Avoiding Glancing Blows

“…Switchman sleepin
Train hundred and two
is on the wrong track and
headed for you”
(Grateful Dead)

It would be pretty close to impossible to sustain a glancing blow from a train – the rails kinda keep collisions in a head-on posture, but that’s not always a bad thing.

When my daughter was first learning to ride a two-wheeled bike, my wife and I would take her around the block, walking behind her as she navigated the sidewalk. One day, on the street behind ours, we came to a curb cut for a new driveway. I stopped her and explained how to handle the 3” concrete barriers in her path.

Stand up on the pedals so you can absorb the shock with your legs. Pedal hard and hit the edges straight on. Hold the handlebars tight and keep the front wheel straight.image

Later in the week I got a call from my wife. She had walked our daughter around the block and when she saw the curb cut, she asked her to stop. Faith said “it’s OK, daddy told me what to do.”

Of course, my wife assumed that daddy had said “get off your bike and walk it around the dangerous obstruction” so she was quite surprised when Faith stood up, sped up and cleared those two cuts – bam! Daddy hadn’t thought of the whole get off – walk around thing. It’s not like the “hit it hard, hit it straight” was some kind of guiding metaphor I was trying to impress upon our daughter. My advice was meant to be bicycle specific.

If you search on “would the Titanic have survived if it had hit the iceberg head on?” and read a couple of pages worth of results, you will find evidence of a 100 year old controversy. Some people feel that if the ship had hit the iceberg head on, the front would have crumpled but that only three compartments would have been opened to the sea – a number that could have been tolerated. Some feel that the ship’s momentum would have caused rivets to pop and machinery to shift lengthwise along the keel, and that the ship would have sunk even faster. There are tons of comments, opinions, math and science being shared. I don’t know the answer but I think that it’s a valid theory. Maybe if the iceberg was sloped, the ship would have risen up, been pushed down or shoved off to the side. Maybe it would have worked. We may never know what the Titanic crew should have done, but it’s clear that the glancing blow resulted in a fatal series of holes that allowed water to pour into five compartments. Their attempt to avoid the iceberg resulted in the ship sinking. Now, that’s metaphor worthy.

People, businessmen and women, and politicians often try to avoid head-on confrontations, and I think the approach generally has poor results. Consider the following scenarios and tell me if you haven’t witnessed at least one:

The Idiot Among Us – Someone in your organization ignores, defies or abuses an unwritten but generally accepted policy. Instead of dealing directly with that employee, management imposes an explicit, poorly formed and often egregious policy that affects all employees.

Treat the Symptom – Sometimes people don’t want to discuss a subject so they form a policy around a different issue. One such topic is often poverty. An example of this was recently highlighted by a fellow blogger in a post called “Injustice (Legislated)”. Here in the States, I remember police locking up the homeless in Atlanta prior to the Olympics, going so far as to offer them bus tickets to other cities.

That Conversation – When I was a consultant I had a coworker with a hygiene problem. Unfortunately for me I also had a boss who believed in hitting things head-on. “You have got to take her aside and tell her that she has a big problem.” He added “If you say little problem, she’ll think it’s not really a problem. You have to tell her that she has a big problem!” How much easier would it have been for me to ignore that problem (like everyone else had done) until she was no longer on my project?

I’m Fine – There are so many times in life when we want so badly to appear to be in control, knowledgeable, aware and up-to-the-task that we simply lie about our state. We tell our family that we feel fine when we are sick. We tell people that we don’t need directions when we are lost. We tell people we would be happy to attend an event that we have no interest in attending. We tell our bosses, employees, spouses and unfortunately ourselves that we know how to do something when we don’t. Leah Hager Cohen has written a book on that last example: “I Don’t Know: In Praise of Admitting Ignorance (Except When You Shouldn’t).” It was when I heard an interview with Ms. Cohen on NPR that I looked up my notes for this post for and decided to finish writing it.

You will likely never have the opportunity to pilot a luxury liner around an iceberg. On the other hand, if you have ever hammered a nail, split firewood with an ax or swatted an angry hornet, you know the ill effects of a glancing blow.

5 thoughts on “Avoiding Glancing Blows

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  1. Today’s Picture – That’s Faith splitting some dimensional lumber out cuts into kindling for our wood stove. Maybe hitting that curb head-on helped he understand the danger of glancing blows. Maybe she just likes hitting things with an ax. There’s another thing we may never know

    Liked by 1 person

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