November 27, 2013

Crocodiles & the Fear of Asking Questions. ~ Lee Sears

The guide stood above us with his hand on the steering wheel of a small motor boat.

Deb and I squinted at his silhouette against the Mexican sun as we bobbed on our swim noodles in the crystal clear water that seemed fake, it was so beautiful. I was preoccupied with the joyous task of first lifting both feet out of the water and then plunging them back in. The water was so crystalline that my feet appeared in more detail and focus under the water.

So I don’t know if it was my fascination with my feet or the fact that the sun was blinding, but I couldn’t see the guide’s expression when he said,

“And don’t worry about the crocodiles.”

At this point he had my full attention and I saw his silhouette shrug before he continued, “…because usually sleep during the daytime.”

Still slaphappy and blissed out from touring the nature preserve all day and thinking we were in heaven, Deb and I said in unison, “Crocodiles?”

We were smiling up at him like this was yet another blissful feature of our heavenly day. What crocodiles? We laughed and looked at each other like this was just the funniest thing we’d ever heard. Then we heard the motor rev and we watched as the guide waved goodbye to us with his straw cowboy hat. “You know,” said Deb, her tone only a little bit serious, “maybe we should have said yes to the beer.”

We bobbed next to each other in the river that ran through miles of mangrove forest. The silence that surrounded us seemed like a curtain about to part before the play began. You just knew the silence was nothing but scrim, something thin that hid the hundreds of exotic and protected creatures we’d heard about all day.

Not only were we in Sian Ka’an, a 1.3 million acre nature preserve. We were deep in. It had taken us an hour to motor out this far and an hour before that to hike to the boat dock. So we knew without a doubt there was pretty much nothing around us but a major dose of Nature.

Meanwhile, as we floated quietly next to each other, not making any loud splashing noises or sudden movements, the current pulled us along at what turned out to be a decent clip.

That had been the whole idea in the first place. The gimmick. Like one big water park designed for eco tourists. We’d jumped at the chance to go down this river in this particular way. No questions asked!

Sure! Why not?

So, there we were. After a few minutes of adjusting to the silence and the specter of sleeping crocodiles nearby, we sort of eased into it. We let ourselves float on our backs. We watched the sky. At some point we both agreed that if we were going to get eaten, we might as well enjoy the moments before. And that is what we did.

It turned out to be one of the most amazing things I’ve ever experienced and I lived to tell the tale.

But make no mistake, there were moments on that river when I felt inside my body the primal, unmistakable feeling that I was not the highest organism on the food chain.

And it is this very moment in Mexico that I remembered a while ago, one day at work. A woman from a separate division was on the other end of the phone. I had never met her but knew who she was. I listened to her as she minced and paused. I knew she had a complaint or something she was struggling to deliver in a certain way.

After some back and forth, I finally understood that she was unhappy that I had called someone high up in the organization to ask him a question. The odd thing was that this woman had nothing whatsoever to do with my job function and nothing whatsoever to do with the man’s job function. But I tried as best I could to understand where she was going with this. At one point I stopped her and asked in all sincerity, “Who should I have called?”

And she told me. Somehow I just knew what I did next was not going to win me any points with her but I said, still thinking this information might help, “That’s the person who told me to call____.”

The woman seemed flustered by this news and even more insistent that this whole chain of command was wrong and I should not have called. There was a pecking order and I had broken ranks. I dutifully apologized, mostly to end the call, and then sat for a few minutes to try to understand what had just happened.

And it came to me. This woman was afraid of something. I can’t tell you what that something was, but I do know what fear sounds like and I know she wanted me to be fearful as well. Worst of all, at least from her perspective, I was not getting with the fear program.

To be fair to her, she had no way to know this, but you see I have been dropped in the water with sleeping crocodiles.

I know what real fear is. Life and death fear. I know what it feels like to be in real-live, technicolor danger. And I can never know what my visceral response to her call would have been had I not faced the possibility of confronting a large, man-eating, pre-historic predator in a situation with no real escape. I had to, no scratch that, I chose to relax anyway. I chose to enjoy the ride because I couldn’t completely control the situation and why experience it in utter hysteria?

Possibly as a result, I don’t think I will ever be fearful of calling the wrong person, slipping up, making a mistake, or saying the wrong thing. Discernment and diplomacy, absolutely. I am a big fan of diplomacy and discernment. And logical thinking, too, for that matter. Still and yet, I don’t know if I will ever be able to get on board if someone wants me to be afraid of asking a question.

Most importantly, I would encourage you to eschew fear of asking questions. Rather, I would wish you all the courage in the world as you face daily life—including your work.

If you haven’t mastered it already, all you have to do is face a sleeping crocodile.

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Assistant Editor: Kathryn Ashworth/Editor: Bryonie Wise

{Photos: Courtesy of Flikr}

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