Aphorisms are dangerous things. We hear certain phrases so often that their sheer repetition has the power to lull us to sleep in the very face of their brutal truth and subtext. This repetition seemingly lessens the impact of such truisms, so I find it important to critique those phrases that we so often and offhandedly bandy about as conversational currency, a placeholder for real thought and original meaning. This sort of dilution of meaning is anathema to the underlying truth. What am I talking about? Let me give you an example that has been rattling around in my head and on my tongue for a few weeks now: I hear people all the time say, "A rising tide lifts all boats." We have John F. Kennedy to thank for popularizing the phrase, and ever since it has been a defense for capitalistic forces and the impact they have on the general economy and its participants. And so, ever after, we all take the phrase to mean that something like rising property values are a good thing, on the whole, as that upward trend presumably precipitated by investment and improvement raises all surrounding properties, regardless of their condition or previous value or history. And, every time I hear this, all I can think is:
Yeah, if you have a boat.
If you have a boat, you don't care about the tide - you simply ride it, at whatever level it seeks.
But, if you are out here treading water, it doesn't matter how deep the water is, how high the tide is. If you are out here treading water or toeing for the bottom or swimming for dry land, you are just trying to get to something you can hold onto, for now, for this breath and the next, trying to find something buoyant on that tide of time and toil that can sustain you. Dreaming of a boat seems futile, and does nothing for the here and now.
So, if you accept the premise that the rising tide only benefits those with boats, and if you also accept that the tide, like market forces, are pulled by some unseen force with its own gravity and inertia not to be fought or resisted in any substantive way, then my only question is:
How can we get more people in boats? How do we get everyone in a boat?
Those that are clinging to whatever scrap of wood or styrofoam cooler or inner tube, or even an overturned boat - how can we get them even the smallest vessel, or get their vessel righted, plug the leaks, give them an oar, and thus give them the ability to ride that tide, to raise their head and take stock of the view, to survey the horizon - to think about more than just keeping their head above water.
A rising tide should lift all souls - that is our goal.