Tuesday, November 23, 2010

The Blind leading the Blinds... (don't let this happen)


We sometimes do stupid things because we let others lead us into them, because we trust other people's judgment or behavior, even if this goes against our gut feeling. It is important that we cultivate knowledge and wisdom, and learn how to trust them and trust ourselves, this does not come easily, it takes work. And humility. Overconfidence can kill you...

As a teenager, I spent most of my free time sailing. Navigating the English Channel and Southern Brittany in winter times can be challenging. Rain, slit, high winds and fog are usual conditions. We did not have radars, GPS or any other modern navigating devices. Just maps, data on current and tides, a loch (Speedometer) and compasses. We managed to survive and I suppose I became good at it, as one day I got promoted to the rank of skipper-instructor, and was entrusted a beautiful 28 foot wooden sloop - the Nosterven - and a team of 4 wanabe sailors. I was 17... What were they thinking ? 


I did not have any doubts as for my maritime abilities, and never had thought of the possible difficulties a 17 years old might experience trying to teach something to a moron twice his age who thinks he knows everything there is to know about sailing because he read the complete "Sailing for Idiots" set of books at the local library. But this is an other story...

So sometimes during July of 1974, we sailed out of Port Tudy in the Island of Groix heading South toward La Rochelle. The weather was clement, the wind smooth. We sailed past Les Sables d'Olonne In the afternoon, the fog fell on us and I decided to stay a little away from the main land. As the night came down the fog dispersed. We steered South-South East between main land and the Isle of Re. The map was showing a few rocks we needed to leave on our South.

I had kept precise records and a rather good estimate of our position, but because of the fog we'd met I would not trust it too much, and decided that although it would slow us down and was tempted to sail more South, I would rather stay a little on the safe side North of the Island. 

We turned our navigation lights on. An other boat was sailing ahead and  parallel to us toward La Rochelle. These guys had to know what they were doing, as they were going in the same direction I was, so surely we could take a more Southerly route...

Everything was going really smooth. We were following the other ship. The night was beautiful, life was good. I was resting at the navigation table One of the crew members called me, her voice sounded slightly worried. I quickly realized what was going on. The ship ahead of us had almost wrecked on the rocks and was steering away from them. They were signaling them to us with the beam of a strong flashlight. I could hear the waves break on them. We might have been 100 feet from them. We quickly changed course and escaped the rocks. The weather was very clement and a wreck would probably not have been lethal, but that would not have been good on my record...

This taught me a valuable lesson : I should have trusted my own estimate better. As I was not absolutely sure of it, I followed someone else going in the same direction. I wanted to believe they knew better than me where they were going. Never did it occur to me that they could be in the same situation we were, and that their skipper might be thinking "This ship behind us is heading in the same direction I am, they probably know what they are doing, this has to be the right direction"

The Blind leading the Blinds...
This is how people die...

At the end of the day, you only can count on your own knowledge and wisdom. Cultivate them.

Knowledge can be learned and taught by teachers and through books. Knowledge is something people acquired before you, they tested it, recorded the results, and you can use them with a certain level of accuracy. The laws of Physics for example, are a good example of knowledge you can use successfully: If you throw a stone upward, it will very likely fall back down at a speed we are even able to determine. This is how we send people to the Moon, and even better, we bring them back !

Wisdom is personal and experiential, it does not come through books or intellectual speculation. It is the fruit of your personal life. Can you cultivate wisdom ? Yes, yes you can. Get a life ! Get out and interact with nature and people. Drop your keyboard or video game console and actually meet people, get on your bike, play your guitar or saxophone, draw your sword, learn to play rugby, sit on your meditation cushion, and practice. See for yourself. Nobody can give you wisdom. A Teacher may help you acquire it, and adequate knowledge should prevent you from taking too much risks in your endeavours. But they will not give you wisdom. You will do it.

Hopefully you'll find a Master to help you on your way, but remember:

YOU have to do the work.

In a later post I'll tell you about Desert Navigation ! 

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