Professor's Prologue

The Warrior Within: Nando Parrado

by Dr. Hal Shorey, assistant professor of clinical psychology, director of the Psychology and Business Joint Degree Program, and director of Organizational Development Services

Most of us have heard the old adage "what doesn't kill you will make you stronger." These words (typically associated with Frederich Nietzsche) may seem like passing attempts by well intentioned others to minimize our perceptions of difficult obstacles and instill in us the courage to persevere. Very few of us, however, have confronted the kind of life and death experiences that would enable us to actually test this premise and its associated conclusion. Fortunately, there are a special few who can open a window on this experience and share their stories to activate in us the strong emotions and passion needed to rise above the limitations of our present situations.

It may seem counterintuitive to the Western mind to entertain the belief that in order to succeed you must fist surrender – to the powers of the universe, to the mercy of nature, or simply to your fate. Eastern mystics, native peoples, and the devout of many religions have long accepted that the human concept of control is an illusion. With a sense of calm and peaceful acceptance, such people are able to face life's challenges with courage and fortitude.

This belief system (amenable to surrendering to the divine while pushing forward on earth) has permeated contemporary professional psychology in the form of practices such as "radical acceptance," "mindfulness," and "acceptance and commitment therapy." Research now supports that these practices result in decreased anxiety and depression among psychotherapy clients and increased performance and innovation along with fewer work errors and reduced stress in business settings. What these practices have in common is exposing people to the possibility that the worst could indeed happen, to accept this possibility, and, by extension, freeing them to stop living in fear of their own thoughts. Such acceptance serves to release one from pursuing goals of avoiding negative outcomes (and associated anxiety-provoking thoughts of failure), to live in the present, and to pursue future oriented goals and a brighter future.

This is the nature of hope – to have challenging goals, a pathway to success, and the energy and motivation to keep moving forward even when the odds conspire against you. This also is the story of Nando Parrado and inspiring leadership in times of crisis.

The lessons for us here are myriad in this age of financial insecurity, political turmoil, societal ills (e.g., mass shootings), and stressed interpersonal relationships. The business executive facing the possibility of a merger and changing positions or moving to a new company, for example, could come to see that only the best and brightest ever get to have such problems. Someone struck with a serious illness may get the opportunity to revisit what is truly important in life and find a way to make a greater contribution. A person dealing with depression might stop focusing on "the problem" and learn to re-engage in meaningful and active solution-focused living.

In each of these exemplar cases, it is the journey and living with purpose and integrity that takes precedence, as opposed to avoiding a negative outcome or maintaining the status quo. And thus emerges the warrior in each of us. For it is in that silent space, when the mind quiets and stops fighting against itself, when there is no looking back with fear but only looking forward with hope, that we find ourselves and learn what we are truly made of.

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Dr. Hal Shorey