September 18, 2015
Our strengths are always on. By acknowledging their presence, we allow ourselves to see the best versions of ourselves and others.
There is the story of two catfish—one old and wise, the other young. One day they are swimming along the bottom of a lake when the young fish says, “I heard the turtles talking about something called water, do you know what that is?” The older fish says, “Nope, never heard of it.” And on they swim.
That’s it. That’s the story.
What can be made of such a thing?
It’s unlikely that the moral here is that these fish are simply dense and clueless. Instead, it probably points to something deeper—like the fact that the fish cannot see the one thing that is all around them.
It is literally their whole world and they have never experienced anything outside of it. Because they are so completely surrounded by water, it becomes impossible to perceive. In some ways it makes sense that, to a fish, water would be difficult to notice. It’s like air to us. Which, of course, is the point.
The story is meant to teach us—humans—something important about life and ourselves. And, although the main idea centers around the fish’s narrow perspective, the main message isn’t saying, “Broaden your horizons, step outside your comfort zone and live to a new extreme.”
Instead, the message, which is so much simpler than that, it says, “Open your eyes.” Asking, “Are we truly aware of what is right in front of us?”
Perhaps it’s a lesson in awareness. Perhaps it’s one in gratitude. Either way, it begs the question: What is staring us right in the face?
We could start by looking around at the world. Air. Lots of it. But what is it, really? How can clear, empty space be described?
Or, light itself. Is it possible to bring our minds into a state where we can marvel at something as omnipresent as light? Light is all around us—lots of different types, too, from natural to artificial to colored. How could it all be explained? What would it take to feel in awe of light?
What about blinking? We do that all day long. When is the last time we cultivated an awareness of how important it is to blink? Or breathe? Or swallow?
No, it would not be practical to always occupy this state of awareness—but for a moment or two? Perhaps.
But, really, why bother thinking about this type of thing?
Because it’s likely that we are missing out on something worth our attention. Our strengths, after all, function in this way—and our strengths are, when we allow them to be, the main drivers in our success and wellbeing.
Like water to a fish, they are so much a part of who we are, how we think, and the actions we take that it can be easy to fog them out and no longer see them. It can be easy to flip on autopilot and coast…
Being such a natural part of who we are, we may take our strengths for granted. However, because they are at the core of our greatness, when we lose sight of them, we lose sight of the best version of our self.
The same is true for others, for the people in our lives. How easy has it been in the past to take someone for granted? How quietly did it happen—as we lost that initial awareness and awe of their uniqueness? As we began to simply feel entitled to their gifts, qualities that were once so new in that first dawn of knowing them?
Uncomfortable as the thought may be, it seems improbable that we could make it to adulthood without experiencing this—from both sides. And, while it would be impractical to live in a constant state of awareness and praise, how important might it be, even after years, to reawaken that understanding of others’ greatness. How vital might it be to remind someone—a fellow fish—that they are more than just the water we swim through each day?
Who are the most important people in our lives? How do we encourage them in their paths and acknowledge their unique greatness? What are some of the key ways we’ve been privileged to watch others grow and evolve? How many different ways can we say, “I see you. I know you. I love you.”
Be your greatness. Start. Do. Go.