don kerr

5 years ago · 3 min. reading time · visibility ~100 ·

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The paddle - Dame Fortuna at work?


Intuitively, few things are more obvious than the existence of free will; intellectually, few things are less obvious. . 

1997, 2006 Daniel J. Castellano. All rights reserved.

During my university days (Mt. Allison University, Sackville, New Brunswick, Canada) I majored in Medieval Literature. I did so not due to any predetermined passion but because the professor, Michael MacDonald, was just so damn good. I undertook another major area of study in Theatre - again because the professor, Arthur Motyer, was inspiring. 

Both areas of study imbued me with a good understanding of how the corporate world works. If you need an update on corporate governance, strategy, leadership, finance, HR policy, or marketing pick yourself up copies of Chaucer's Canterbury Tales, Beowulf, and Sir Gawain and the Green Knight (the latter is a rich 14th century tale featuring a beheading, a quest, a romance, and everything else you will experience in the modern-day boardroom!).

If you want to succeed in that boardroom you also better have a good understanding of theatrics and how to effectively tread the boards.

But I digress and not for the last time in this post I am sure.

During much of history, people have attempted to explain various outcomes - good and bad - as simple results of fate. Predestination, the belief that everything that will happen has already been decided by God or fate and cannot be changed, has been a powerful force. It liberates many from feeling any real accountability for what occurs in their life. It's a very convenient belief system but it's not ultimately that rewarding for those who hope to embrace some notion of free will. 

During the Middle Ages, Dame Fortuna would spin her wheel to decide who would have good luck and who would suffer misfortune. If something bad happened - oh well. Something good? Better but still oh well. As a fervent believer in taking accountability for what happens in my life (modified somewhat for my business life where I contend that one should never take ultimate accountability without authority) I have always found the entire notion of surrender to Dame Fortuna of interest. 

My feeling (at least I think it is mine - perhaps it has been preordained) is this: somewhere between fate and free will  lies reality.

Here's a recent example.
Fellow Bee, @Aaron Skogen, wrote a post about his son. It resonated powerfully with me because it was well written and because I have two sons. The story revolved around outdoor activities and traveling on the water. It felt good to read and I appreciated the insight he offered.

Life went on.

However, about two days later I was visiting a friend, Brian, in Toronto whom I've known for almost 1/2 a century. He's approaching his 80th birthday and remains sharp as a tack. We first met in 1966 when I was shipped off to a canoe-tripping camp in north-eastern Ontario where Brian was one of the owners and directors.  I spent several years there on Lake Mazinaw as camper, guide, counsellor, and finally program director. The camp ethos revolved around the canoe. All of us were trained and counselled to become confident in our cedar strip vessels in all kinds of conditions. We were taught how to make this nimble device dance. We learned to make it become at one with us and we learned that none of this could be accomplished without a good, well-fitted paddle.

When I visited my friend in Toronto I was seeking guidance on a few fronts - he's a published author so I sought his counsel on how to proceed with my publishing efforts. I wanted him to share some insights on raising young boys and when he felt was a good time to introduce them to a camp environment similar to that which we had shared. I was hoping to learn from his experience as a lifelong teacher and a man.

As we were talking I was thinking about how in life so much of what we do is similar to travels in a canoe. Sometimes it is smooth paddling and we relax while enjoying the silence and smooth rhythm of our strokes. Other times we venture into fast-running water and have to skilfully navigate the rapids. This is when our skills must be top notch and our judgement as well must guide us as we determine whether to run the rapids or head to shore to portage. 

While I was thinking of this, Brian left the room. He came back carrying a magnificent beaver-tail paddle. It is emblazoned with the crest of Camp Mazinaw and it is truly a wonderful creation.

He told me it was mine.

He told me that I must use it. A dry paddle is of little use.

He told me to think of our journeys ever time I dipped the paddle into the water and pulled to move forward or feathered it as I moved sideways. He told me to use it wisely to quickly negotiate the turns that life requires by employing the pry stroke and then to change direction again with the draw.

I brought the paddle home. It is sitting in a place of honour but it has not yet been christened. That will happen in about one week when we travel to Muskoka and I get my boys back out on the water.

Where Dame Fortuna comes into all of this is through my awareness that I hadn't thought much about the 'paddle' until I read Aaron's piece here on beBee. I hadn't planned to employ the paddle as metaphor when seeking advice from Brian. But there it was...all of a sudden highly present and enormously relevant and totally unplanned.

Had Dame Fortuna spun her wheel to bring the experience to my awareness?


I'll get back to you once the paddle has been put to work. Frankly though, it is already helping me navigate through my days and nights. 

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don kerr

4 years ago #21

That would be a delight Aaron \ud83d\udc1d Skogen

don kerr

4 years ago #20

An update to a post from one year ago. For 60 years I have been a paddler. The canoe has always been something with which I am in total harmony and perhaps the one place where I instantly come to appreciate the present moment and the peace of paddling. I recently came upon a wonderful short film called The Canoe. It was created by a Canadian Goh Iromoto. I will post a separate link to it and encourage anyone who is a canoe enthusiast or someone curious about what makes we Canadians a little different than many other nationalities to watch it. The images are spectacular and the message is powerful. Happy paddling to all. P.S. Was thinking particularly of Aaron \ud83d\udc1d Skogen when posting this.

don kerr

5 years ago #19

Ah yes, SWMBO! She Who Must Be Obeyed. I have accommodated my entire belief system to work within that structure. Thanks Kevin Pashuk and for the share as well.

Kevin Pashuk

5 years ago #18

You hooked me with the paddle picture Don Kerr... the discussion of fate, etc. hooked me further and should spur some great discussion. I so much appreciate discussions with people who see something outside of themselves (a higher power, etc.) rather than those who think all wisdom comes from within themselves. I've had my internal wisdom proved wrong several times by a higher power - usually my wife.

Lisa Gallagher

5 years ago #17

Don Kerr, ok ... if you test her in the bathtub, video! LOL

don kerr

5 years ago #16

You are bang on Dean Owen I will share pix of her first dips.

don kerr

5 years ago #15

Thank you Lisa Gallagher I appreciate your taking the time to comment and share your thoughts. I will make sure to share pix of the paddle at work. Only a few days now. Must admit I have been tempted to test her out in the bath tub!

don kerr

5 years ago #14

Hi Vincent Andrew Gotta admit I am in your camp. Thanks for the comments and for reading.

don kerr

5 years ago #13

You are very kind Franci Eugenia Hoffman And you really rock knee high boots too! That's a great combination for living. Thanks for the commentary.

don kerr

5 years ago #12

That's a good perspective Ken Boddie thanks for making the time to comment and mull!

Ken Boddie

5 years ago #11

Thought provoking post, Don Kerr, which I'm still mulling over. You have doubtless sown the seeds of argument in the minds of many. Dame Fortuna, aka Lady Luck, aka the will of whatever god we may choose to worship, or not, crosses our palms with silver gifts, good or bad, from time to time. The challenge is to accept these as opportunities to grow.
This statement stands out for me "He told me that I must use it. A dry paddle is of little use.". I relate it to life itself. While we are on earth, we should make the most of it and that includes caring about our fellow man. Otherwise, what's the use? Your story, Don Kerr sends a message that should be taken to heart. Thank you for sharing with us.

Lisa Gallagher

5 years ago #9

"Somewhere between fate and free will lies reality." I couldn't agree more! This was a very interesting read Don Kerr. Your a great writer and this really stood out, "As we were talking I was thinking about how in life so much of what we do is similar to travels in a canoe. Sometimes it is smooth paddling and we relax while enjoying the silence and smooth rhythm of our strokes. Other times we venture into fast-running water and have to skilfully navigate the rapids. This is when our skills must be top notch and our judgement as well must guide us as we determine whether to run the rapids or head to shore to portage." Great analogy because life sure does come with many bumps along the way when we aren't on the smooth paved, road. I can't wait to see photos and hear about the Christening of your paddle. What a wise man your friend is! Thanks for sharing this story.

Dean Owen

5 years ago #8

Like Gert Scholtz I read your buzz twice, and I'm sure if I read it again I will find different meanings and insights. I think to some extent we all encounter Dame Fortuna as we prepare to put pen to paper, and sometimes she would lead us off in totally different directions. Looking forward to your musings from Muskoka! And remember, a paddle is not a paddle unless it paddles!

don kerr

5 years ago #7

No diversion. Rather a fortunate detour. #7

don kerr

5 years ago #6

love the picture of a "lattice of coincidence ".

don kerr

5 years ago #5

thanks so much Deb Lange. There is a powerful lesson in navigating the calm and the turbulent waters.

don kerr

5 years ago #4

Undoubtedly one of the very best books ever. It is a game changer and a must read for anyone serious about excellent literature. He is one of my literary heroes. Also love the episode about 'poatatis salad'. The wiener cart bit too is gut splitting. And right in your neighbourhood Gerald Hecht you must get this book. #5

Gert Scholtz

5 years ago #3

Gerald Hecht for allowing Gerald and I this exchange.

Gert Scholtz

5 years ago #2

Don Kerr I read your post twice - so rich in content. Thank you for introducing Dame Fortuna. May she smile on all of us.

Jim Murray

5 years ago #1

For a lot of us the paddle is a great metaphor. For those of us who write, it has been an ever changing tool, from the pen to the typewriter to the word processor to the computer. The waters haven't always been smooth and glassy but the paddle has always been the right tool to keep you upright. As far as pre-destination is concerned I'm more in the determinism camp.I don't believe that there is some script we are all playing out. The world has proven to me over and over that its too complex a place for that to ever be the case. Once I postulated that the grand purpose of life is the actual search for the grand purpose.That's comforting to me because it means I always have a reason to keep paddling. Obviously I really liked this post or I would have just said good post and left it at that. It was provocative without being overly so. I'm trying to master that. Thx, Don Kerr. You might want to consider a career in writing. :)

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