I was sitting on the dock on the Red River at the local park. It’s my favourite place to sit with my journal on these pleasant Spring/Summer mornings. I can usually sit there uninterrupted, but sometimes I have to share the dock with people launching their boats.
One morning, three men, who were probably in their thirties, pulled up and backed their boat into the water. None was very experienced at launching the boat. (I’ve done it often with my former husband when he owned a boat, so I can recognize a newbie when I see one.) Once the boat was in the water, I heard the person who was likely the new owner of the old boat talking about how he’d patched a leak and was hoping it would be waterproof. He wondered whether anyone could see the duct tape where he’d patched it.
The chatter between the three men was full of expletives and bravado as they got ready to set off in their boat. Soon they were headed down the river, and when they left, NOT ONE SINGLE LIFE JACKET WAS IN SIGHT – not on their bodies and not in their small boat.
Three men in a leaky boat with no life jackets and lots of bravado. How could I, a person who loves metaphors especially when they’re about containers that hold space for people, possibly resist that metaphor when it was handed to me so beautifully?!
At the same time as I was watching these men, a friend was texting about her decision to quit her job because she was feeling bullied by her boss. She said she needed to find a place where she could feel safer going to work every day. I told her about the boat. “You need to find a place that feels safer than a leaky boat with no life jackets and you need people who value your safety over their own bravado,” I said. (Fortunately, in this friendship, we are those people for each other – I wouldn’t invite her into a leaky boat.)
If you’re in relationships with people who don’t value your safety, whose bravado/insecurity/whatever prevents them from making wise choices that have your best interests at heart, then it might be time to make some changes. If you’re feeling unsafe, whether it’s emotionally, physically, sexually, etc., and you can’t trust them to prioritize your safety and not make fun of you for needing that safety, then this might be a good time to re-evaluate whether they actually bring value to your life.
If you need space held for you, especially if you’re going through the complexity of liminal space and you feel wobbly and uncertain about the future, then you need something better than a leaky boat with questionable friends and no life jackets.
As I watched the three men disappear around the bend of the river, I had a sudden awareness of how many times, in the past, I’ve trusted the wrong people and climbed into leaky boats (most of them more dangerous on an emotional level than a physical level). Fortunately, I am older and wiser now, and more discerning in my relationships, and have learned to surround myself with the right people. We don’t coddle each other, but we honour each other’s boundaries and needs for safety and nobody coerces anyone else to climb into leaky boats.
A few days later, on that same dock, another boat pulled up beside me. This time it was the fire department’s water rescue crew, and every person on the boat, though they are likely highly skilled in the water, was wearing a life jacket. They know the risk and though they are likely the most able to survive despite the risk, they don’t go out on the water without the proper safety gear.
Those who are trained to prioritize other people’s safety know that they also need to guard their own safety so that they can be of service when there is a crisis. The same is true in the circles I host. As a leader, if I deprioritize my own safety and climb into leaky boats, then I may not be of value to other people when they need me most.
Learn more about how to make sure your boat isn’t leaky in our Holding Space Foundation Program.