Recently, I saw the Batman movie ‘The Dark Knight Rises’.
Bruce Wayne is imprisoned in a cavernous hellhole.
In typical Hollywood fashion there is an insurmountable obstacle.
A massively high rock-chimney.
Anyone can escape if they can climb to freedom.
But everyone is scared of falling and dying.
So they climb wearing a rope.
Bruce Wayne tries to climb it wearing the rope.
The rope saves his life, so he recovers and tries again.
Again he falls.
Again the rope saves him.
An old, wise man advises him to climb without the rope.
So he will have no alternative but to succeed.
If he falls without the rope, he will die.
So he must climb holding nothing back.
He must give it absolutely everything.
And in true Hollywood style, climbing without the rope, he succeeds.
And Bruce Wayne escapes to freedom.
The lesson we are meant to take from this is that to live fully, we need to live without a safety net.
That is the only way to truly succeed in life.
But the facts prove otherwise.
World War One was the first war featuring airplanes.
For the first time, men tried to kill each other in the sky.
Flimsy contraptions of canvas and wood.
In those days the planes didn’t have parachutes.
They contained nothing but machine guns, petrol, and human flesh.
If your plane caught light, you had two choices.
You stayed in it and burned to death.
Or you jumped out and fell to your death.
These choices meant every airman’s greatest fear was fire.
Eventually the Germans provided their pilots with parachutes.
For the first time, they would be able to escape the flames.
But the British authorities refused to provide parachutes for their pilots.
They thought it would lessen their will to fight.
They believed, like Hollywood, that having no alternative would make sure the pilots held nothing back.
Force them to fight harder.
Actually the opposite happened.
The German pilots, now being less terrified of fire, were more willing to get into a fight.
And, once in a fight, could afford to take more chances.
They had an alternative.
But part of the British pilot’s attention was always on the risk of catching fire.
That was always at the back of their mind.
They had to be more careful about the odds in any fight they got into.
Just a bit more likely to break off an engagement sooner.
Because they had no alternative.
Having no alternative actually made them more likely to hold back.
Meanwhile the Germans, with parachutes, did have an alternative.
So they could be more committed.
For them, losing the fight didn’t automatically mean losing their life.
They could afford to take chances the British pilots couldn’t.
Eventually, after the truth became clear, after many horrible deaths, the authorities issued parachutes to British pilots.
And the situation changed, and British pilots began shooting down more Germans.
The Hollywood version of reality is over-simplistic.
Assuming you will do better because you have no alternative.
That you have nothing to lose.
When in fact the opposite is true.
You have everything to lose.
To truly have nothing to lose, to be truly able to commit, we need to set the game up so that even if we do lose that’s okay.
It’s not the end of our entire world.
We need to know what the alternative is.
Then we can truly commit with everything.
Then we have nothing to lose.
We need a parachute.