The 10% Rule

And, as I think about compiling the following stories into a potential book, I realize that these are old and some are very worn, so I must evoke the 10% rule.

You ask, “What is the 10% rule?”

It seems apropos to tell these stories playing upon our fighter culture. Normally, every story begins with “There I Was” with some maneuvering with my two arms to demonstrate whether I was in an offensive position (where I was most of the time) or defensive (and not for long).   As you can see, I’ve already only told 10% of the truth!

But before I begin writing these anecdotes; I must highlight the 10% rule. I have searched the internet and there are plenty of 10% rules that are discussed; most of them related to Pareto or other mental models; but surprisingly none reference the 10% rule in regard to telling a real fighter pilot story. And it relates to fisherman and golfers and other activities where truth cannot be verified. But few of these activities actually set forth rules and agreements on how their stories can be told.

In our world (either a bar, a hooch, a vault, or perhaps a backyard fire pit), when you evoke a “There I was”, your story MUST be 10% true. There it is, that is the rule, you can’t make something up that didn’t happen, there must be truth in the story. But hopefully, not too much truth!

Why you ask? Because the ego of a fighter pilot is fragile. They are often driven by competition, adrenal, and “fear” – fear of being seen as “not enough”. And, most good fighter pilot stories are not about one’s heroic glory but instead, one’s “got shot down in flames” failure. But the myth, the legend, and the lesson still exist in the story; so it must be told. As the subject of many stories told by my brethren; I have become frustrated, angered, or even downright mad when their story makes them a hero and me a goat; especially realizing they have spun 89% of the yarn to their benefit. Yet, within the confines of the 10% rule, I settle down and accept my waxing knowing the rule exists to serve a purpose: not to belittle me, but to pass what we learned.

That is it, the 10% rule ultimately allow aviators to learn from the mistakes of others. Without the 10% rule, nobody would tell the stories and nobody would want to hear them. They would be too raw, too painful, and too real. But once they are embellished, and deviated from reality, the lesson can be passed without shame, embarrassment, or harassment of that pilot’s ego becoming enflamed. We know that perhaps only 10% of the story is true, we just don’t know which 10%! So, if someone is telling a story about my flying, I know that no one knows what is true and what is not. My ego is protected. But I also know that there is enough “authenticity” in the story that what is important is passed.

We all listen, we all laugh, we all tease the subject harmlessly. And then we go on; and remember next time I’m entering a fight, I must see both my lead and the bandit… because there is very little room for failure in combat, so when it happens, it is better to be told holding a beer.

So, as I begin, I am envoking the 10% rule. If I remember the story differently than you …  my bad, but I only promised 10% truth.

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