Are you a rower or a rocker?

The gripping scene of Ben Hur as a galley slave is still vivid in my mind.
After seeing that classic movie almost 50 years ago, the horrible inhumanity of man-to-man surfaced in both my nighttime dreams and daytime thinking.
How could people do it? How could they make slaves of other people? How could there be so much evil in the world?
They were questions that refused to go away.
But there is another side to the movie, a brighter side. I also remember vividly the beautiful rhythm of the oars as Ben Hur rowed along with the other slaves.
Dip, dip. Row, row. And the long hull seemed to skim effortlessly over the surface of the water.
It’s a lesson in rowing. It takes concentration and co-operation to row. You must work closely with the other rowers.
Or, when rowing alone, you’d better be co-ordinated between your left and right hands. Otherwise, you’ll be travelling in circles.
I became fascinated with rowing as a girl when we went on all-day fishing trips to beautiful Perch Lake in upstate New York. We would pack all of our gear, including our lunch and drinking water, into a sturdy flat-bottomed rowboat, then set out for the middle of the lake.
It was on these excursions that I first came to understand the rhythm and concentration required to row successfully.
But sometimes we grew dissatisfied with our seat in the boat, and in the time before water safety rules were widely circulated, we were allowed to change seats out in the 80-foot waters.
It was then that we rocked the boat as we crawled cautiously from one seat to another, or over to the lunch bucket.
And no one, no matter how skilled at rowing, could rock the boat in that manner and row at the same time. Since then, I’ve learned the even more important truth that a rocker can upset the boat with fatal results.
But let’s forget about boats for a few minutes, and think about life. There are some people who always seem to be rocking the boat. They’re always slightly out of sync with others.
Nothing is ever quite right. Just about right sometimes, but never perfectly right. And they perceive their task to be correcting that small margin of error.
Think about some boat-rockers you know (and let’s hope you’re not one of them). How often do they really get in the rower’s seat and practice the disciplined steady muscular exertion required to move toward the goal?
Not too often, probably. For a person only can concentrate on one thing at a time.
Oh, we’re all tempted to rock instead of rowing at times. After all, it’s easier to figure out where someone else is going wrong than it is to pick up the oars. But it’s important not to give in to the temptation.
There’s an old saying, “The person who rows the boat generally doesn’t have time to rock it.”
So think about it next time you’re tempted to rock the boat on some project; to criticize without a solution. Maybe the boat is anchored and the rowers can’t get anywhere.
Or maybe they just need another oar in the water.
When it comes to boats (or projects), you have to decide whether you’re going to be a rower or a rocker. For you certainly won’t have time to do both.
Marie Snider is an award-winning health writer and syndicated columnist. Write her at