Ballast and Sail

Conflict is everywhere these days.  I don’t know whether it’s the economy, the weather, or just the state of world affairs, but we seem mired in intractable and increasingly uncivilized disputes with one another.  Why?

On optimistic days, I am able to see that we all strive to make good decisions, be decent people, and shape positive outcomes.  Other days I just want to pull my hair out.  Why do people stand in the way of positive change?  Why are so many individuals so unimaginative?  Since when was being realistic and not reaching too far the clarion call of mankind? Then it occurred to me: I am a sail.  I see the world in terms of possibilities… infinite and endless, exciting and new.  Ideas blow and I move forward.

Not everyone is a sail.  Some people play the role of ballast—the heavy material that is placed in the hold or keel of a ship to enhance stability.  In organizations, these are the people who prefer tactical tweaks to strategic shifts.  They reiterate the need to be realistic.  They literally hold us down.  I am at home amongst the sails, frankly, and like them a little better.  But at the same time, I acknowledge the role of ballast.  Insufficiently ballasted boats tend to tip in high winds.  Sufficient ballast can prevent capsizing by enabling the ship to right itself after being ‘knocked down’ by the wind.  The key is determining “sufficient”.  Sometimes the crew alone is sufficient ballast.  Overdoing the ballast increases drag and make a boat less responsive to steering.  Excess ballast will sink the ship.

So if we’re all in the same boat so to speak, what are we to do?  Perhaps begin with a bit of wisdom from the ancient Greeks: know thyself.  Figure out which role you play.  If your organization’s “ship” is going to get anywhere at all, it needs everyone to play a role—and play it well.

Listen up, sails.  Get comfortable with the ballasts among you.  Acknowledge that these weights could help right the ship if strong winds knock you down.  In appropriate measure, ballast is your friend.  If you are certain of smooth sailing ahead, you may choose to throw excess ballast overboard, but woe to you if the winds grow fierce– you may find yourself sunk.

Dear ballasts:  Recognize that some heeling—the tilting or leaning to one side—is an inevitable result of wind on sails.  It may make you uncomfortable.  Abandon the need to keep everything harbor-style upright nonetheless.  Your role is to prevent capsizing.  If you want to get anywhere, you need to lean in and trust the sails to carry you forward.  Without them, you will get nowhere.

Remember that in the big boat of life, we need each other.  Value one other.  Give up the illusion that your perspective trumps all others.  Step aside if you are getting in the way.  And a final bit of encouragement to the crew: hang in there.

© October 2010 by Pam Daniels.  All rights reserved.



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