Adversity creates flexibility.
Spring runoff in Canada means rivers of water running down our streets as the snow melts. One of my favourite things to do as a kid was to try to control the stream and figure out how to make it flow down to the end of my block. I would take a stick and break up the ice so that the water would flow freely. Two or three kids from my block would come down and bring their sticks and other things they weren’t supposed to bring like dad’s hammer, moms rolling pin and pie plates, and together we would figure out how to make it so that these rivers flowed in beautiful patterns down our block.
Other kids would arrive and bring something to stop the river at their house, including their scarves or mittens. In a matter of hours, we would have a complex waterway system running through boxes and over snow shovels and rakes and mom’s favourite Tupperware. And we would be soaked and frozen to the point where we couldn’t feel our hands and feet… but we did not come inside.
We argued about the way to do things and negotiated our way through it. No adult stepped in even though we all had relatively “dangerous tools” in our hands. Every once in a while, the water would stop flowing because we had put too many things in place or it found some underground path; we had to work together to see where we could make it flow again.
By the time we were done, 10 kids had figured out how to change the flow of melting ice and create the perfect damning system using kitchen utensils, sticks and the occasional schoolbook.
So let’s see, if the world is running short on humanity and resilience connection and innovation, maybe we need to go back to a place where we felt powerful enough to risk getting grounded for the central goal or feeling uncomfortable but determined to stay We saw the potential of people and things around us not as they were labelled but as the strength that they brought in the moment.
Yes, that scarf was intended to keep us warm, but it also made an incredible sponge for the water we intended to direct.
Maybe we need to go back to the honesty of those discussions and negotiations; maybe we have stepped in too often to save and navigate.
When we protect people from feeling and falling, we protect them out of self-care and coping. We limit the potential for ideas that can create change and transformation. When we take that away from people, we also take away all the joy of finding out who we are, how we navigate, what we do when we fall down, where our greatest strengths lie and how we navigate survival in circumstances that change very quickly.
Adversity creates flexibility, and that flexibility fosters change and innovation. Are you in play?