Swim Without Flailing

You really want to be there for friends. For non-friends too. You want to help them. You want to empathize with what they are feeling. But its not always easy.

With the water rescue techniques I’ve learned, saving lives can be like combat. A person unable to tread water is in a totally panicked situation. They flail about trying to stay afloat and the only thing they can think about is not losing air. It is a primal act because its at the tip top of Maslow’s Pyramid of Needs. Nothing else can top the need for air.

When you approach someone who is near-exhausted and clinging to life, they really are not thinking about your life in the least. You are an inanimate rock in the water and all they want to do is climb on top of it to save themselves. If they claw at your head and push you underwater, don’t blame them because they are wholly functioning by their lizard brain. They don’t even recognize you as a person.

As the rescuer, you can’t allow yourself to die in the process. If you can, you parry an arm to one side, reach under an arm and around their neck while you take their back, and then start swimming to shore. You may need to talk to them calmly and make them know you are helping. Have them flutter kick to help you.

But if they push you under, your only resolve is to continue to sink deeper. Believe me, they won’t follow you under. They’ll let go. As you come up, you may need to knock them out and drag them by the hair. You can worry about reviving them when you get to shore. Its not a nice thing to do, but it may save their life.

What a wonderful metaphor for life. There are people in my life who are so angry that they flail about aimlessly. They foam at the mouth with angry words. They post hateful memes all over social media. They don’t even know they are hitting me with barbs and arrows, but they are. They are so blinded with rage. Then they simmer for a few days only to lash out again.

To save myself, I had no option but to go underwater. They were pushing me down to where I couldn’t breathe. I’m not going to knock them out, that is, unless they come at me face-to-face. I think what they need to do is to stop flailing and learn how to survive. They need to find ways in the system to swim without all the passion and emotion getting in the way. They need to find better ways to tackle their fears.

I really want to be there for them. I do! But if they won’t even talk rationally; if they don’t even stop to breathe; if they don’t start acting like yoga teachers, educated students, and responsible citizens, they are going to push people under. We might have to swim away from them and let them fail. But I think we’re better than that. Maybe they’ll figure out how to be responsible adults one day. Who has time to take off work to walk the streets chanting vitriol anyway? I sure don’t. I have to make money to pay my mortgage. I have to support my family by not losing my job. I can’t afford to be irresponsible.

Somewhere in a far off land, there are 18 and 19 year old men, not boys, who are sitting in a foxhole 24 hours a day thinking of the most efficient ways to tread water. The price of Starbucks doesn’t mean a lot to them at the moment. Only the most important things of life. Like the breath of life itself.

What are your priorities in life?

Swim without flailing

3 thoughts on “Swim Without Flailing”

  1. I like this Andy! I wrote something using a similar analogy on an instagram post although I didn’t know of the knock em out technique so I said you have to swim on your own even if its a doggy paddle as I cannot carry the weight but I really like the perspective you gave. My priorities in life are legislative reform in animal welfare, my health, family, my business, doing what I can effectively in regards to social justice and environmental sustainability. Thanks for sharing X

    Liked by 1 person

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