The Gift We Love to Receive But Hate to Give

Not too long ago, “ropes” courses were all the rage. Remember those? Outdoor team-building programs where people climb through trees on ropes and ladders. The idea is that going through some hardship together builds camaraderie and team spirit.

So learning the value of patience was not what Dave Orewiler expected from his nine-day ropes course outside Asheville, North Carolina. But that’s exactly what he got.

Dave was a human resources executive from Long Island, New York, at the time “in between successes,” as he politely put it. Not being with a corporate team, Dave was put in a somewhat random group of other people who showed up by themselves. His team included a teacher, a nurse, a small business owner, and a retiree, who ranged in age from the early twenties to nearly sixty.

In addition to the ropes course, the program also included hiking, camping, rappelling down mountain slopes, and canoeing. And it was in the three-day canoeing part of the program that Dave learned what he concluded was the most important lesson of the trip.

Each participant was paired with someone else for the two-person canoes. And while the course wasn’t designed as a race, people are naturally competitive, so it usually ends up that way. So while he would never say it, Dave was probably disappointed when he found out his assigned partner was an extremely thin woman in her forties with limited upper body strength and a deformity in one arm that kept it bent at the elbow.

After making it successfully through most of the canoe trip, they got to the most difficult part of the river: the rapids. As Dave explained, “Riding the rapids had a certain thrill to it, but also some danger. If you don’t do it right, you can find yourself upside down pretty quickly. But our coach taught us how to put our oars straight down into the water and stabilize the boat without paddling until we got safely through the rough parts.

“Well, several of the faster boats had already made it through. When it was our turn, I reminded my partner to keep her oar straight and upright in the water. But, once we shoved off, I guess her fear got the best of her and she just kind of froze, clutching her oar waist-high above the boat.

“Of course, we pretty quickly lost balance and tipped over. Our next attempt was no different. And after the third time going over the edge of the boat, I was getting pretty tired of the cold water. I’ll admit my patience was getting thin. Everyone else was downstream already, cheering for us. That was nice, but also a little embarrassing.

“What I wanted to say to my partner was, ‘Why don’t you get out and I’ll take it in myself.’ But I bit my lip and reminded my partner one more time to keep her oar in the water to help stabilize the canoe.”

Well, off they went down the river again, taking the rapids head on, but this time with both oars in the water, straight up, and without paddling. After a few bumps and splashes and getting knocked around a bit, they found themselves safely on the other side of the rapids, welcomed by a round of cheers from the other canoers.

After the course ended, Dave went home and landed a new job. But, a few months later, he got a letter in the mail from his canoe partner. On the trip she’d told him about struggling with her disability, and part of how she responded to it was competitive bicycling. But the letter explained even more.

For her, the ropes course was an investment in self-confidence, to help her get to the next level of cycling. And apparently Dave had played an unwitting role in that. Before the ropes course, she considered trying out to compete as a cyclist in the Paralympic Games, but had decided not to.

In the letter, she explained that Dave’s patience helped her regain her confidence. “Thank you for being such a patient teacher,” she wrote.

She went on to explain that after getting back from the trip, she decided to try out for the Paralympics after all, and she made the team. She closed the letter with words that forever changed the way Dave thought about the value of showing someone patience: She said, “I won the silver medal.”

Dave’s patience had paid off for her. And after reading her letter, he knew it had paid off for him too.

As with all of these stories, I encourage you to share this with your kids, and then have a discussion about it. Here are some questions to get you started.

  1. How many times do you generally have to try something before you get the hang of it? Whatever your answer is, that’s probably how many times someone else needs to try something before they get the hang of it too.
  2. How do you think his partner would have felt if Dave had said, “How about you just get out of the canoe and let me take it through the rapids by myself”?
  3. Has anyone ever given up waiting for you to do something and said, “Here, just let me do it”? How did that make you feel?
  4. hat’s an example of a situation where it’s a better idea to be impatient?

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Source: Parenting with a Story: Real-life Lessons in Character for Parents and Children to Share, by Paul Smith.

Paul Smith is one of the world’s leading experts on business storytelling. He’s a keynote speaker, storytelling coach, and bestselling author of the books Lead with a StoryParenting with a Story, and Sell with a Story.

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