Monday, July 25, 2011

Splashes of Ignorance

That's me near the back, red vest, black sleeves.
The blue in the foam is a fallen brother.
Lars sits, composed and calm, on the back.
Ever fall out of a boat? I have. On a whitewater rafting trip I had no business being on, in a river so wild people really didn't have any business being on it, I fell a out few times. There are many stories from that trip, but not nearly enough room for all of them in one post. I learned a lot on the Upper Gauley river that weekend, about my friends and myself, but the most important thing I learned is how to get back in a boat when you fall out.

If you fall into the water, you tend to grab the edge of the boat, instinctually. Most people then try lift themselves out with their arms, kicking their feet as if trying to swim upward. If you do this, you will never get back into the boat, probably not even with help.

We were taught the proper technique by our guide, the gloriously surfer-dudish, blonde-locked Lars. What you do is, you make yourself as horizontal as possible. Instead of trying to swim/climb into the boat, upward, you flatten yourself in the water and pull forward, using the water to glide up and over the boat's edge.

It's not a question of muscle; it is a question of technique.

In The Odyssey, Odysseus, in disguise, watches Penelope's suitors make their attempt at the bow shot Odysseus once made: a straight shot through twelve ax-helves. None of them fail at the shot, because none of them can even attempt it. None of them can string Odysseus's bow in the first place. They try to force it, soften the wood with heat and even to rub the bow down with fat to make it more supple. Still none can do it. It appears they are not strong enough. In disguise as the old beggar, Odysseus picks up the bow and strings it effortlessly and makes the shot, and the slaughter begins . . .

Every one of the suitors immediately thinks he needs to be strong to bend the bow and string it. Not so. If you read the text closely, it is a question of technique, not strength.

At one point, Odysseus has to warn his son Telemakhos, with a glance, not to string the bow, which he is about to do without even a slight effort, lest he ruin the plan for revenge. Telemakhos is not stronger than the suitors, he is just has the talent and technique passed down, at least symbolically, from his quick-witted dad.

Technique, not brute strength.

Nothing but technique -- no one falling out this time.
Though, I (black sleeves) do look like my
head might explode.
True to our most base instincts as humans, we try to intimidate and even beat those around us into submission instead of learning how to gain true loyalty. We kick, pull, strain and grunt to reach our goals when, given the right training and logic, we could simply step over the bow, secure it with our foot and bend it over our thigh to drop the string on without losing a bead of sweat. We could glide back into the boat with energy and balletic grace, but splashing, flailing and grunting requires less mental effort and it produces the most delightfully dramatic, attention-getting geysers of activity around us . . .

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