Nature has designed humans to be not only different but complementary. People high in oxytocin are caring lovers. People high in testosterone are driven and competitive. There is a natural distribution of these differences across the population, and its not just about women and men.
The population in any human community needs both tendencies for long term survival. We need people high in supportive empathy as well as people who are high in risk calculating logic. Sometimes the other seems completely gullible and sometimes the other seems completely without compassion.
Maybe these hormones and their traits translate into behaviour patterns and personality types. Maybe they translate into political positions on a left-right spectrum. Research is ongoing. Maybe people need people who are complementary in different ways at different times. In good times we want a mix of fairness and competitive progress. In tough times we need to gather into tight-knit teams and strengthen our competitive defenses against the common threat.
The alternative view is that maybe we need to have the left and right destroy each other. How would that work out? What about the people who are just a bit to your left or right? If you’re high in empathy maybe you’re not as empathetic as people further to your left. They see you as a threat. What if you’re a driven calculator? But people on your right see you as not as driven or calculating as they are. They see you as a threat.
My waffling compassionate logic tells me the second alternative is not sustainable. Therefore I conclude that we must figure out how to make Mother Nature’s formula work for all of us.
This is particularly important now that we no longer live in small villages where everyone fully knew one another and could appreciate our differences.
In fact, I think it is the anonymity provided by urbanization that places us at a personal distance from one another. We tend to objectify each other and mistake our differences as cause for concern. We have exceeded the scalability of our own human nature.
Homo Sapiens have moved far from our native state of community. We can’t know how much we have lost over the past centuries. Perhaps a shock of some kind could awaken that need to join together in groups. Unfortunately, this is not yet a deliberate approach. In a state of shock and anxiety we are instinctively forming war parties. Sniff out, label and demonize the others.
Its the pandemic! It is creating anxiety that is poorly identified with a common threat. Its easier to point a finger of moral blame at your old enemy on the other side. Kill them? No. That won’t work. Don’t waste your time even thinking about it. Instead, embrace the other as they complete you. Its a matter of both logic and emotion.
Now, if we could prevent the 6% of our our population who have personality disorders such as sociopathy and narcissism (and maybe Histrionic Personality Disorder) from running for democratic office, that is quite a different question. These people are Mother Nature’s mistakes. Sometimes they are correctable, but that’s unlikely with current knowledge.
But even then their failures are not a question of morality. Its a practical matter that these people are not capable of representing the public interest. They are not mentally or emotionally equipped to do that. They are very good at repeating what they think people want to hear. They have been doing that nearly all their lives to manipulate and get control. They like to whip up the excitement and inflame people. The voter loses control over the democratic process.
Like anyone else, however, these mistaken personalities are striving toward their own self-actualization. They are on your left and on your right. The popularity contests and the idea of control draw them into politics just as in the corporate world. You may be enthralled by your hero and you may want to cancel your villain. Look closely, however, and you may find the worst kind of violation has been perpetrated against you. Don’t let your anger or hatred make you vulnerable to Nature’s sly and selfish mistakes. Those emotions make you blind to manipulation.
Bottom line is that we need each other and we don’t need people who exploit us for personal aggrandizement.
Based on my professional experience working with people, entrepreneurs and local economies, this is a 12 Step Program to Economic Recovery and to find our New Normal following COVID-19:
We still have memory of how to run an economy (e.g. run a business, find a job) to prime the recovery pump
Some keystone industries are still doing well such as health care, food supply chains, and others such as online shopping and construction and their supply chains – i.e. “flywheel momentum”
Government funds are helping to keep other industries and their workers on life support
Banks and financial institutions have helped somewhat in reducing the financial burdens
Entrepreneurs are agile, innovative, resilient, driven, optimistic, and restless, and they will seize emerging opportunities with calculated risks based on experience and acumen, and they will experiment with new business models as needed i.e. human capital
Banks and financial institutions will want to make investments in some of these companies to make money
The band-wagon effect will take hold as we begin to see early business successes and other entrepreneurs copy them
Consumer demand will drive recovery as people with disposable incomes will begin spending it on non-essentials, such as affordable entertainment and recreation
New and recovering businesses will hire people, possibly in short-term gig contracts until they stabilize
Local economies will recovery before international trade as we are rediscovering community belonging and the buy local movements will kick in (there’s no place like home)
Businesses will eventually have to replace major assets such as machines and appliances made in factories elsewhere
Lately I have been posting little things on this and that. Not some of my best work. I feel a need for things to settle down into a pattern before I can be confident that I have something substantial to write.
I hope my friends and family are well, keeping busy and not worrying too much. If I thought they were worrying too much I would say something reassuring. I am not the most confident person myself, and I am not worrying now — not much.
I learned years ago that worry is not a good pattern to get into. Yet bouts of depression are normal when conditions are not normal. I have found that managed depression is part of a creative problem-solving cycle. When I have had bouts of depression in the past it was because of something, such as someone not treating me with respect.
The round begins with feeling very angry, sad or feeling self-pity. I go for a walk or lie down and take time to reflect on what happened. There might be some internal expression of anger directed toward the offender. There might be some self-hatred. “Why can’t I get things right!”
But I usually worked through some stages of emotion and arrived at a truly creative place. The emotions burned themselves out. I could then naturally find the courage to believe I could be in charge. I could take control of my situation, even find forgiveness for my offender. This is resilience! I feel strong!
You know, as I write this, I realise how lucky I was to have a Mother to guide me through these events at an early age. Mom was very understanding and insightful. She guided my thinking about why people do things. Every person has a hidden history that we will NEVER see.
The anger, hatred, jealousy, envy, and bitterness that we see in others always has some foundation, not necessarily with you or me, but with some hidden history. There is often some unresolved conflict that people carry around with them and redirect to anyone who gets in their way.
Pity those who cannot find peace of mind.
By pity, I mean compassion.
There should be little moral judgement left when you more fully understand why people act the way they do. You don’t even need to know the whole story. If you show compassion or forgiveness, you are likely to get that offender to trust you, open up, and maybe, if you listen, begin to effectively deal with the underlying issues. You may have just made a very solid friend.
I am reminded of a new entrepreneur I coached years ago. The stress of starting a business brought up emotions coming from past unresolved family matters. He got so hung up he could not proceed with business. I had to get him to talk through his anger to a better place. It took some time.
I’m sure that while some families are taking time to heal past conflicts, others are now having to face some emerging unpleasant challenges while physically tethered at the ankles. Remember compassion and forgiveness as openings. Remember the hidden past.
Maybe we’re ALL going to have to be more patient and understanding in the days and weeks ahead.
Maybe collectively we also need to work through the cumulative angst we’ve had about the way our society has been going.
Maybe those shared dreads of climate collapse, AI taking over, the billionaire conspiracy, the constant disruptions and meaningless work, the destruction of ecosystems and species… maybe COVID 19 will shake us out of the passive aggressive mode into collective and effective intentional action.
Will COVID 19 bring us together against a truly common enemy?
Is COVID 19 a wake-up call for opportunities to collaborate?
Is COVID 19 a catalyst for transformation of humanity into a unified charge against our darkest fears?
Maybe we can crystallize our collective intent and finally move forward to redefine our place on this planet.
Can hope and collaboration go viral?
Today I reinforced one thing I learned in cognitive coaching: “Understanding comes at the point of articulation.”
Talk may be cheap, but it can lead to a treasure!
A portion of the population has always been inclined to compete and to dominate. Sometimes its friendly play. Other times, its serious – very serious.
In bygone days of competition between tribes this was important in gathering the team for combat to preserve your hunting grounds from invading neighbours.
The hierarchy model adapted to commerce, the production of value. The dominators lead and manage teams and organizations, communities and nations. When raised to management, former line workers undergo a transformation. The promotion of social status with power triggers a hormonal change, promoting higher testosterone levels. This hormone makes one more competitive and, for many people, increases the desire to dominate others.
Today we have a world of abundance, yet some continue to want to hoard and dominate. Unfortunately, Mother Nature designed us this way. Its in our genes. Its in our hormones (mainly testosterone). We need leaders and managers, but they need to remain in scope. Nature’s way of managing dominators can be a bit extreme. Can we reel them in judiciously?
Today we don’t really need to compete and dominate on a grand scale when our advanced technologies and practices produce such unimaginable abundance. At the same time, we have the technology to manage our population growth (on the demand side of the equation).
Today, as life becomes more complex and anxieties rise, we push these top dominators into top leadership roles. Their lens puts them at the centre of everything. They can point to any invader and gain a mindless following. They come in all political colours, all points on the rainbow spectrum from left to right, from Hitler to Stalin, Castro to Duterte (you can fill in the blanks).
Of course this never ends well.
Hysteria sets in.
Lines are drawn.
You are with us or against us.
War drums pump the hormones.
The evil ones must die!
The background anxieties of modern living are funneled into the purposes of the fearless leaders. The dominators point fingers of blame, use whistle calls, draw clear lines between good (us) and evil (those people). It is simple and clear and our follower instinctskick in. You are the righteous. You would put down your own life for what you believe is right. And maybe you really would.
But the Alien from another planet looks down and sees a very different story. The Alien sees the species Homo Sapiens with DNA and hormones designed for a foraging society acting as a cancer in a land of plenty.
Should we allow our evolved DNA and related hormones dictate the shape of our civilization, our future together as a species? Even though our world is fundamentally different? Can we manage the tendencies toward domination judiciously? Awareness is the first step.
I have come to believe with increasing conviction that to continue drawing all political positions on a bipolar spectrum is a gross oversimplification of our reality. The world is not so simple as left and right. We are more different than that and so are the public issues.
The science of psychology has clearly demonstrated that there is a strong link between our inherited personal dispositions and our political and moral values. But any one of these tendencies might be considered ‘left’ and another ‘right’. On top of those inherent dispositions we trigger one or another latent attitudes when our conditions change.
For instance, you may generally feel a strong sense of empathy with other people. However, if you feel sufficiently threatened, your empathy will likely dissipate and be replaced by a stronger defensive posture.
You may feel quite egalitarian until you are promoted to a management position. When promoted you start to feel justified to use your position of power and over-ride others’ votes.
You can reverse these as well. When a threat is removed, you can afford to be more empathetic. If removed from a position of power, you are likely to become more egalitarian. Your sense of fairness changes.
Underlying many of these dispositions is your hormonal balance. For example, high testosterone levels make you more competitive and feel a sense of dominance. High oxytocin levels make you identify with others and feel more compassionate. You have a natural baseline for these and other hormones that changes with your perceived circumstances (e.g. opportunities/threats).
Where did these core personal differences come from? The diversity among us cuts us across all races, cultures and religions and is rooted in our genetic evolution. We have personal differences (diversity) because it helps us survive in the long run as communities. We each have big brains, but not so big that we can be equally excellent in all skill areas. We need each other and to share our strengths.
Society is ever-more complex. To continue down this simple and artificial bi-polar construct will lead to our doom. The two ends of the spectrum beat the war drums in a call to war with the demonic others. It seems that each year the resolve to destroy the other gains fervor, bringing us closer to the brink. They both claim there is no middle ground. You’re either with us or against us.
Many people are identifying left or right as their tribe in defense against the evil others. Their tribal bond (empathy) is growing while their hatred of others (defense) grows. Their sense of party affiliation is becoming stronger than their sense of affinity for community or nation.
Social science also tells us that there are two moral codes, one for how we threat our group members, and a different one for how we treat members of other groups. This means we can think of the others as lesser animals or even evil. It also means we can treat them accordingly without remorse or penalty.
‘Everything should be made as simple as possible, but not simpler.’
– Albert Einstein
Unfortunately, what is driving this tension is not simple either. There is a general background anxiety in our world precisely because our civilization is becoming so complex, chaotic and unpredictable. We suffer from information overload, fear of missing out (FOMO), decision fatigue, distractions, rumors and propaganda. We seek the comfort of black and white, good and evil solutions. With more pressure we become more sharply defined tribes. The emotional quotient rises.
Yet, at the same time, public policy issues are not necessarily aligned with either left or right ideologies. Are these clearly and inherently left-right issues: freedom of speech, abortion, gun control, public assembly, public education, liberty, separation of state and religion?
Many policy positions have been identified with left or right, but if you look carefully, you’ll see there is no necessary logic flow from core ideologies. The positions may simply be legacies of some long-forgotten political debates when opposition parties had to oppose legislation because of a sense of duty. After making a position, its all about rationalization.
Remember that the modern political party system arose in Britain and Europe as a simple way to manage public debate. It was an artificial construct from the start that depended on our natural human tendency to form tribes. At that time the big debate was about supporting or rejecting the crown. It got embedded in practice, locked in and rarely questioned!
Now, to disagree with your party position is heresy, treasonous, and subject to ostracism.
There is a wider range of potential solutions to public issues. We need to invoke our personal differences in order to match the diversity of issues we face today. As long as we line up behind only two positions we are missing out on far better solutions to our very complex world.
“Where everyone thinks alike, no one thinks as much.”
We need to recognize all our differences as strengths if properly managed. The personal traits which make us appear inclined to one pole or the other on different issues are needed for our mutual survival and prosperity. We need to respect and embrace our differences, not demonize them.
This means being ready to let go of your assumptions. This is particularly difficult when we’re under pressure. People tend to hang onto their beliefs with greater rigor when they feel threatened – and we are under greater pressure than ever!
What we’re going to have to do is cut the crap!We have to get past these archaic lenses and drill down together to find our common humanity beneath our differences. We have to understand that our genetic diversity is there for a reason. It is there to enable us all to cope with a wider range of challenges and opportunities.
Simply put, Nature, including Human Nature, and our civilization are far more complex than the left-right spectrum. We need to be inclusive of all our personal tendencies if we are going to survive as a civilization and as a species.
The Journey | Sorting out the causes of business success/failure in so far as Small & Medium Sized Enterprises go, is not easy. Whether you’re looking into the reasons for success or failure, the causes are of the same sort. If you can address the problems leading to failure then you have a success. If you fail to address the causes of success then you are likely to fail. One thing to address up front is attitude.
Positive Attitude | Your attitude is most important for success. Studies in psychology show that a good degree of optimism makes you more creative. There is no success without first believing in your success. Think back on all your successes to date. These are your assets going forward. You are a goal-oriented problem-solver!
Framing | Rather than asking “how do I avoid failure?” ask “how do I succeed?”. This may be true even when facing impending failure. Doubts have a way of shutting down creative problem-solving. Don’t be overwhelmed or you’ll face a tendency to give up. A bit of self-deception can be constructive. No matter what opportunities and challenges you face, you will first face them with familiar lenses. We need to develop constructive habits, making a conscious effort to be a bit more positive when you wake up in the morning and prepare for your day. Last thing at night, remind yourself of how grateful you are for the blessings of the day. Even if you had a bad day, focus on the positive and you’ll get better at it. Attitude frames everything.
Capacities | It is also important to distribute your assets, efforts/time in a way that sufficiently covers all your business requirements. The word sufficient is key; you don’t have to use some mathematical optimization algorithm to get the distribution perfect. You will never get it perfect. You just need to cover requirements sufficiently to get the job done. What does the job need?
Essentials | Have enough cash in the bank to cover expenses; enough paying customers; set prices high enough to cover product costs plus admin costs; hire enough human resources to get the work done; pay them well enough to keep them around long as they’re needed (and back again); make a product that people want at a price they’re prepared to pay; share your vision sufficiently with your people so they can work with you effectively; respect people and the fact that they all have something different to offer; build lasting and trusting relationships so your transactions become easy and automatic; explore new options routinely and remain somewhat open-minded and inquisitive.
Learning | Learning takes place in goal-plan-action-review cycles. The loop involves continuous goal-setting, planning, action, results, and a review that produces lessons for the next round. Take the time to prepare a solid business plan, implement it, track outcomes and repeat the process in a positive feedback loop of continuous improvement – from bottom to the top.
Business Plan | The plan is key part of your learning loop and is often overlooked. Some research shows that a business plan has questionable value for a brand new business because the plan will likely change quite a bit at fist. But you need to plan. Writing the plan forces you to think things through and minimize the things you might miss. Understanding comes at the point of articulation. Keep in mind that not all entrepreneurs are the same. Some naturally learn more in the action part of the cycle. This is okay as long as the failures along the way are bite-sized and manageable. Prepare a sufficiently comprehensive yet detailed plan to get all your team onboard, including the bank and investors. Plan sections: mission, vision, goals and strategy; market research, products, operations, human resources and finance.
Scaling | Many businesses fail when they try to grow to fast. Others avoid trying because scaling up is different, and sometimes more risky, than getting established. In some industries, however, competition demands that you reach a certain size and economy of scale in order to offer competitive prices and product range. You may need to grow. However, as your business grows you need to scale your plans/processes in proportion to requirements. It isn’t just about increasing output with your existing setup. Build a set of tools that make sense for the level of complexity you need to manage. It starts with foundations. Often, getting a bookkeeper is an early first step in small business. You learn how to assign tasks to others. Then maybe outsource marketing, etc. To really scale up you need to hire managers and learn to let go of everyday details.
Failure & Success | The causes of business success and failure are interdependent. One could use the Five+Why approach. Ask ‘why?’ to at least five consecutive answers to the initial question of “why did the initiative fail?”… For example; there’s not enough cash coming in: 1) Why? A: Not enough customers. 2) Why? A: Not enough promotion. 3) Why? A: Not enough cash to purchase promotion. 4) Why? A: Didn’t invest enough. 5) Why? A: Investors were not confident. 6) Why? A: Didn’t have a detailed business plan. Solution — work on your plan!
As for the study of success, it may not be enough to look at a business success and say “they didn’t make any mistakes”. They had opportunities. What did they actually do when they faced those opportunities and when they faced threats?
We think of distractions as someone interrupting you as you’re watching a TV show or reading. But really, distractions run at all levels of everyday experience. You distract yourself by breaking focus for fear of missing out (FOMO).
You go to the FB postings, turn on the hourly news, you follow stories and people that have nothing to do with you. We all do this to varying degrees.
We follow people who are doing things, and making the news, vicariously empathizing with their joy in their wins and their pain in failure.
But we are all together distracted by owning things that make us feel powerful, by doing things that get social status, by keeping busy to avoid facing the fact that you don’t know what you’re doing in the longer term. More is not always better.
Life has never been so good. Our grandparents could never have instructed us on how to live the good life in an age of such abundance. What’s next?
These distractions keep us from a greater purpose. I believe a growing number of us are in fact value generators without a cause. We were designed by evolution to serve up our diverse natural talents for the common good. That is key to our species’ survival strategy.
What do we give the people who have everything? Another hat, tie, puppy? We have to get better at stretching our imaginations. Everyone wants to be somehow special. But if one person on the planet makes something unique we are all surprised. Wait a couple years and you can get for a couple bucks at Dollarama. We are becoming accustomed to being surprised. Eventually nothing surprises us. Maybe we need to give to those who don’t have everything (an after-thought?!).
Nevertheless, we should not be distracted from our instinctive purpose — to generate value! Beyond generating value, we should not be distracted from the joy of merely being and becoming… something better.
When my father was a young farm boy back in the 1920s the family wanted to establish a flock of domestic ducks. Next spring they got a dozen eggs from a nearby farm and switched them with eggs under a nesting chicken hen. She accepted the eggs with no hesitation. They look very similar. The little ducklings hatched, imprinted on the mother hen, and all was fine as she proudly walked them around the farm yard. That is — until she walked them toward the shore of the little lake! That’s when the ducklings scrambled directly into the water! The mother hen immediately flew into a terrible squawking fit at the sight of her babies splashing in the water!
Every personal journey really begins quite early in life. As a child growing up your parents tell you what to do. They have to. That’s their job. They train you for a certain amount of choice, obedience and self-discipline. You learn about both freedom and constraints. If they are good parents they love you and so you learn to love yourself.
Then you go to school and the teacher tells you what to do. If you want to succeed you pay attention, work to get better grades, and you’re rewarded with a feel-good. Its been said many times that our education system is designed as a factory to produce workers, not entrepreneurs, leaders or even citizens. Maybe its just easier to manage kids who all act the same. School has tended to train-out the mavericks and misfits in us and train-in the conformists. Those with strong entrepreneurial tendencies get restless in the routine of school programs. They get into trouble when they try to do something different. They may even drop out to explore the world.
If you stay in school long enough, the school program becomes your life script. It is largely written by your culture. You follow that script and maybe do a little editing along the way to make it yours.
When you graduate from formal schooling you get a job. The boss tells you what to do and, if you work hard, you get paid, sometimes promoted. You make something, or provide a service that people want, and you get a sense of pride and self-worth.
But as time wears on you may begin to think, “I know this stuff better than my boss. Why am I taking orders?” You’re striving for mastery of your craft. You want to actualize your potential. Maybe you just need to do your own thing, unencumbered by other people’s goals, rules and restrictions. Unless you come from an entrepreneurial family, you’re unlikely to get much encouragement to do your own thing and manage your own time. If you’re going to swim, you’re on your own.
Along the way you meet people who left school to do their own thing. They aren’t cut out for school, even though they’re pretty smart. They find out they aren’t cut out for the nine-to-five job either. If you watch their career path it likely goes from sales to running their own business by the time they’re 25. These people are different. They’re restless. They thrive on risks. They learn best by doing, and maybe they make a lot of bad decisions along the way. But they are also quite resilient and they do learn. They’re ducks!
These people are natural entrepreneurs. They don’t know anything else. They hate being trapped in someone else’s plan and they always have. “Don’t fence me in!” They may tend to be more outgoing, and are quite comfortable quickly reassessing a situation and changing their minds. They make up a minority of the population. But when we hear the word “entrepreneur“, this character comes to mind.
So maybe you’re not one of those natural born entrepreneurs. All your life you heeded people who told you what to do. You mastered your craft as far as you can take it. Now you’re on your own. Maybe you just had enough of that and want something new and challenging. Maybe you got laid off and you’re sick of depending on other people and letting them decide when you leave.
For the first time ever, perhaps now in mid-life, you realise you’re free to define what kind of duck you are and what you will become. You’re on a learning curve like you have never seen before. It’s something like coming of age and leaving home, something like getting married, or becoming a first time parent. You must experiment, test and learn, but where do you start?
You discover something new about yourself — you’re a wayfinder! — and you are not alone.
Let me know if you see any signs or symptoms of reaching a threshold capacity for managing complexity, disruption, chaos, uncertainty, etc.. Network effects predicts a continuing acceleration of civil complexity and chaos.
Psychologists and anthropologists say the human brain has a cognitive surplus. But surely there is a tipping-point at which the way we use our brains falls behind the growth rate of shared public information and knowledge. Our dashboards run out of space for monitoring what’s going on.
But maybe we deceive ourselves in the same way we think we are successfully multi-tasking while clinical studies show that we actually fail at it. Yes, when disrupted from tasks male IQs can drop by 15 points, women – 10 points! And it can take up to 20 minutes to get back into task after being distracted.
Do we know how much we have forgotten in order to make room for new information? Studies show most people think they have above average IQ (think about it). Its easy to fool oneself – what’s your objective baseline?
Are we being systematically trained by our frantic lifestyle (not evil genius) to constrain our thinking into tight patterns? Maybe we are losing ability to be reflective or to consider broad and long lasting implications of our actions.
How do we know if we are successfully adapting to the accelerating pace of disruptive technologies? Its not like we have traditional benchmarks.
I want to know what you think. We stopped talking about information overload long ago. Are we getting worn down by change fatigue? Choice fatigue? Are we slowing acclimatizing to a state of confusion and disengagement? Is it unfashionable to ask these questions? Uncool?
Shall we pretend there is no dancing elephant in our cyberspace?
It was on my 20th birthday in 1975 that my father unexpectedly asked me what I wanted to do with him for the day. “I’m yours”, he said with a big grin. This was highly irregular for my father, whom I shared with my four brothers, to make himself available exclusively to any of us for a whole day. “Wow!” I said eagerly, “anything?” My heart was pounding. I instantly knew there was only one answer, a canoe trip to the big Hay Point.
Hay Point was an enormous, mysterious and wild place I had only known through my father’s stories. It was more than a thousand acres of marshland on the southwest shores of St. Joseph Island in Lake Huron, not far from old Fort St. Joe. You can’t drive there and its really too far and rugged for a walk.
Mom’s and Dad’s romantic stories of an earlier time always struck a chord with me since they had moved us to nearby Sault Ste Marie when I was just a toddler. They knew a different world. My childhood saw the country-side on the family’s weekend nature walks, spotting lady-slippers and picking morels. The canoe was a recent addition to the family. Today would be a double treat, a canoe adventure and to set foot on the great untouched wild marshlands I had never seen.
Dad’s invitation was particularly unexpected since I was back home for the summer from university and he was rather unsure about the whole idea of advanced education. I was the first in my extended family to go to university and Dad had preferred that I follow in his footsteps and learn a trade. That was something he knew about. It was Mom who encouraged me to go for the education. It was a kind of leap of blind faith on her part that maybe something magically would happen and I would either become some kind of professional or just find the meaning in life that I was so desperately seeking.
But on this happy birthday I took the bait and didn’t give Dad a chance to change his mind. We packed a lunch, threw the canoe in the back of the pickup and headed off for Hay Point.
Dad talked about Hay Point many times over the years. In the Dirty Thirties he and his brother Roy used to go there to hunt geese each fall to supplement the sparse farm harvest. “There were thousands of geese as far as the eye could see, and they made a heck of a racket,” he would say. “When they flew together they made the sky go dark.”
The family had also gone there to harvest the marsh hay when the farm’s hay fields were so dry they wouldn’t produce any hay worth cutting. On the farm the livestock had to eat, so Dad and Uncle Roy took the team of horses with the hay mower along the miles of shore line to the marsh. The grass was tall, over their heads in fact, and even though it was a tough grass for the livestock, it was better than none at all.
Dad also told us about the time he and Roy decided to take a canoe to join a group of locals at Old Fort St. Joe for a Dominion Day (July 1st) celebration. Fort St. Joseph was the most westerly British fort during the War of 1812. It was eventually burnt to the ground, but as a young man, Dad was active in promoting the stabilization and preservation of the historic site.
When Dad and Roy got out on the lake the swells began to rise four feet, five feet, and then six feet high! People gathered on the shore and watched with baited breathe as the two in the canoe appeared and disappeared from sight with each heave and dip of the white caps. They wondered where the canoe would come up next, or if it would come up at all!
We were lucky this morning of my 20th birthday. The August sky was clear and bright, the water calm and warm. Here I was in the bow of the canoe with Dad in the stern. I was a novice but Dad was an old hand on the water. His father had been a commercial fisherman on the Great Lakes until the Smelts (fresh water Herring) invaded in the Depression years and ruined the commercial fishery. Dad knew everything about the water.
We easily paddled with a gentle breeze on our backs from the launch at end of the “A” Line to the north end of Hay Point. We shared the channel of the St. Mary’s River with great ships from as far away as China and Russia, though we stayed closer to shore and the freighters stayed close to the centre of the channel in the deepest water. I could see the long shore of the marsh off in the distance but it was quite a while before we got close.
As we approached Hay Point, we manoeuvred the canoe up a small quiet stream that turned into a beaver canal. When we were able to step ashore I found myself surrounded by the tall Grass that lined the banks.
This being mid-summer, there were no migrating geese to be heard, but there were Mallard Ducks, Red-Winged Blackbirds and other marshlanders calling near and far. From an old mound of grass I was able to glimpse the vast territory of pristine wilds. I could imagine those thousands of honking geese, and maybe a nearby browsing moose. This was the story land world of my father’s youth! My eyes and my imagination were filled with the vast wildness of the wetland space.
When it was time to go, we turned the canoe back to the lake. It didn’t take long before we realised the waters had changed. It wasn’t the wind, but the rising swells. I was again in the bow as the waves crashed against the front corner and soaked me. The water splashed high in the air catching sunshine and sparkling! The canoe dipped and tossed in, at first, three foot swells, then four. It was the most exhilarating roller coaster ride I could imagine! I felt perfectly safe, though, despite the depth of water beneath us and the fact that I couldn’t swim very well. The life preserver and Dad were all I needed.
I paddled hard while Dad both paddled and steered straight into the waves. If he had not kept us square to the waves we probably would have been swamped! Crash, came the waves. Crash, and crash again! Each crash quickly vaulted the bow high and then dropped us back down into the trough where we crashed again.
The spray over the bow was wet and warm and I laughed from the bottom of my stomach. Dad, normally a fairly quiet stoic man, was grinning ear to ear and had to let out a few hearty laughs now and again. I imagined, had there been some people on shore, if maybe they would wonder where we would reappear after each dip, or if at all.
It was, I would later learn in psychology class, a peak experience. I was totally engulfed in the moment of ecstasy, one with my Dad, one with nature, one with myself.
When we got back to the “A” Line, and heaved the canoe back into the pickup, I knew that I might never again feel such total joy to the core of my soul. And I remember this special day now that my Dad, Russell Adcock, is gone. He and this memory will always be with me. He educated me on the important lessons of life, on history, in nature, first hand.
The last time I saw him, I knew it would be my last. That was in late February 2007. I was visiting from far away Edmonton, Alberta. My brother Grant drove me and our Mom to visit Dad at the extended care facility in Sault Ste Marie. Dad was then living with a form of terminal Parkinson’s disease with advanced dementia. As we turned the the final corner for the last stretch of road, I braced myself, and then thissong came on the radio – In The Living Years, by Mike and the Mechanics!
I was in deep trouble. Of all the songs in the world to be playing at this precise moment! It could not possibly be just chance. It was a sign, a signal to prepare! The song ended at the exact moment Grant pulled into the parking stall at the facility. It was a long moment before I was ready to go in, knowing it would be my last visit. But we went in for that painful final visit. As I was leaving, and there was no one left in the room but me and Dad, I leaned over, choked up, hugged him and told him, “I love you, Dad“.
My Dad, Russell Adcock, died April 22, 2007. He sails now to his heart’s content.