sink or swim

When you are a six-year-old, the world can seem pretty overwhelming at times. You attach yourself pretty quickly to adults around you and trust…

When you are a six-year-old, the world can seem pretty overwhelming at times.

You attach yourself pretty quickly to adults around you and trust mightily that they can provide you with some sense of security and direction when things get strange.

And it could not have been stranger than my first day of swimming lessons at the big indoor pool in our neighbourhood some 50-plus years ago.

A gaggle of 30-some boys left mothers behind and dutifully marched into a locker room designed for people a whole lot bigger than us.

There, our new instructors, who had shepherded us into the cold, cavernous tiled room, told us to take off all our clothes.

Our feeling of security began to vanish along with those clothes.

We followed them bare-bummed into the shower and then out onto the deck of the pool.

Before us lay a chlorinated sea.

Panic began to mount as they marched us around the diving boards to the deep end.

It seemed our instructors had a very simple method to divide us into our instructional groups — sink or swim.

They lined us up and held a long pole in front of us just out of our reach and told us one by one to jump in.

Panic turned to terror as we witnessed the other six and seven year olds launching themselves into the deep.

Arms flayed about in the foaming water as our, now a whole lot less than trustworthy, instructors kept the pole slightly out of reach.

Fear held me in the line, though I craved the security of my mother and Saturday morning cartoons.

When my turn came, I suppose it was peer pressure that forced my feet from the safety of the rounded rim of the pool and I launch myself into the abyss.

I still have a half-submerged mental image of desperately lunging, not swimming by any stretch of imagination, toward the pole. Eventually our pool warden relented and let me grab onto the pole and be pulled to safety.

Today, with all the bad news that’s piling up on our global doorstep, from environmental disasters to nuclear threats and escalating warfare, it seems that we are confronted as a human family with the starkly simple option — sink or swim.

While no one throws young ones in the deep end any more when teaching them how to swim, they do still need to get wet.

Similarly, we need to become gradually more engaged if we are ever going to find solutions to the pressing problems of our day, from homelessness locally to climate change globally.

Andrew Caddell, senior policy adviser for the United Nations and Commonwealth Affairs at the department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade in Ottawa spent some time in Whitehorse the week before last.

In a talk at Yukon College, Caddell noted the communications revolution’s ongoing impact on social and political discourse in our country.

Television news offers a particularly dramatic example; “the change from the 45-second interview clip to the five-second burst in 40 years has resulted in briefer conversations and shorter attention spans.”

We are flooded with information but much of it is devoid of context or content.

If we are going to keep our collective head above the rough waters of the few decades, we must learn to listen to one another and collectively untangle the complex issues of our day.

Hopefully, increased understanding will lead to action.

Below are a couple of meetings where we might hone our listening and networking skills.

The Yukon Development Education Centre will host its fifth presentation in its fall global speaker series this coming Wednesday, October 25 at 7 p.m. in the Francophone Centre meeting room. 

Graham Baird will be speaking about his two years in Malawi.

The Yukon Anti-Poverty Coalition will hold its October meeting at 5 p.m. on Thursday, October 26th at the Whitehorse United Church.

They will have a short business meeting followed by a collective soup making session to help supply the Weekend Soup Kitchen at CYO Hall. All are welcome to come to the meeting and bring some veggies to throw in the pot.