Help, intuition, anger, and choice

This is a long one, it takes a bit of time to set the context.

Yesterday my frustration and anger reached overflow point, and the old dog wore the worst of it when she was doing her own thing instead of following my command.

The day was interesting, and it was interesting to see how I allowed myself to be swayed by group dynamics.

The tramping club had a planned kayaking trip to the one reasonable sized lake we have in Kaikoura. I had arranged permission to take our 4WD vehicles in with the landowner, who is a friend of mine.

The day began at 6am, and I got up and checked the weather forecast. The wind was 20 knts, gusting 30, and the forecast was for a few small fronts to come through, with the possibility of thunder showers (there was a tropical cyclone about 300 miles NE of us, making local weather somewhat more unpredictable than normal).

We met, as planned at 8am, and the experienced amongst us initially decided to call it off, so a postponement to the next day was suggested; but when that was taken back to the rest of the assembled group, most of them could not make it – for a variety of reasons. So it was decided that we go and see what conditions were actually like at the lake site – which is under one mountain and behind a small range of hills, and often has it’s own weather.

So off we went.
When we got there, the wind wasn’t bad. It was about 10 knts, and just a little gusty.

So we unloaded the boats, and we had one each.

Unfortunately, two of the boats were white water boats, which are very difficult to control, and both were small; meaning that they were given to the two smallest and least experienced members of the party.

After about 15 minutes of the youngest going in uncontrollable circles, we hauled out and had a change of boats. Ailsa was the only other one who could fit in the smallest boat, and I managed to squeeze into the other. Mine was difficult to control, much over 2 knts and it would spin around (broach) and go backwards.
After about 10 minutes I had it under control, and was fine.

However, the weather was deteriorating.

The launching spot at the head of the lake was at the Southern end, with the from the SW. So we left with the wind behind us, but then had to turn and go back into it.

About half way back, Ailsa momentarily lost control in a gust and flipped. Getting her out of the lake took a while. The bottom and the margins were extremely boggy, and she was waste deep in a mass of rotting vegetation, tired, scared, and not able to understand advice being given to her. For me that was extremely frustrating.

Eventually we did get her out, without anyone else going in, then I went back and rescued her canoe, and bought it back to her.

After a while we set off back again, but got to a headland about a mile from where we started, and the wind was just too strong for the inexperienced members. I lead off around the corner, and it was difficult for me to control the boat. So I located a spot, and we brought everyone ashore, and parked the boats, and headed back on foot.

One of the team had gone off on her own before Ailsa fell out, so we sent one of the other experienced guys on to check she was OK.

There was thick bush not far above the waters edge, and it took about half an hour to find a path through it to the 4WD track above. By the time we got there, Ron was back with his 4WD and trailer.

We decided that Mark would take the inexperienced folks back to the start point in the 4WD, while the 4 most experienced of us would go back to the boats and each tow another boat. I had brought 3 small tow ropes just in case, and Ron had the tie-down rope for his trailer – so we set off.

Two went downwind to meet with the 4WD, while two of us set off upwind, back to start-point.

I was the tail-ender of the upwind two, and about a quarter of a mile behind John (who was towing the two small whitewater boats) by the time we got Sally on her way downwind.

About half way across the final stretch, there was a strong squall, and I realised that if I kept up enough power to keep making headway I was going to run out of energy and pass out. So I had to back off the power, and simply maintain stability. For about 80 strokes I made no headway, then the wind eased off, and I started to slowly make progress again.

I started to become angry that I had put my own life, and that of the rest of the team, at risk, simply because I was not prepared to argue strongly based on my intuition and knowledge of what was most likely going to happen with the weather.

We all got back safely, and it was a lot closer thing than I would have liked. Not a position I would normally put myself in.

When I got home, discussion was continuing online on a couple of questions, mostly around the question If someone asked you for a light for their cigarette, and you had such a light, would you refuse because you would be helping to damage their health or accede in order to help them?

I had already given a considered response, and it was interesting reading the responses of others, and I made another short response.

We had a friend call in, and she and Ailsa headed out to a local cafe for a drink and bought take-aways home for everyone else (my diet doesn’t allow take aways, so about the closest I can get is organic baked beans on wholemeal toast – which is what I did for myself).

Ailsa headed off to bed, and left me the chores (walk the dogs, feed the cat, put the dishwasher on).

I went to walk the dogs, and the little flashing light we put on Huia’s collar, wasn’t where it normally lives. After a 10 minute search, I went and spoke to Ailsa, and she had left it in her coat pocket. I went and found her coat, and then the light, and put that on Huia.
Then I put on Sandy’s (our other dog) lead, and headed out the door. It is a retractable lead. but it would not work. It was locked, and the lock would not release. Ailsa had used it a couple of hours previously, and hadn’t mentioned to me any problems.

By this stage, the days frustrations were starting to boil over. When the dog (Sandy) refused to obey commands and headed off where she wanted to go, I lost it, grabbed her by her collar and hauled her through the air to where she knew she was supposed to be. It had the desired effect. She was totally subservient and obedient for the rest of the walk.

When I got back inside, and put leads and lights away in their appropriate spots, I went to have a shower – only to find that Ailsa had left her stuff in the shower (her wet weather jacket hanging from the shower head, and her tramping shoes in a bucket).

At that point, I was feeling particularly unappreciated.

I put Ailsa’s stuff outside, had my shower, and went to bed in a grump.

I spent about 5 minutes calming myself down before going to sleep.

Then this morning, there were a new set of posts on the cigarette lighting issue.

In the light of those posts, and the ones over the last couple of days on the I Have A Dream, about what 2012 offers us thread, I could see a real dilemma.

At what point, exactly, does one step in and take action intended to preserve life, one’s own and those of others?

Just how far do we need to go in trying to get others to see the danger, and the required actions to avoid the danger?

Is it sufficient that we are very confident ourselves of the danger, and in the actions required?

Yesterday it was simply a group of 11 tramping club members.
And in the wider context it is also the entire planet full of people, in the context of

There doesn’t seem to be any simple answer to those questions.

It has been very clear, from my involvement with another person here in Kaikoura who has a similar diagnosis with cancer to my own, but has not been willing to change diet, and his cancer has spread to the point that he is on high dose morphine for the pain and is expected to die soon, that many people prefer death to serious change to habits and over-riding of desires. And if left to their own choice, will die. If it is simply their own death, that is one thing. If it involves the deaths of others, that is quite another thing.

When it is not simply a matter of saving people from themselves, but it also involves saving ourselves, and all those we know and love personally – what exactly is the ethical course of action?

How much does the right of a person to choose their own action give them the right to kill others through the consequences of their ignorance (not their intent, simply their ignorance of the long term unintended consequences)?

How much freedom of self determination is allowed when the context of choice does not even allow the chooser to see or contemplate the unintended consequence of their choice upon those operating from other contexts?

These questions have been really churning in my mind; and in writing them down; they seem to have settled, into that we have not only the freedom, but also the responsibility, to act to to save all (so long as the probabilities are clear).

And that still leaves me with the knowledge that probability is not certainty – there is no certainty, no absolute release from the consequence of choice, of creativity; no rule that can be obeyed, without shouldering the responsibility of choice.

About Ted Howard NZ

Seems like I might be a cancer survivor. Thinking about the systemic incentives within the world we find ourselves in, and how we might adjust them to provide an environment that supports everyone (no exceptions) - see
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12 Responses to Help, intuition, anger, and choice

  1. Gil says:

    I am wondering whether it is possible to take responsibility for another persons actions, especially if they are not willing or able to do it themselves? You are already doing a lot in your life to educate people. An informed choice is always better, and the more sources of information available the better. You play a big part in this process. However sometimes you can lead a horse to water but cannot force it to drink…
    much love


  2. It is an interesting speculation Gil.

    I often find it helpful to examine extreme examples to gain insight.

    In this context, an extreme example might be, if someone else is waving a gun around, and looks likely to pull the trigger (not out of malice, but simply out of ignorance), is it simply prudent to duck, or get behind something bullet proof, or is that being responsible for the actions of another?
    Or is it both?

    As the line of intentionality, and the depth of nested contexts start to blur issues, is it really any different?

    Somehow I think not.

    Thanks Gil.


    • Gil says:

      ok now you have me entangled in a snarl of paradox and recursive loops…
      Enjoy your golf, my hubby is also playing golf today he feels it really works as a form of meditation. He says the “Zen” of golf is a paradox where he finds that if he doesn’t try to have a good game then he does. Being on the course helps him to let go…


      • Hi Gil
        Similar for me.
        What works for me, is when I relax into each shot, plan and visualise with my conscious mind, then hand over execution to my unconscious, and simply play the best shot I can, then accept whatever happens as being exactly that, the best shot I could at the time, and play the next one.

        Yesterday I lost a ball on the 14th, and up to that point I was 6 shots under my handicap. Suddenly I found myself in “this can’t be happening” head space, and I triple bogied that hole and the next, before recovering composer, and getting back into “Zen” space. My golf is far from elegant, and when I accept that, it can simply be what it is.
        And often, my expectations get in the way.

        It is a great metaphor for life.



  3. Ted – At the beginning point where you wrote this would be a long read, I made a cuppa ginger tea and enjoyed drinking it while I read.

    You raise some very interesting questions. A big deal when only 11 people are involved, a ginormous deal when viewed through a global perspective.

    I don’t know what I would have done in your position. As you said, group dynamics can be powerful, very powerful. I’m so glad that no one was hurt.


    • Hi Laurie

      When I got home I was very angry with myself.
      Unfortunately Ailsa caught the “overflow”.

      I think I have processed it all now.
      It is not simple, trying to please everyone, give everyone a say, and keeping everyone safe.

      Sometimes, in complex situations like around water and weather, the only way to gain experience is to have a few “close calls”, to really “get it in your bones”.
      Sometimes we need to let others make their own mistakes, and just do our best to be around to ensure the results are not terminal.

      A lot in that old saying “that which does not kill me makes me stronger”.



  4. amber says:

    Hey there Ted,

    I too have lead groups, though not as many, and definitely not into anything quite so unpredictable as what you had to deal with. Group dynamics sure can become quirky things! Most of our trouble comes from the drive, to and from, the trail head!

    In our group the joke goes… An atheist, Christian, Tarot lover, and environmental worshiper get into a 4WD together… for an hour and 1/2… one way. Care to provide a punchline for this, anyone? ~grin~

    My reply to this question you posed;

    “At what point, exactly, does one step in and take action intended to preserve life, one’s own and those of others?”

    If I am responsible for another life, as in “hike leader”, then I step in. And I am also responsible for my own life so I determine, beforehand, if someone is a smoker, drinker, drives over the speed limit, or anything else that might endanger the group. One group member kept ‘pretending’ to push people at the edge of cliffs or throw snowballs at members who didn’t appreciate that sort of play and, after some warnings, is no longer part of our group. We still socialize, we simply do not hike together. Safer, and more comfortable for the group, that way.

    Personal choices, about the way we chose to kill ourselves, are off limits. I have nothing against suicide and however anybody wishes to ‘go out’ is fine by me. I know of an elderly woman, in her late 80’s, who still chooses to eat blocks of cheddar cheese even though she has a bulge in one of her leg arteries that the doctors are unable to fix due to her advanced age. The artery is damaged due to very high blood pressure. She knows better. She has chosen to live out the rest of her life with the cheese. I say, good for her.

    With my family members, this is different because I would directly end up with the responsibility of their care. I’m the eldest, am lazy about my own care, and don’t want be responsible if my mother’s care if she decided to drink herself into liver failure… or my sister decided to go off her insulin because she was sick of giving herself shots everyday. I’d slap that beer outta her hand in a hot second even on a hot day! (this is hysterical to me because my mother hasn’t drank a day in her life but you never know…!)

    So, do you lecture a stranger, who you will not watch or be affected by die, about their bad habits? Nope. Remember, our dying slowly gives all sorts of employment to the ‘health’ industry. Our consumption of sugar provides an income to the makers of Sarah Lee, Coca Cola, Betty Crocker, etc. You have changed your life and will live to provide the elder care industry with employment in the future. We all do our part!

    I don’t take these things lightly, Ted, although it probably sounds like it. It is a heartbreak to families of addicted personalities when they cannot or will not modify their addictions. Or stop them altogether. Preach all day the virtues of healthy, balanced living thru the media, writing a book, or living a life that is so exemplary that others want to know how the heck you got that glow! In that way, I can partake of the information when I’m ready, able, and willing to do so. And not one moment sooner.



    • Hi Amber,

      If you’d been in our 4WD that would have made two atheists 😉

      I spent many years supporting the voluntary euthanasia society, and now I don’t.

      Now I view death as the end of possibility.
      I have certainly had my share of experiences where at the time the pain was so great I would have welcomed death, and got very close to self inflicting it once.

      And each time, the pain did end, and other great experiences have followed.

      Now I just recall the ancient proverb, which seems to be common to Hindu, Chinese and Arab cultures, as well as our own “This too shall pass”.

      So no, I attempt to avoid “lecturing” anyone (as in telling them what is so from a right/wrong paradigm); and I do attempt to share from my own experience some of the lessons I have learned from life [and often this is certainly experienced as coming from a right/wrong paradigm – that whole “brain only able to use the distinctions it has available” thing].

      I already knew my addiction to sugar wasn’t healthy, but it was only when faced with imminent and painful death, that I actually changed.


  5. OM says:

    Those questions at the end seem to me to be anguished ethical questions. I share the anguish. There are no easy answers to those who value freedom so highly, and also well-being so highly. It is not at all as clearcut as AR thought it was….. Principles can, it seems to me, collide. “Life as the standard of value,” that sometimes seems impossible to translate into clearcut choices in every situation…..


  6. jules says:

    Hi Ted! Just wanted to stop by and say hello. Nice blog.


  7. Hi OM

    Thanks – and yes!

    As soon as one gets out of the absolute binary mindset (yes/no, right/wrong, good/evil, this/that), and into a paradigm of possibility (with an infinite stack of infinities interacting), and starts to deal with a myriad of intersecting and overlapping probability curves – all of that childish security is gone – and our “inner children” (those early patterns of mind) miss it – very much! Sometimes they will push us to outlandish extremes in an attempt to get it back again.

    It seems to me that we are just left with our intuitions, our understandings, and the options we see as available – and this is our choice.
    We do with it as we do.
    For each of us it is a unique “thing” – some more common than others.


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