Giving a Boost

I recently returned from a 5 day canoe trip in the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness in Northern Minnesota, accompanied by my 21 year old son, Josh, and two good friends closer to my age, Bill Caplan and Marc Rosenthal. We had a wonderful trip, with great weather, outstanding natural beauty, and the joy of being on the water and off the grid.

It had been over 10 years since I had gone camping with my son, and during that time, not only has Josh grown into a young adult, but he had many summers of camping experience courtesy of attending Camp Nebagamon, which features a lot of camping and trains the campers in all the skills they need to survive in the wilderness. While I have a lot of camping experience, I never received the type of camping skills training that Josh received, so many of my skills are self-taught and not always executed with the highest degree of efficiency.

During any wilderness camping trip, there are many tasks that need to be accomplished, including map reading, setting up tents, cooking camp meals, and in the Boundary Waters, if you want to keep your food, you need to hang it on a high tree overnight, or you risk black bears stealing your food.

Hanging your food pack is usually a two person job, and involves filling a bag with small rocks which is connected to the rope that you will later use to lift the pack up in the air. Bill had a system that also included a couple of carabiners that function as a block and tackle to make raising the pack easier.

Since Josh and I have strong personalities, we often disagree about the best approach to particular problems, but we usually figure out a way to work together if we need to do so to accomplish a task. On the last night of our trip, while Bill was cooking dinner, Josh and I worked on getting the ropes over the tree limb so we could raise the food pack after dinner. It often takes a few throws to get the rope over the desired limb, but in this particular instance, Josh had incredibly bad luck as the carabiner caught on a small stick protruding from the top of the limb so the rope would not fall over the other side. That rope was now stuck on a limb about 20 feet high.

After Josh found it impossible to simply pull that rope down, he realized that he could tie another rope to the rope that was stuck, attach a rock to the other end, and then throw the second rope over the limb and pull the stuck rope over the side. After a few failed attempts to get that second rope over the limb, Josh finally got it over an even higher limb, but the momentum of the throw forced the end with the rock to wind around the limb 3 or 4 times. So, now there were 2 stuck ropes and we faced the possibility of being unable to hang our food pack.

Josh and I are both problem solvers, so we kept looking at the tree and the limbs, trying to devise solutions to the problem we had. Josh thought he could use another rope to create a ladder so he could climb the tree, but that did not work.

I told Josh that I thought I could give him a boost to a lower limb and then he could climb close enough to the stuck ropes and use a long stick to free them. Josh was skeptical that I was strong enough to boost him that high and that he would be able to climb high enough to free the ropes. He and I went back and forth and perhaps because we are father and son, we remained stuck in limbo.

Of course, Marc and Bill were watching with a combined sense of amusement and frustration. Finally Marc suggested to Josh that I was strong enough to boost him up to the lower limb and that my suggested method to solve the problem would work. Thankfully, at Marc’s suggestion, Josh decided to allow me to give him a boost. As you can see, I was strong enough to boost him, and he was able to climb high enough to free the ropes with a long stick.

We live in a world where we regularly debate whether it is helpful to give people a boost or whether it is better to force people to succeed or fail on their own. While it is perfectly fine for people to succeed on their own when they can, the truth is that we live in a world which presents us with challenges on a daily basis. None of us can manage every one of those challenges on our own. When I can give someone else a boost, I am glad to help them succeed. When I need a boost, I do my best to graciously accept the offer of help. When we work together, we can accomplish far more than when we are forced to act alone.

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For more information on how I can help you accomplish effective, progressive systems change contact Jeff Spitzer-Resnick by visiting his website: Systems Change Consulting.

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Keep Your Hips Loose

Many years ago, a dear friend invited me to join him and and few other friends for a unique bachelor’s party before he got married. Rather than throw a party, he proposed that we enroll in a whitewater canoeing class at the Nanthala Outdoor Center in the Great Smoky Mountains in North Carolina. It sounded like a lot of fun and a great way to improve my canoeing skills, so I gladly agreed.

On the first day, our instructors brought us to a flat water lake to orient us to the basics of whitewater canoeing. Although I had spent years canoeing on lakes, I had minimal experience canoeing in rapids, and the first thing I found out was that lake canoes and whitewater canoes are constructed in a very different manner.

Before we stepped into our whitewater canoes, our instructors taught us that every canoe has both primary stability and secondary stability. Those big aluminum canoes that many take out on lakes have excellent primary stability, which means that they feel very stable when you step into them, but they have very poor secondary stability, which means that they will easily capsize if they try to run rapids. On the other hand, whitewater canoes have very poor primary stability, but excellent secondary stability, which means they feel very tippy when you step into them, but have a much better ability to stay upright in rough water.

I discovered how little primary stability whitewater canoes have as soon as I stepped into the canoe for the first time on flat water, as I was so unprepared for how tippy it would be that I immediately flipped the boat and fell in the water. While I was somewhat embarrassed, I learned an important lesson that kept me upright through for the rest of our trip, including our “final exam” which involved paddling through an Olympic training course in very rough water. The lesson my instructors gave me after my early flop was to keep my hips loose.

I certainly took that seriously during the rest of our whitewater canoeing school and visualized my hips as shock absorbers. Instead of fighting rough water, I would absorb the shock with my loose hips, allowing me to remain upright.

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In the absence of any whitewater canoeing photos, here is a photo of me in Lake Superior Provincial Park in a sea kayak on a very calm day. During other days on that trip, keeping my hips loose helped me navigate rougher waters.

While I continue to enjoy canoeing and usually avoid capsizing by keeping my hips loose, I have realized that this lesson applies to many other situations. Whether in our personal lives or in the rocky political world we live in, we often confront situations that pose many challenges and threaten to capsize us. If we expand the concept of physically keeping our hips loose to a mental ability to stay flexible when we encounter difficulties, we have a much better chance of staying upright and finding a better approach to dealing with whatever dilemma we are facing, than if we remain rigid in the hope that our inflexibility will appear to be a sign of strength.

I am not suggesting that we do not need to be strong in the face of life’s challenges. Rather, my suggestion is that our greatest strength may be found in a flexible approach which allows us to utilize creative solutions to whatever challenge we may face. Keeping one’s mind and body flexible may allow us to better understand where our adversary is coming from and respond in a manner that may result in a win-win solution rather than remaining stuck in a win-lose scenario which so many of our leaders try to convince us is the only possible outcome available. The risk, or course, with pursuing inflexible win-lose strategies is that they often end up with both sides.

We can see the results of this I win-you lose mentality playing out in Congress and the current President’s administration, with both sides generally unable to find room for compromise resulting in persistent stalemates dotted with occasional unilateral actions that opponents scream about with outrage. Where this all goes from here is hard to predict, but it is my great hope that if more of us keep our hips loose and minds flexible, we will survive our current challenges and progress to better days ahead when difficult problems are solved in a way that serves most people, instead of just a few.

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For more information on how I can help you accomplish effective, progressive systems change contact Jeff Spitzer-Resnick by visiting his website: Systems Change Consulting.