A few months ago I started out on some personal enrichment. I never read much as a youngster. Not because I couldn’t, but rather because the things we were expected to read in school never really captivated me. Now, looking back I wish I’d buckled down and dropped myself into some of these stories. Nevertheless, I’m doing it now. And this week I’ve completed Moby Dick. I thought I’d pass along a few nuggets, if you don’t mind.
#1. Take time to learn about the people around you.
I’m not naturally good at this. I get really focused on my todo list and quickly shut out the world to get this stuff done. Our team has been reading this book on leadership by John Maxwell. He had a colleague like me who was focused on productivity but often walked through the lobby, passing his co-workers without even a simple greeting. One day, John confronted him. This guy defended his actions by saying, “I have a lot of work to do and I wanted to get started on it.” John’s response hit me in the chest, “You just walked past your work. Never forget that [it’s] all about people,” (The 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership, John C. Maxwell). Yup. I wish this was more natural for me. But it’s not. I have to work really hard to stay engaged and not get distracted by my lists.
#2. Don’t abandon the story in the middle, even if you don’t understand where it’s going.
This book was a lot longer than I thought it was when I started it. That’s the trouble with audiobooks and ebooks. A 1000-page book weighs the same as a 12-page children’s book when you start the prologue. But get 60 chapters in and read about all the random details of a whale’s swimming patterns and you start to wonder what the heck is going on anymore. I feel that way sometimes. I feel that way right now actually. A few years ago, Kelley and I knew what we were doing with our lives; where we were going as a family. Then we moved to North Carolina and things got really hard. Nothing really made much sense. It felt like we were spinning our wheels to find a mission we were as involved with as the one we left in Alabama. I don’t know why we couldn’t gain traction. It still feels that way, although, we have a sense of things on the horizon. I have to believe that if we keep turning pages, keep listening to what the Author is saying, we’ll start to see it come together.
I’m still not sure that all those details about Tashtego and the deceptive bone structure of the White Whale were structurally necessary for this book, but it did create a sense of investment in me that once I got to the chase, I was an educated and informed participant in the story. Maybe that’s true for life too. Maybe all the little details matter a lot. Maybe some of them don’t matter at all, but regardless, because of the details, I’m invested to the end.
#3. Rage can consume you, leading you to lose everything you’ve worked your life to gain.
Bold and fearless as he was, Ahab let his loss eat him alive. I’ve seen it before. It’s not all that uncommon to lose a leg in the pursuit of your calling, and when that happens you just want to fight back. But let that rage go untamed and it will lead you aground, bashed and broken, not once, but over and over again until all you’ve worked for is turned to splinters left floating in in the sea.
I don’t know much about the South African track star who’s been in the news lately. I was so impressed with him at the Olympics this past summer. He was so inspiring. We don’t know yet what happened behind closed doors at his house on Valentine’s Day this year, but it’s not looking good for him. His girlfriend is dead. There’s a weapon and a stack of evidence against him. Going from being born without a fibula in both legs to running quite impressively on carbon blades in the 2012 Summer Olympics – that’s not something that happens overnight. But in a matter of minutes, his reputation and his career are washed away. All of it… gone. Just like that. His own rage seems to have dashed his future against the rocks.
#4. The pursuit of vengeance threatens the life of the people most loyal to you, while your adversary goes free.
It’s easy to see this if you’re perch is lofty enough to see the big picture. The trouble comes in trying to keep that perspective and stay alert in the thick of it. When your heart is consumed, you cannot easily stop it until there’s nothing left. And sadly, everyone around you has either abandoned you or been mortally wounded because of you.
Here’s the thing. Our adversary (the Bible calls him the devil), will always find ways to distract you from what matters most. And what matters most is always people. I’m constantly finding myself fighting the wrong battles and getting so tunneled in that I can’t remember why I started fighting in the first place. I’m not a good fighter, admittedly. When my wife and I argue I get locked in on one little thing and scrutinize it to death to the point that I dramatically detour the the conversation and we end up fighting for hours over something that may have only taken a few minutes of humble, respectful conversation. But instead I want to defend my right-ness before the court. And the only one who wins is the devil. Meanwhile, my wife and I are both laying on the battlefield covered in unnecessary wounds. It’s a mess.
Ishmael was the only survivor which left him the responsibility and the power to tell the story. I’m sure Ahab would have told it differently and may have had the opportunity to do so had he been wiser. But he was consumed and only death could satisfy. And death he did find.