Today we have machinery that does most of the work. But there was a time when each spike was driven by hands of a worker. Each beam was placed on a platform that was also laid down by human hands. The heavy iron rails had to be moved into place and precisely positioned. The land wasn’t joined by steel as much as it was the blood, sweat and tears of men who placed it there. Today, I was reminded of one such person who’s very name brings to mind myth and legend. The real John Henry. I understand that some of my international friends may not be familiar with the story of John Henry, so here are the basics. John Henry was a railroad worker and possibly a former slave who was working on the Big Bend Tunnel in West Virginia. At the time when the industrial revolution was bringing about new technologies. Namely, the steam hammer. A machine that drives steel without rest. A machine that threatened the livelihood of every worker building the rail system. In an effort to save the jobs of himself and his coworkers John Henry challenged the steam hammer to a race and he won! The power and strength of a man who could out work a machine must have been an awesome sight. However, the story ends in tragedy. John Henry dies of exhaustion that very night. The steam hammer gets the contract to complete the railroad. Why would I write about such a sad story on my normally upbeat blog? Because, it’s happening again. Our world is changing. More and more I see and hear about automation. Robot cars are replacing Uber drivers, self checkout is replacing cashiers and software applications are set to take over other jobs. This not a race people can win by brute force. This is a thinking game. ( using the word game metaphorically). At the time of the steam hammer a man of John Henry’s strength and power could have done very well by shoveling coal that powered the machine instead of trying to out work it. He could have adapted to work with the technology and become an invaluable part of that team. As we move into the future of automaton I want to encourage you to think differently about how to adapt to the new work environments. The robot car can never be as romantic as a horse and buggy ride in the country. There will be those older folks who would rather pay someone to do their shopping for them rather than face the self check out. Jobs won’t go away completely. Instead, new niches will form and with them will be new opportunities.
I see the railway in the feature image and I see a man, a machine and the new opportunities that lay unseen just beyond the next bend in the tracks.
My big blue truck comes to abrupt stop at my favorite morning spot along the the Kanawha River at Glen Ferris West Virginia. Across the the river the mountain rises defiantly against the darkened sky. In my imagination I can clearly hear the mountain speaking to the storm and saying “There will be sunshine today even if I have to go get it myself”. Sometimes our happiness depends on our determination. We can’t can’t stop the storms from coming our way. But we can control how we react to adversity. Will we be able to pierce beyond the dark clouds? Maybe we can and maybe we can’t. But the answer is definitely no if we don’t try. As I looked at this image I know that the sun shines just beyond the clouds even if I can’t actually see that it’s there. I also know that on my dark days there is a place of peace just beyond the chaotic pace that overtakes me. To get there, all I have to do is start to climb and not give up before I reach the top.
Today is a busy day on the Kanawha River. The coal barges were all over the water moving massive amounts of coal up and down the river. The little tug in tonight’s feature image was pushing three barges and all three are the size of office buildings. The ones here are riding high on the water which means that they are empty but I’ve seen these little boats move full barges and more than three of them at once. I’m told that the men who work the river live on the boat for months at a time and are home for a couple of weeks before embarking on another journey. In a previous post I remarked that electricity is delivered by train but it travels by boats too! It impressive to see the little tugs at work moving huge amounts of mass with ease. And that brings me to the point of tonight’s post. Never judge anyone by their size. Especially yourself. When a person pushes their limits they might fail the first time. And the second and third and so on. But eventually something happens and the weight budges. That’s when you really dig in and push with all your might. Once the weight is moving it’s easy to keep it moving. Once it’s been done it’s easier to do it again. And it’s all in the heart. Not the muscle but the spirit. The core of our being that empowers us to never give up. What’s more is when two tugs team up and work in synchronicity. They don’t just move twice as much but three or maybe even four times the mass. Like the little tugs we are capable literally moving mountains when we’re equally yoked. Two people who are in sync compound their strengths. They can cheer each other on and keep that spirit energized. I was encouraged to watch the little tugs at work today and I hope you are too.
When I can’t really get out for some down time I take a moment for a mental vacation. Let me share one with you today in my thoughts below.
Warm sunshine and cool waters fill my thoughts. I long for the salty air and the cry of the seabirds. My only goal for the day should be to finish a good book with my toes in the sand. The ocean breeze washes over me as the crashing waves drown out whispers of the to do list. Responsibilities are for those who are imprisoned. Today I am free.
I sat by by the Kanawha River the other morning. I rolled down the window and was enjoying the morning sun as danced on the water. It’s my time to enjoy life and absorb a few minutes of peaceful contemplation. The ducks are swimming around playing follow the leader as a sleepy butterfly flexes it’s wings. A long lonely cry breaks the silence as the mourning dove announced its presence. I looked around and saw only one. It’s mate was nowhere to be found. Again it cries out with a heart-wrenching tone. Soon it hobbled into view cocking it’s head from side to side and straining to listen for a reply. The other life on the river becomes quiet and still as the next call echoes. I began to feel the desperation of the lonely mourning dove searching for its true love. Then I heard it. The reply came from the other shore. The little dove perks up as does a vertical take-off as it flies towards true love. Faith never gives up. Faith calls out expecting the answer regardless of the current circumstances. And when the answer comes, faith responds without hesitation.
It’s not easy to step out onto the edge. There’s something about that place if transition from one state of being to the next that really gets our attention. We get butterflies in our stomachs and our knees begin to tremble. We can feel our hearts pounding as adrenaline surges through our veins. That’s the feeling I would have during a repelling exercise or leaping from the tall cliffs into the water. In my young mind I knew that this is what it felt like to fly. Fear, excitement and recklessness all come together to form the experience. When I was a kid I had the opportunity to spend some one on one time with some of the Blue Angels flight team and I like the way one of the pilots described this feeling. He said that “There’s no difference between the thrill of flying and the fear of falling.” His point was that it’s in overcoming your desire to remain comfortable with your circumstances that we become more than we was yesterday.
It doesn’t have to be piloting the latest and hottest high performance jet at beyond the speed of sound. It doesn’t even have to be leaping into water or sliding down a cliff on a rope. (In fact especially not the cliff in the feature image. There’s no water under the rocks here and it’s not a legal place to repell from.) It could be as simple as deciding to strike up a conversation with that person who you’re interested in or starting a blog where you share your deepest thoughts with the world. Whatever it is know that when you overcome that shaky feeling that this is what it’s like to fly.
Most of us are familiar with The Little Engine That Could. However, it occurs to me that some of my international friends may not have been told the story as a child so here is a summery.
The little train engine was loaded heavy and faced a long stretch of tracks up a steep mountain. The climb was hard but he kept repeating “I think I can. I think I can.” Over and over until he was over the top. It’s a preschool classic tale about the power of positive thinking. Proverbs 23:7 tells us that the Heart’s thoughts forms us into what we are as a person. In other words, how we identify ourselves determines how we behave. Do we see ourselves as the happy one? The fun one? The smart one? Maybe we see ourselves as the one who has a good heart but is always being taken advantage of. Whatever it is it’s that self identity that influences what we will do in any given situation. Even if the choice is being made subconsciously we are still making a choice. What forms that self identity can be pretty complicated but as I understand it we get a lot of this from the opinions of others. I once witnessed one of the cruelest pranks known to mankind when working in a prefab housing factory. The short version is that multiple people who was in on the prank simply asked this person if he was feeling okay. No suggestion of what might have caused the question was to be made. After several inquiries the otherwise healthy young man left early claiming he felt ill. The opinions of the group had so much influence on his opinion of himself that he manifested symptoms of illness. The next day he was told by several people that he looked well and that his recovery was amazing and he had one the most productive days ever! It was all done by manipulating his opinion of himself. And that brings me back to The Little Engine That Could. By repeating to himself that positive thought over and over he brought out the best that was inside himself and overcame the obstacle before him.
I try to keep these two stories in mind when I’m feeling down. One of them I learned as a child and the other I witnessed first hand. The lesson I learned was that positive thoughts can improve my quality of life. Also, with the rise of social media we’re more likely to encounter people like the coworkers who made a person sick simply with the power of suggestion. Keep that in mind when listening to the negative opinions yourself and others that might be floating around out there and never hesitant to give a kind word to someone who might need it to get through the day.