Saturday, October 20, 2012

Reflections on a Journey Home

I’ve been blessed recently with an opportunity to return to my boyhood home in Foxtrap, Newfoundland, Canada (with my ancestral home of Bell Island just across the bay) to help a client.

This morning as I walked the roads and trails that made up the then-huge world of my youth, I found myself reflecting on the generations who came before us and how we honor the lives they lived as they molded the world we now have stewardship of.

The generations who came before us toiled hard in conditions that most of us would find intolerable.  They overcame challenges that would knock us to our knees or worse and they lived, loved and learned in a world that was uncompromising.

But as challenging as their world was, their desire to survive and even to thrive was equally uncompromising and they persevered to create the world that we take for granted.

And as I thought about what we are doing with the world that they left to us, I came upon a favorite river of my youth.

Manuels River is a small river, known worldwide for its rich fossil beds, that meanders gently into the Atlantic Ocean.  As a boy, I enjoyed swimming in it with my family, fishing for mud trout with my father and watching toy sailboats ply across its waters.  Here is what it looks like this morning at one of its narrow points. 

Manuels River

When I was a boy, there were no groomed trails along the river.  The trails worn down by the many generations before us were more than enough.

In recent years, local people built up some of those trails and made very nice walking trails to replace those natural trails.

But as I proceeded along those walking trails today, I noticed something new to me.

Every rock that stuck up out of the ground more than 1/4 of an inch or every tree root that was the tiniest bit exposed was marked with fluorescent orange paint.

I happened to ask someone who was cleaning up the trail what the paint was for and he indicated that the purpose was obvious.  Apparently it was so I wouldn’t trip over anything while I was out enjoying the river’s natural beauty.

Of course – what an idiot I am. :-)

What was also obvious was that someone had decided that I was incapable of thinking for myself in knowing how to walk in nature’s beauty and so they had better do the thinking on my behalf in order to protect me.

As I thought about this, just for fun I projected one possible future where:

1. Someone trips over a rock anyway and someone else, recognizing how dangerous nature can be, decides to pave over the trails to protect the visitors.

2. A few years later, someone trips on the pavement, falls into a tree on the side of the trail and people recognize that we should clear-cut 10 feet on either side of the trail to protect people.

3. Some years after that, a developer realizes that the trail can be made more beautiful by making it longer but in doing so, it will be too long to walk on.  A beautiful monorail is installed to take care of this.

4. As the monorail becomes old, it eventually stops attracting crowds and falls into disrepair and the trail is considered too dangerous to experience.

5. Sometime after that, someone discovers some old photos and a 3-D interpretation center is built, where one is immersed in the sights, sounds and smells of the beauty that once was.

6. As people experience the interpretation center, they think “What a beautiful place – I wonder why they never did more to protect it when they had the chance”.

And then it hit me.

The world is going where it’s going because most people don’t proactively think about what they believe their strengths, purpose and responsibilities are, what the world’s potential is and what the world’s needs are.

And if they don’t think about these three things, they will definitely not think about what can be created (and what needs to be protected) when all three thoughts come together.

In fact, it’s even worse.

Many people have given up thinking altogether.  They are happy to delegate their thinking to someone else who will think on their behalf.

What they haven’t realized is that in doing so, they have sold their soul.  When someone thinks on my behalf, they won’t create a Life for me that I want.

They will create a Life for me that they want.

And so while I appreciate them pointing out every pebble in my path with bright paint that shouts “WARNING”, I prefer to stumble now and then, learn from the experience and be better as a result.

Otherwise, if they do all my thinking for me, there will come a time when I need to do it on my own and they won’t be there to help (or won’t have an interest).

And then I will be toast.

Which brings me back to how we can best honor those who walked the paths of history long before we came along.

Think for yourself – don’t let someone else think on your behalf.

Know what serves your needs.

Know what serves the needs of others and the world at large.

And then take action.

For our ancestors, choosing to not take action when it was necessary was guaranteed to produce their demise.

Is it really any different today?

In service and servanthood,




Some people wrote to me referring to the litigious society that we live in as being the primary reason for the bright paint.  However, I reminded them that it in fact increases liability instead of removing it.

How?  If I rely on automatically lifting my foot a little higher every time I see bright paint (because the person who marked the bumps is helping me think) and a bump is not marked, I may stumble over that bump.

And when that happens, I won’t take responsibility for my mistake.

I will point the finger at someone else because after encouraging me to rely on certain things (thinking on my behalf), they let me down by missing a bump and I wasn’t able to think appropriately to deal with it.

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