succeed because they practice and face difficult challenges together. By extension, they have a history of shared experiences and put success of the team ahead of self interest. These ingredients were essential to survival in the Andes. When faced with horrific challenge, Parrado's rugby team went to work within an hour of the crash doing what was needed to survive. If each team member was out for him-or herself, then the structures needed to succeed (in this case, a wall of suitcases) would not have been built and the entire enterprise would have failed. Parrado's team was well rehearsed...even over rehearsed. Many businesses know this secret and provide their teams with challenging and shared experiences specifically designed to build the group cohesion that will facilitate leadership in times of crisis.
Finally, and perhaps most importantly, Parrado elucidated the importance of accepting that the worst could indeed befall us. This acceptance can enable us to stop running from our fears, to embrace life as it is in the moment, and to focus on what is ahead of us with rugged determination. Rather than blind optimism, Parrado advocates a philosophy of simple pragmatism: just the facts... "You are alive. You are breathing. So...live hard and play hard" and trust that you will have what is needed when the time comes to face the impossible.
Dr. Hal Shorey is an assistant professor and director of the Psychology and Business Joint Degree Program in the Institute of Graduate Clinical Psychology at Widener University. He is also the director of Organizational Development Services at Widener and runs his own private practice. He specializes in the role of attachment and hope in resiliency and psychopathology, positive-psychology-based intervention for at risk youth, leadership and positive psychological assessment, and attachment theory and psychotherapy.
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