Burning Ships

burningheadswater

One way to get all the rats off of a ship is to set it afire. That’s a metaphor that can be applied to many things in life.

Of course, if you burn it all up everyone better get off. And then you’re pretty much stuck where you are.

There is the famous story of Hernán Cortés burning his ships off the coast of Veracruz in 1519 to remove the possibility of retreat – and therefore the idea of it – from his men. With their choices reduced to conquer or die, they conquered. This story is also used as a metaphor in life.

While it’s likely they would have been victorious anyway, it probably is valid that the desperation produced from removing the choice served to galvanize their efforts, and along the way probably squelched the questioning of motives, morals, or any other potentially ‘complicating’ factors in their resolve over their goals and means to achieve them.

When things get closer to black and white, choices are usually more clear, and can therefore be easier to make. It doesn’t make them more right though. Córtes put his men into a situation that forced them to take self preserving actions they might not otherwise have taken (theoretically). Did their actions become less wrong (or more right) because of the situation they found themselves in? Arguably, maybe. (See also soldiers in Viet Nam, or any of numerous other similar situations we may find ourselves a part of.)

While it can be true that choice can be the enemy of decision at times, it’s not valid to think that choice is bad. Navigating the various choices of life can be a brilliant adventure when we can let go of the notion that there is a finite correct answer or target we’re trying to hit as if the tally of our life is plotted as coordinates on a cartesian grid of good, bad, happy, sad. The Cortés story is sometimes used to show leadership. Does a great leader need to burn his ships? If fighting for a righteous cause one believes in…what more do you need? We may choose to eliminate certain choices from our lives, but those are still our decisions, and in most cases there are opportunities to undo them…for a while.

Ships are for sailing. Set some fires and move the rats out when you need to, but don’t give up your ship. You don’t have to be at sea all the time, just be careful about boxing yourself in to something too finite. You just may wind up dying (metaphorically) on the beach wishing you had left room to escape. If you need resolve, find it within. If you can’t, then explore why that is. It may be your Self trying to rat on yourself about something.

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8 Responses to “Burning Ships”


  1. 1 babicka June 6, 2015 at 11:58 am

    My thought, as always, is burn your own ship if you must but don’t burn mine. And, I believe this applies to all relationships, not just those in business and industry. (You didn’t state that but I wanted to stress that as coming from someone who is retired)


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