Building bridges where chasms appear

This weekend I was watching a video on the spectacle and dangers of climbing Mt. Everest. I’ve seen plenty of similar videos and movies on this topic, and one thing that always freaks me out is when they show climbers crossing a crevasse on a narrow, aluminum ladder, in crampons no less.

The climbers lay down the ladder in the most solid footing possible, and while one person holds the ladder, another walks across. The first crossing is the most treacherous, because it’s unfamiliar territory for everyone, and there’s nobody on the other side to assist.

After the first climber makes it across, they then hold the ladder from the other side while everyone else comes across. Even though the last man goes it alone, he has the confidence of watching everyone else go successfully across before him.

Accidents and tragedies still happen of course, but when they all work together as a team, helping everyone to traverse the crevasse, the rate of success greater. No big surprise there, but if it’s so easy to see how bridges work in life-threatening situations, then why do we struggle so much to build them in our personal lives?

Bringing Balance

As an extracurricular activity, my son and I practice judo at a local dojo. At the very core, judo is about the displacement of your opponent’s “kuzushi” or balance. At the same time, you must retain your balance, while trying to displace theirs. Players who know how to control their opponent’s kuzushi well obviously win more often. Opponents who are equally matched in their judo skill will battle for long periods, waiting for even the smallest opportunity to disrupt the balance of the other.

As well as getting on the mat, I am also a member of the dojo’s board of directors and recently was tasked with being more of a liaison between the dojo leadership and the parents of the younger judoka (judo players).

For the most part, the parents and the leadership live in harmony with each other, but sometimes those two entities are in opposition, each working to maintain control. The leadership asked me if I would be willing to be a go-between because they noticed that I have an ability to maintain a level head in taxing situations, and can empathize with both sides enough to relay concerns back and forth in a way that brings everyone back in balance.

I wasn’t surprised by this assessment. I’ve known for many years that one of my skills is being able to remain stoic in tough situations and to quickly get a sense of what all sides are thinking or feeling. If I had known about this skillset earlier on in life, perhaps I would have worked to become a hostage negotiator, a mergers and acquisitions moderator, or a divorce attorney. Actually, those sound dreadful—forget I said that.

Jumping ahead to this afternoon, I took my son to a party for one of the other kids in the dojo, and I got to talking with a couple other parents about the dojo, and some new ideas we’re implementing, specifically an effort to focus our energy more on the tradition of judo than an incessant pursuit of competition medals and different colored belts.

As I was trying to share some finer points of what the Sensei had expressed to me, one of the parents told me bluntly that she felt as if she was on the outside of previous conversations, and not permitted to partake in the conversations about the dojo. I reassured her that the leaders are very open to letting parents in on the conversation and if she or any other parents had questions or concerns about what was happening, to please reach out to me, and I will relay the information to the rest of the board.

At that moment, I felt like she heard me, and was a bit more comfortable with the possibilities. I laid a ladder across the crevasse between us and gave her enough confidence to step across. Not gonna lie—that felt pretty good.

The problem, from my renewed perspective, is that many people (myself included) are working so hard toward our own needs, to maintain our own independence, we don’t realize that crevasses have opened up between us and others around us. We think everyone is on board with our way of thinking, but that’s not always the case. When we finally do realize we’ve been separated, often we would rather let go and move on without them, instead of finding a way to cross the divide.

We live in contentious times, but I’m starting to believe that we only suffer through it if we decide to not provide opportunities for others to express themselves safely, and join the conversation in a conscientious way. The problem is that many of us allow for things like ego, fear, pride, and insecurities get in the way.

If you want to build a wall, be fearful, prideful, egotistical, or insecure. If you want to build a bridge, relinquish those things, and extend a hand. You might think, “Easier said than done,” but you’d be wrong. Do it once, and each successive time after gets exponentially easier.

When the leaders first asked me to help with this, I was a bit worried that I wouldn’t be able to do the job to their expectations, but in my first opportunity, I made a positive impact on an important individual.

I fully expect to have that same or similar conversation with more parents and members in the future, perhaps for as long as I am a part of the organization, but each one will now be easier than the last, and it started with her simple gesture of being vulnerable, and mine of reaching out a hand to help her across.

Drama, infighting, miscommunications; these are all part of running an organization, but if we are ever to get past those things, and move the group forward to the summit, then we’ll need to be much better about laying down bridges.

Personal Challenge

What conversation have you been avoiding because of your own ego, guilt, pride, or fear? How quickly can you lay down a ladder?

ReflectionsDave ConreyComment