The Employers' Association

The Employers’ Association (TEA) is a not-for-profit employers’ association, formed in 1939, with offices in Grand Rapids serving the West Michigan employer community. We help more than 600 member companies maximize employee productivity and minimize employer liability through human resources and management advice, training, survey data, and consulting services.

TEA is in the business of helping people. This blog is intended to address human issues, concerns and the things that impact people - be they self-perpetuated or externally imposed. Feel free to respond to the thoughts presented here, for without each other, we are nothing!

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

WHAT IS “WISE” ABOUT CONVENTIONAL WISDOM?

As I look out the window to see green grass where snow should be, I think back to summer days – now but a memory for most. Fall clearly initiated the transformation of our days from summertime bright to wintertime dull – the only colorful additions being a short-lived insertion of yellows, reds and oranges that cover the stately coats of green all around us. Though still green, the once soft grass became brittle under our feet with the onset of winter. Lakes lost their blue luster, taking on the drab grey reflected from a cloudy autumn sky before laminating themselves with a protective coating of ice. For those accepting conventional wisdom, summer fades as quickly as flowers exposed to the season’s first frost. For those seeking their own reality, however, a change in season can initiate new beginnings rather than closing the book on chapters already lived and activities already experienced.


As a summer person, I hold onto the season for as long as possible. Rationalizing that there is less congestion on the lake in September and October than in August, we replace summer’s cloak of mosquitoes with our woolen blankets as we venture out for a nightly vigil upon the waters. (We once had to chop our boatlifts out of the ice…that year I guess we held on a bit too long!) As I remembered summer during our family celebrations, my mind envisioned the seemingly endless parade of boats lined up to leave the lake this past Labor Day. Following conventional wisdom, those lining up to leave “at a reasonable hour” were reaping traditional rewards – an early escape from the cold clutches of the lake that could grip them should they stay for but a week or two longer. They could look forward to an early arrival home, an evening of unpacking and cleaning-up before returning to work (undoubtedly feeling as though they had left a small piece of themselves behind). As with anything, those following the crowd early would share the rewards of their fellow travelers BUT might also suffer the regrets of their early departure. Some, however, are destined to go against the grain – to take the road less travelled – as validated by the occasional individual launching their boat amongst the throng of ships abandoning their stations. Knowing the beauty they were about to share by going against the tide brightened my day. While I may not have welcomed the handful of battered and bruised boats that were being inserted into my lake by these “Johnny-come-lately” folk, they were at least actively swimming against the tide to discover the peaceful treasure left behind by the fair-weather crowd.

Important life-lessons can be learned when we take the time to watch the little things that happen around us. Reflecting upon the summer dreams that flirt through my mind as I experience another Christmas without snow, I thought about the “yellow ski boat” that terrorized our quiet bay every weekend – its owners greeting the dawn and saying goodnight to the dusk throughout the summer. As it patiently waited to escape from the lake, a faded green speedboat fitted with a trolling motor and multiple fishing poles slipped quietly into the water as its replacement. A camouflage flat bottom boat awaits its entry into the water as a fleet seemed ready to slip away. Different strokes for different folks, I guess, but all part of an ongoing continuum. It seems that only when one recognizes much can come from seeking a different reality than that chosen by the crowd will he or she begin to realize that individual loss can become another’s gain…one’s beginning can be another’s end…that as dreams fade and die for one they can come alive for another. While the Holiday season brings much joy and contentment, far too often the loss individuals experience – be it a spouse, a brother or a parent (as is happening with three of my friends) – weighs heavily upon the minds of those living their own reality during this time of reflection, transition, hope and change.

I think about the changes that Nature senses and the differences that seasons bring. Where once our lakefront was crowded with ducks (and geese) seeking scraps of bread from our neighbors, fall transformed it into a swan sanctuary with a dozen of the white spectacles preening themselves, slowly and majestically stretching their wings out as if to say, “look at me…I didn’t leave!” Had we followed conventional wisdom and left with the crowd we would never have seen two blue herons perched silently upon the boatlift seeking an early morning meal. We would have missed the bald eagle that perched upon the frail branches of our dying lakefront maple tree – struggling to survive yet still offering a resting place for a powerful hunter. People fishing now fill the now tranquil waters – wearing heavy coats of wool rather than the layers of sunscreen their predecessors employed. The angry buzz of personal watercraft is replaced by the muted splash of a fish leaping from the water. The joyful laughter of children swimming no longer mask the haunting cries of gulls as they dive down towards their unsuspecting prey. To those who followed the crowd I think a silent “thank you” is in order for they allowed us who intentionally chose to remain to revel in this rich reward – to create memories that linger even into a mild winter that has yet to bring itself to fruition.


As I allowed my mind to wander this past weekend, I realized that far too many diminish their potential by following the crowd. They chose to take the easy route – the path of least resistance – and in so doing lose any chance they may have had to establish their individuality. People often suffer in silence rather than identifying and addressing the issue that most concerns them. They do what everyone else does so as not to attract individual attention. Peer pressure drives decisions, a “flock” mentality replacing what was once individuality. Family relationships can be destroyed when pride or misunderstanding are allowed to play out unabated to their natural and destructive ends. If being one of the crowd or accepted by many diminishes one’s ability to be independent and free – if doing “as is expected” creates a self-limiting dungeon rather than a land of opportunity and choice – then perhaps there is a better way to go.

Saying “no” to conventional wisdom often establishes one’s own hopes, dreams and realities. Had Fulton listened to conventional wisdom would he have invented the steam engine? Had Edison listened to conventional wisdom would he have harnessed electricity? Had the Wright brothers listened to conventional wisdom would they have pioneered flight? What might YOU be able to accomplish – what potential might you be able to realize – if you refuse to listen to conventional wisdom, choosing instead to chart a path based on independent thoughts and aspirations?

I find in reflection that I might be more apt to celebrate with those who remained on the lake this past fall, joining me as I refused to accept the conventional wisdom that summer had ended – and in doing so, accepting that there is wisdom far beyond the conventional! (Now, if only such unconventional wisdom could create snow – if even for a week or two – our winter wonderland would be complete!)