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Raise One Arm

Creative Commons LicensePhoto credit: NatalieTracy
If you’re in need of a rescue these delightfully painted wooden bollards won’t be much help! (But these guys and gal might be…)

I’d like to think that I’m brave.
That’s a really wonderful personality trait to have.
I would love to think I’m the type of person to go rescue someone.

— Rosie Huntington-Whiteley

I recently watched a news report about the dangerous riptides that plague our beaches. To demonstrate the risk, one intrepid journalist swam into a rip current and was quickly swept out to sea. The voice-over reporter explained how to signal when help is needed: Raise one arm and the lifeguards will swim to your rescue. That’s when tears suddenly streamed down my face.

Tears?  Yep, tears… Startled by their abruptness, I realized – perhaps not for the first time – that whether you’ve cast yourself in the role of the rescuer or the rescued, a “rescue fantasy” can be insidiously seductive.

In his blog,, personal productivity coach Dave Navarro cites author Steven Covey’s remarks regarding “magical solutions”:

[Covey] … talks about the dangers of the “rescue fantasy” in one of his books, [amazon-product text=”First Things First” type=”text”]0684802031[/amazon-product], saying how too many people think that some magical solution will solve their problems in the future.  We’ll get that raise, and then we’ll be able to get out of debt.  Someone new will date us, and finally, things will go smoothly.  Someone will offer us a better job, and then everything will be okay.

And corporate trainer Andrea Mathews cautions against the “rescuer identity”, in

If the Rescuer identity is ever to be given up for something more authentic, it will be for this singular reason: The Rescuer comes to understand that he can’t really save anyone. All saving is self-saving. All help is self-help. All influence is self-influence and all control is self-control. We don’t “get” people to do things. They either do them or they don’t based on their own belief systems, rationales and the choices they make out of those belief systems and rationales.

Still, there situations such as rip currents when “rescue” is the name of the game. And despite the fact that our society has created legions of rescuers, it’s up to each of us to embrace the responsibility of “saving ourselves”.  Author Brian Tracy beats that drum in his blog:

The starting point of maturity is the realization that “No one is coming to the rescue.” Everything you are or ever will be is entirely up to you. This life is not a rehearsal for anything else. This is the real thing. The game is on… You’ll have to take complete charge of yourself and your life and make things change, because they won’t change by themselves.

Break the Grip of the Rip

One ought never to turn one’s back on a threatened danger and try to run away from it. If you do that, you will double the danger. But if you meet it promptly and without flinching, you will reduce the danger by half. Never run away from anything. Never!

— Winston Churchill

To paraphrase the esteemed Churchill, whether you’re swimming near rip currents or facing other life hazards, knowing what to do “will reduce your danger by half” so, for the record, here’s how to save yourself from rip currents and other challenges:

  • Try to remain calm to conserve energy.
  • Never swim against the current.
  • Think of it like a treadmill you can’t turn off.  You want to step to the side of it.
  • Swim across the current in a direction following the shoreline.
  • When out of the current, swim and angle away from the current and towards shore.
  • If you can’t escape this, try to float, or calmly tread water. Rip current strength eventually subsides offshore.
  • When it does, swim toward shore.
  • If at any time you feel you will be unable to reach shore, draw attention to yourself: face the shore, wave your arms, and yell for help.

And, yes, sometimes the only way to save yourself is to acknowledge your need for help.

There was a man that lived by the river. He heard a radio report that the river was going to rush up and flood the town. [And that] All the residents should evacuate their homes. But the man said, “I’m religious. I pray. God loves me. God will save me.”

The waters rose up. A guy in a row boat came along and he shouted, “Hey, hey you! You in there. The town is flooding. Let me take you to safety.” But the man shouted back, “I’m religious. I pray. God loves me. God will save me.”

A helicopter was hovering overhead. A guy with a megaphone shouted, “Hey you, you down there. The town is flooding. Let me drop this ladder and I’ll take you to safety.” But the man shouted back that he was religious, that he prayed, that God loved him and that God will take him to safety.

Well, the man drowned.

Standing at the gates of St. Peter, he demanded an audience with God. “Lord,” he said, “I’m a religious man, I pray. I thought you loved me. Why did this happen”

God said, “I sent you a radio report, a helicopter, and a guy in a rowboat.  What the hell are you doing here?”

… Get on it. …Before we all miss the boat.

Mrs. Sergeant Major

The Bottom Line

Let’s see if we can translate these “day at the beach” lessons into everyday life lessons: Stay calm… Keep your eye on the goal… Find the path of least resistance between you and the goal… Conserve your energy… Direct it toward good outcomes… And know when to ask for help.

In need of a rescue? Save yourself! And, if you need to, raise one arm.

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