Have you seen the movie Apollo 13? This is the film, starring Tom Hanks, that dramatised the story of the seventh US manned mission to land on the moon, launched in April 1970. Two days after lift-off, an oxygen tank exploded and the landing attempt had to be abandoned. A life-or-death drama was unfolding for the astronauts — water was short, cabin heat had been lost and the carbon dioxide system was damaged. Makeshift repairs with limited resources had to be made in order to save the lives of all on board. The crew returned safely six days after the launch. The classic line in this movie is made by the head of Ground Control: “Failure is not an option!” (Click here for a clip showing it in context).
There were two essential ingredients that meant the crew returned safely. One was the intense desire of all involved, on the ground or in Apollo 13, to ensure the survival of the men on board. This desire is based on our innate love for our fellows.
The second ingredient was access to our innate gift of intelligence, the human creative problem-solving ability.
I call these two ingredients Divine Investments: Love and Wisdom. We might prefer to call wisdom ‘intelligence’, but the original meaning of the word ‘wisdom’ relates to skills and abilities. The word ‘intelligence’ is usually associated with measuring how quickly someone can collate and recall information, as in an IQ test. ‘Wisdom’ is more intuitive. It is the ability to grasp how something can be solved, even if the problem has never been encountered before.
Everyone has access to Love and Wisdom, and we can all summon these resources when we are in a tight corner, or when we urgently want to move forward because we feel trapped. We can see that the Wisdom ingredient opens up for us when we put the intensity of Love behind it. When the NASA team announces, “Failure is not an option”, they are really stating a magical incantation. They are not prepared to accept failure, because they will not countenance their friends losing their lives. The power of this refusal to accept failure is the spiritual engine that drives Wisdom to provide an answer.
Just as doubt is the engine of failure, we see in this true story how conviction, determination and chutzpah create the driving shafts for success.