Have you ever wondered why people freeze up and are unable to respond to an emergency? There is something called the “startle factor.” It occurs in a state of emergency when overwhelming outside stimuli takes place like stark visuals and loud noises. It causes people to freeze and in some cases panic losing precious life-saving seconds that could have been used to resolve the problem.

The startle factor was recently brought to light by Sully Sullenberger the airline captain who famously landed his disabled airliner in the Hudson River creating what has been referred to as “The Miracle on the Hudson.” With the recent crashes of two Boeing 737 Max airliners, Sully was asked to comment during investigative hearings. He brought up the startle factor as a contributing cause for the crashes when the aircraft gave warnings in response to an angle of attack sensor that issued an incorrect warning. 

Sully went on to say the warnings in the cockpit created sudden, loud and disorienting noises that became major distractions for the pilots. The noise and resulting confusion masked the real cause of the problem. These distractions made it difficult to quickly analyze the situation and take proper corrective action. Referencing the two Boeing crashes another pilot said, “This is a sudden, violent and terrifying event. Airplanes pitching up and down rapidly and violently. There are bells, warnings, and clappers sounding. Communication is difficult.”

When I read the information about these crashes, I thought of how we can be startled by a painful event or some sad news to the point that we can freeze up and not properly respond. A spouse announces a divorce. A job is lost or a fatal disease is diagnosed. We are not robots without emotion when these issues are thrown in our face, but we can train for how we will respond when these events do occur. In the case of the Boeing 737’s and their pilots, new software is being created to correct the false readings and revised training guidelines are being introduced for the pilots.

The loud and distracting noise of life’s challenging moments can be so intense that the news of their arrival could startle us to such a degree that we freeze up in fear and fail to respond in faith. This leaves us vulnerable to catastrophic failure in relationships and calling. It is important to not live in fear always imagining the worst, but it is important to consider how we would respond when trauma or disappointment comes in a loud and invasive way. 

Consider formulating a statement of faith or imagining a healthy response that would honor God if or when a painful event should ever take place. This will give you time to consider your options while you remain at the controls of your life in faith allowing you to fly the dysfunction through the first few minutes of danger where the course and outcome of your future will be determined. Always believe the best, but do not allow yourself to be startled and frozen in a state of inaction when the challenges of life occur. Prepare now so that you can respond in faith when the unexpected in life takes place.


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