Most of us have taken a turn with a friend or sibling trying to be the one who ends up with the large piece of the wishbone after a chicken dinner. The furcula (“little fork” in Latin) or wishbone is a forked bone found in birds and some other species of dinosaurs and is formed by the fusion of the two clavicles. The custom of two persons pulling on the wishbone, with the one receiving the larger part getting their wish, developed in the early 17th century. At that time, the bone was called a merrythought.
A dear friend related an interesting story to me recently. As a child, they and their brother used to always pull the wishbone, but they called it the “pulley” bone. At some point, they discovered that the person who pulled first almost always lost. Therefore, the trick to increasing the chance of winning was to not pull.
As an engineer, I can do the math for you as to why this is the case. It’s about force and moment and leverage. However, I don’t imagine that would make the story any more poignant. A couple kids figured out the way to overcome was not to exert force, but to be still. That is incredible because it is counter intuitive. We naturally think that the way to achieve something is to push (or pull) harder, to apply more force, to exert more control. In the case of the pulley bone, the opposite is true.
Recovery from addiction often includes the 12 Steps. The first three steps are about surrendering. Acknowledging that in many areas of our lives we are powerless is the first step to recovery. Accepting that we are not in control, and then allowing for God to be, finishes this necessary beginning. I repeat those steps every day (and sometimes many times in a day.)
Powerlessness isn’t about an inability to do, it’s about the ineffectiveness of our doing. We can pull hard on the pulley bone and lose. Sometimes, the solution to our difficulty is not more force, but rather less. The universal physical law that for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction seems to apply sometimes to our efforts and relationships. In many cases, pushing harder just creates more resistance. This can also be true within our own minds, wills, and emotions. Just try to not think about a blue crayon…
Control is an illusion that tricks us into expending energy against the vastness of the universe with little or no external impact, but significant internal damage. When I believe I am in control of the circumstance and people around me, I push hard to put those people and things in the proper places according to my wishes and needs. Unfortunately for me, most of the time, it is wasted effort and leads to failed expectations and resentment. We cannot will the pulley bone to break to our advantage; it is going to break according to rules that have been in place since long before our time.
If our application of power and force are often ineffective and we are not in control, there is a logical conclusion we can come to. Sometimes we need to be still and let the rules that are in place and the God who created those rules do their thing. Asking myself what I actually have control over or influence in and then focusing on those things while letting all the others go increases my effectiveness immensely. More critical though, is the freedom I can experience when I quit pulling so hard (or pushing) and find, amazingly, that I get my wish.
People are generally divided into two groups. I’m not talking about R’s and D’s, I’m talking about people who know when to be still and those who yank harder and end up getting the short stick. This discipline is difficult, and despite their best efforts, many have and will fail.
Leaders are notorious for believing they are in control. As a group, we often begin to believe our press and come to think that we are the cause of the results. Therefore, if we want or need more, we need to push (or pull) harder. It is dangerous and damaging when we do this to ourselves. When we do it to the people we serve, it becomes unethical and immoral. COVID-19 has brought a hidden blessing if we are able to receive it. We all have had a triple dip of “we are not in control” reality served to us in a chocolate dipped waffle cone.
I have opportunities in my life everyday where the best thing to do is to surrender, to be still, to not push back. The ability to do this demonstrates respect for others and wisdom we could learn from watching two children break the pulley bone. Knowing when to surrender to others and to God makes us more effective as leaders, conserves energy for things that are in our control, and shows respect and care for those around us—and it is The Kimray Way.