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Okay, last one. Welcome back to the river.
Who will these people be? Well, they can be your peers, superiors, charges, random strangers. Some you’ll come across more often, some not. Some you may be with for most of the day for a very long time, like family members, coworkers, or classmates. Some people you’ll be in charge of, to varying degrees. Sometimes your rafts will be tethered together, either strongly or weakly, and for varying periods of time. These are the people who you are strongly interdependent with, and you are basically always travelling the same course, even if your rafts are in different conditions and you have different resources within those rafts. Children, for example. Yes, you can definitely cut the tether and let your baby be raised by someone else, but a lot of the time, we are responsible for our children from the time they are babies, and everything we do affects their rafts while they are living with us. This is the same thing with marriage. Some couples work from home together and are strongly tied to each other. Some couples have one or both spouses that travel most of the year and the tether is pretty loose. Families are all tied together into groups. Eventually, the children have enough resources and can manage their own rafts and untether themselves, later becoming one of the people that we come across and sometimes drift beside us, before they go off to their friends and eventually their own families or groups.
What can people do for each other? Again, I’ve already mentioned a few. People can bring their rafts up alongside each other, and talk. These conversations can be healthy or unhealthy, but let’s say you’re aiming to find people to have conversations with that enhance your integrity and peace most of the time. You can enjoy and comment on the scenery together. You can talk about where the damage and scars on each other’s rafts came from. You can discuss areas to avoid, and tips for managing some of the rougher spots.
As noted above, you might choose to tether yourself to someone, through marriage or adoption or moving in, etc.
The reason we need other people in our social systems, whether we are tethered to them or not, is so that we can trade resources. When you’re starting from a place of a shitty raft and barely anything that can help you manage your life, this will be especially important, even though it may not always be possible to make the trade. Remember that person who’s got all ten fingers and all ten toes plugging twenty out of a hundred holes during a thunderstorm while everything in the raft gets swept overboard, and even if this person survives, they will have essentially nothing? They have to make their own life choices, right? We aren’t responsible for them, right?
Do you believe that you wouldn’t standby and watch someone drown in front of you, in real life, without at least doing something? At the very least, you could call 911. At most, you could go in after them.
You wouldn’t walk away and pretend you didn’t see anything? You wouldn’t stand there shouting at them to, “just keep swimming, just keep your head above water, just take control of the situation, just make better choices, just go back to the situation you came from, just get a job so you can afford not to drown…”
We may have different urges when we see someone in trouble. We can signal for others else to come and help, and maybe we get into the fray ourselves. But remember, we can’t jump in after them, or we’ll die. We have to make sure that our own raft and body are in good enough shape for whatever assistance we are trying to provide, or we could go down too. Self-care isn’t selfish – if we want to be able to pour into others, we need to be able to pour into ourselves. That is different from thinking that we can’t give to others because that will mean there will be nothing left for us, or believing that we have no duty at all to each other.
When times are good, we can trade. If the receiver can tolerate being given something, they can accept whatever you have to offer. If you’re in a position to offer, the act of doing so will contribute to your internal resources, which go a long way when you’re facing external depletion and damage. If all of our resources start with God, then the more we give, the more we receive, and the better the world is, no matter the storms we face, because we know there will be someone out there who has more than us, who can help us. We can all tie our rafts together without dragging each other down, and oh, how beautiful that will be.
Finally, other people can help patch up our rafts when we face damage. That person using everything he’s got just to plug a fraction of the holes in his life has nothing. Stop telling him to buck up, get a job, and stop drinking. He’s doing the best he can. But with patience, perseverance, and support of as many others as we can get, we can each take a hole. According to what we are able to give, we can each give a band aid. A cracker. A piece of tape. Others will be able to give an entire first aid kit, a feast fit for a king, or a full tool kit. Though this man can’t move, one of us can hold the raft steady while someone else approaches to close one hole. To throw in one thing. And after the eighty other holes that the man simply cannot plug have been repaired, he can move one finger, one toe at a time while his people repair those last twenty holes. Then he can have his wounds treated while someone inflates reinflates his raft, then have a bite to eat while another holds an umbrella over him. If anything happens to any of the rescuers, they can switch out and trade jobs while they go recover or repair their own damage from the storm, with help from those in their own system.
And eventually, the storm will pass. Some of the rescuers will move on and keep living their lives. Some are professionals and will go off to see if someone else needs help in the aftermath. Some were friends with the man anyway, and they will stay close while they all continue to recover, maybe even becoming tethered together for a time. Some people from the rescue will wave when they see the man every now and then. Soon, the crisis has past, and the supporters will withdraw, untethering and going back on their regular paths. And hopefully, the man can now manage his raft and his resources. But he might have that deep, internal damage that even characters in this metaphor can’t see. He might not accept the social trade the next time someone offers, because it’s too expensive on his spectrum. He might not have the internal resources to fix the next small rip in his raft, even if he has a fancy new tool kit now. Then the next tear will come along, and the next, and the next. Maybe there won’t be a storm this time, and everyone will wonder why he’s drowning again. Everyone else is fine, and looking after their rafts – why isn’t he? There will be fewer people who come to his rescue this time. There probably won’t be as many professionals, either, because they are only trained to help in the storms, not someone on a clear day on a perfectly smooth part of the river who had everything he needed but decided to squander it. Nah, they already helped him once, and they’re going to put their resources into those who actually want them.
Which is fair, to some extent. Imagine that in this scenario, the rescuers are doing everything against the man’s will. He tells them to get away, and he fights so hard to keep them from getting to him that he stops plugging the holes and drowns even faster. Some people simply do not want help, at any given moment in their lives, but some want it but don’t know how to ask for it or how to accept it, or are too afraid to do these things. Maybe the only thing you can do is keep your raft close to his, continuing to call encouragement and let him know he’s not alone, and you can bring in help if he’s ever ready. You just keep managing your own raft and resources, and when the storm is over, you can be close to the man while still engaging in the social trade within your own system. Hopefully witnessing this will help refill the man’s internal resources, so that he eventually has enough to expend the energy to risk accepting your help. If this is someone you really care about, like a family member or a close friend, this is probably the best thing to do. By trying to force your help on him, you might end up tipping either your raft, his raft, or both of your rafts in the process. This could result in lost resources or even falling completely out of the raft for one or both of you, and then there won’t be anything you can do. It might be very difficult to avoid doing this, and a lot of people won’t be able to resist the need to force their “help” on others. Trying to yank them away from dangerous arms of the river, weighing down an already severely damaged raft by throwing more and more external resources, tethering themselves tightly and closely and without consent so that the man can’t go anywhere without them. But have you ever tried to captain a vessel with someone fighting you every step of the way? Very dangerous.
Sometimes what starts out as a healthy social tethering becomes toxic, as your partner stops looking after his body or his raft, or starts pulling you both down dangerous paths. This might be a friend who tries to get you into drugs, or a spouse who becomes abusive. Your spectrum might make it difficult to resist or untether from this other person, and you’ll probably get the same criticism as the man who is drowning again: “why don’t you just leave? Let them live their own life.” Easier said than done, This might be something so far left on the spectrum that you will only be able to do it once, if at all. But for many in abusive relationships, they must take multiple stands in order to leave. Even if someone comes alongside and cuts the tether, dragging you down a different path, without strengthen the internal resources and rebalancing the spectrum, you will end up just like the man that drowned again.
I could go on in this universe. I probably will, later. And again, I don’t say any of this believing that it will always be easy for you or me or anyone else. But maybe what I’ve written can act as an internal resource for us. We can use it to spot a few more potentially dangerous branches in our rivers earlier, maybe early enough to avoid them. Maybe knowing that someone else gets it right now will help shift our spectrums so that we have a little more energy to do that thing we wish we could do, a little more of the time, until it becomes second nature. My main conclusion is that community is necessary for this to work. Some in the community will be professionals, some will be friends. Some will be in our lives for longer, some shorter, some on a regular basis and some sporadically. But the exchange of resources, like I’m trying to offer right now, is the only way for someone with nothing left to get better. This man has nothing, and no matter how much he wills himself to be able to manage 100 holes with only 20 fingers and toes, he just won’t be able to do it. The social exchange is what gives us the internal resources and motivation to patch our holes when they occur, especially if our raft is helping to support someone else’s, like a patient or a child that we are in charge of. There’s no way we can contain every single resource within our own raft, so trading and sharing are necessary. Sometimes you’ll need a first aid kit, sometimes not. Sometimes you’ll need an extra paddle, sometimes you’ll have one to give. You’ll inherit and find resources in the water as you navigate the river. Maybe someone will push you out of your raft so that they can take your resources, because they feel that that’s the only way to get what they need.
The more of us who use our internal resources to fix our rafts and accept trade as needed, the more healthy individuals will be able to offer help to others. The more people can be on the look out for storms and help people prepare in advance. The more maps of dangerous and resource rich areas can be created and shared, to avoid damage in the first place. The smaller your raft, the more you’re going to have to rely on the resources of others to trade resources as you need them, because you won’t be able to contain them all. The more damaged your raft, the more you’ll need others to help you make repairs and spot damage that you might not be able to see. The more people you might need to be tethered to. For those who are helpless, like seniors or the severely disabled in group homes, or every child in every home on the planet, or other vulnerable situations, the more it will be up to everyone to ensure that those who are in charge of their care don’t abuse that position, or neglect to provide the preventative measures that keep the waters flowing most smoothly for that person. We all need to look out for each other, because it can be all too tempting to steal from someone else’s raft or give them as little as possible from your own resources. It’s also tempting to see someone in trouble and call out to them to just get more resources from…somewhere. Thin air? The blue lagoon?
I speak on behalf of myself and others who might be in a similar situation to me:
Just don’t, okay?
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“May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him.”
~ Romans 15:13