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News > Commentary - A giant's example
A giant's example

Posted 5/18/2011   Updated 5/18/2011 Email story   Print story


Commentary by Maj. Rich Branson
436th Aircraft Maintenance Squadron

5/18/2011 - DOVER AIR FORCE BASE, Del. -- The giant redwood tree of Northern California is an awe inspiring sight. They grow along a narrow belt along the coastline and boast of being the tallest trees in the world, some surpassing 378 feet tall. Despite such height, these trees also have one of the shallowest root systems of any tree, large or small. The giant redwood has no tap root or any significant root system below six to twelve feet and of its major roots, they are unusually small being no more than an inch in diameter on average. So how does this giant stand so tall with such a small support system? The key is connectedness.

Giant redwoods grow in close proximity to other redwoods; you'll not see an adult redwood on an island to itself. As redwoods grow, their small roots begin to extend outward up to 80 feet from the base of the tree and intermingle with the surrounding redwood root systems. The coupling of roots between the giant redwoods fosters strength, stability and perseverance to the elements which have enabled these trees to endure the elements for hundreds of years. Their example is one of resilience.

The most vivid literary example of strength gained in connectedness comes from Ecclesiastes: "Though one may be overpowered, two can defend themselves. A cord of three strands is not quickly broken."

Known more for its use in weddings, it is aptly applied to all of us and the strength we gain from those around us. Be it family, friends, teammates, mentors or leaders in our lives, each interaction brings value and serves to bolster our survivability against the storms of life. And despite how well adjusted we may be and how well life is shining on us at this moment, clouds will come ... it's inevitable.

When such moments of uncertainty come, each of us will need the touch of someone close to reach out and strengthen our resolve and lift our spirits.

Unfortunately, some through circumstance, others through social immaturity and still others through choice, find themselves reaching out to grasp for anyone only to find no one there. It is in these times that a person in this situation finds out that life is a team sport and how deficient we are to stand alone against the storms. As we journey along these short lives we lead, there will be ample time to be cast in both the role being lifted and of doing the lifting. Ensure you're ready for each role ... you'll certainly serve in both.

With relational strength comes a measure of stability. The assurances of those closest to us enable us to succeed in both the highs and lows of life. Their influence helps temper our exuberance in success, the melancholy of falling short and the anxiety of facing uncertainty. Each one of us has a measure of insanity built-in by nature in that must be continuously guarded against. Whether it is great depression, rage and anger or undo passivity in the face of absolute turmoil, the ability to meter our reactions and maintain composure is a good indicator of our emotional stability.

Author Tom Robbins wrote, "True stability results when presumed order and presumed disorder are balanced. A truly stable system expects the unexpected, is prepared to be disrupted, waits to be transformed."

Embracing change can be difficult for many, especially in the disorder and chaos of an ever changing world. The ability to cope and grow in such times while maintaining one's emotional stability necessitates a network of external influencers to keep us well grounded. Sage wisdom has for long told us it is not what happens to us as much as how we react to circumstances. The stability from connectedness is a force multiplier in how well we react.

In connectedness we gain strength, in that strength we maintain stability and in that combination we develop perseverance. Webster's defines perseverance as continued effort to do or achieve something despite difficulties, failure, or opposition. There is a path before each of us. More often than not the path that shows the greatest promise for success and prosperity is marked with resistance. Stories abound from those who lacked the strength to overcome such obstacles and faltered or, worse, took an alternative path leading to ruination ... professionally and/or personally.

Good advice abounds from family, friends and mentors that serve to frame such struggles in a perspective that maintains the long view. Such advice will not always be easy to take as an old French proverb makes clear, "good advice is often annoying - bad advice never is."

Making progress in the journey we're on presents abundant challenges and the relationships we surround ourselves with should serve to strengthen our resolve to not only move forward and persevere, but do it well and in good fashion. The road to success is dotted with many tempting parking places; hopefully the voices around you spur you to pass them by.

The Air Force is attempting to grapple with the concept of resiliency. Many of today's programs seek to help our folks and their families to not only survive in the environment we live in, but strive and grow.

At the heart of many of these efforts is an implied drive to bring our people together. Prime examples are the deployed spouses dinner, graduation celebrations, community events and most notable of recent days is the opening of Liberty Park ... a stellar success in so many ways. Bringing people together will extend each of our personal networks and extend our roots well beyond those next door.

The strength, stability and perseverance gained by such connectedness, much like the giant redwoods, will build a stronger and more resilient community that can endure the challenges we all face.

Should you find yourself on the sidelines of life and disconnected, it may be time to take inventory of the blessings that surround you, family and friends alike, and determine where to plug in and contribute.

Philosopher Bernard Williams said that, "man never made any material as resilient as the human spirit." True as that may be, each of us contributes mightily to that end. Thanks.

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