During the Korean War (1950-1953), an Air Force unit was conducting routine parachute launch training. One day, there were not enough right-handed parachutes, and the solution was for some of them to use a left-handed parachute.
The only difference between the two parachutes is that the lanyard to open it hangs on the other side of the harness, but its operation is exactly the same.
The artillery sergeant assured them: “It is the same as the others, but the cord to open it hand on the left side. You can open it with any hand, but it is easier to do it with the left”.
After the explanation, the team boarded the plane, rose to 8,000 feet (2.438,4 meters), and jumped into the target area one after the other. At first, everything went well, everyone knew how to open the parachute and land without problems. However, there was a parachutist who never opened his parachute and died falling directly into the desert.
What happened? An investigative team was dispatched to determine why the parachute had not been opened. They discovered that the right side of his uniform, where the right-handed parachute cord would have been, was completely torn. So much so that he had cut his chest with his bloody right hand.
The parachute was not defective, nor had it had any trouble opening. They had just given him a left-handed parachute and this soldier was right-handed. A few inches to the left of his wounds was the cord, intact. He hadn’t touched it, even though the sergeant had warned them it was all the same, he was just on the other side.
So? The problem had been that the man became obsessed with the idea that to open the parachute he had to find the cord in the place where he used to do it, which is, in the right. All this while falling, in a limit situation. The fear was so intense that it blinded him, even though salvation was within his grasp, just inches from his hand.
The lesson of the War Parachutist:
When fear demands so much attention that it absorbs us from the rest of reality, it can become a huge problem, because it paralyzes us, limits our options and damages decision-making.
Just because things have always been one way does not mean they cannot change. Are we ready for it? Many times, as in this story, not even knowing it in advance.
We have the ability to multiply fear, even if it is unreal, and this is very dangerous if we do not know how to manage it, because then the problem changes from being in the situation or environment, to being in us. And from there it is hard to escape.
Reality is not always what we like, and although we can lie to ourselves as much as we want, the challenge is to read it, know how to interpret it and then adapt, to be able to direct or redirect our path.