I've identified an interesting tension that exists in our lives and, unlike other issues that I explore on this site, it's not something I think I've figured out. In fact, I don't even know how to begin with it, but more on that in a minute.
Let me sketch out ideas of two separate philosophies by stretching a nautical analogy that I am calling 'surfers versus swimmers'. You'll soon notice they are entirely artificial constructs, but using these distinctions can strip a complex topic down to the core principles that help us come to terms with the nuanced and complex situations we encounter every day.
Surfers sit out in the water, patiently waiting for the next wave. When the conditions are right, they can spend hours harnessing the energy of these entirely natural and cyclical tidal movements: surfers go with the flow. They are happy to wait for moments to arrive because they know that they will and that they'll be able to get where they need to go. They don't try to force things. No person can have even the slightest impact on the movements of the ocean, so they don't even bother. What's all this hurrying about anyway? Everything will work out fine in the end.
Swimmers see the water differently. For a swimmer, the water is a challenge. It is there to be traversed. Swimmers do not wait for waves, because they are proactive. They have goals and targets that only they will transform into reality. Out on the water, powerful forces pull tides in and out. In a world where you are utterly insignificant, swimmers need to take responsibility for themselves.
I've always admired the surfer mentality. Trusting that things will work out can have a powerful effect on a person's decision-making. It can make you bolder and more flexible.
That wave might not have been great, but hey, the next one's almost here.
Maybe I fell off my board that time, but I'm still here to laugh about it and I'm ready to try again.
This wind isn't perfect, but I'm prepared to get out there and try anyway.
It seems like a great attitude to have because it is. However if not managed correctly, it could easily become indistinguishable from complacence. What if things actually don't act work out? What if I'm waiting around for a wave that never comes? Why am I expecting the universe to hand me the things I need?
Swimmers dive in and drag themselves through the water by sheer determination. They bend the universe to their will. They wait for nothing and nobody because waiting never took anyone closer to anything. But just like surfing, following this path to its logical conclusion is problematic. Swimming against the current quickly gets tiring and isolating. Rejecting the idea of constraints displays a level of resistance to an external environment that can indicate inflexibility and fear. What if you swim harder and harder and the current pulls you back anyway? When your whole identity is predicated on achieving success, what happens when you fail? And who even decides what success looks like?
With this analogy we are analysing the advantages and disadvantages of living proactive versus reactive lives. I find myself identifying, in typical type-A fashion, with the swimmers, while looking on admiring the restraint and calm of those who let events wash over them and take life as it comes. But even if we decide that we want to change these behaviours, how do we begin doing that? Where is the right balance and how do we achieve it?
There's some really difficult material for us all to process here. If you relate to any of the ideas that I've raised, I'd really like to hear your thoughts: if you identify as a surfer or a swimmer, please explain why. By sharing your ideas and thoughts you can help us all. You can now leave comments below articles on the site simply by clicking the comment button just below this post.