Balloons

Your balloons, or mine?


I don’t know what it is about balloons that is so enchanting to kids. My children fight over balloons all the time, and I am sure yours might do the same. Whenever we get the chance to go to Red Robin for lunch or dinner, these kids simply cannot contain themselves with the excitement of the sight of those balloons that regularly sit right by the entrance. Instead of one balloon each, we often end up bringing about five or six home, thanks to the folks at Red Robin, as they are always kind enough to let kids have as many balloons as they want. But as many as they are allowed to have, they still fight over them - yours, or mine?


There’s a story of an instructor for a capacity building exercise. The instructor gave each participant in the seminar a balloon, and then invited each to blow air into it. Afterwards, she gave each person a marker pen with the instruction to write their names on their balloons. The instructor collected all of the balloons and let them loose in an adjoining room. 


All the participants were invited to then go into that room and find the balloon on which they wrote their name. You only have to imagine the chaos that subsequently enveloped the room. Each wanted to find their own balloon, the one that bore their name. For about fifteen minutes, each of the participants scrambled around while grabbing, checking, and tossing back those balloons which didn’t bear their name. In the process of this semi-organized melee, many of the balloons were burst, leaving some of the participants with none.



The instructor then invited the group back to the first room and gave each participant a new balloon, and again asked them to inflate it and write their name on it. The instructor took the balloons to the adjoining room and then let them loose once more. But this time, instead of each participant finding their ‘own’ balloons, they were invited to simply grab a balloon, any one of them, and if it didn’t contain their own name on it, they were to simply find the person whose name is written on it and hand it to them. The entire process took only a couple of minutes. Not only was it orderly, but not a single balloon was burst and so each participant received theirs, unharmed.


I thought this was a wonderful story. It is one which points at a much deeper human problem. If you think more broadly about the first scenario, you can draw that awful conclusion that in our attempt to actually seek what we believe or feel ‘BELONGS’ to us or, at least, has our name on it, it often doesn’t matter how we acquire it. Remember the phrase, "by any means necessary"? That’s how we often tend to want to claim what belongs to us. And in doing so it often doesn’t matter whether we hurt others or destroy what belongs to others in our attempt to seek what belongs to us.


The first chaotic scene I described above is simply a reflection of all our individual attempts to find our own balloons. See, our balloons are very dear to us, and we have to find them at any cost. The sad reality is that we can conveniently lay most of the problems of our world and our collective lives on the doorstep of our individual attempts to find our own balloons. Stephen Hawkins once noted that it is greed and stupidity that will end the human race. His sober thoughts might not be far from the truth.


The second scenario above was calm, collected, and intensely productive. In that one, there was no need to scramble or scream, struggle, or fight. There was no need to step on one another’s balloon in an attempt to get your own. Each participant knew that he or she was assured of a balloon - the kind of assurance which was absent in the first scenario. Each participant knew that receiving a balloon was a question of when, and not if. Think about how different our world, as well as our communal and individual lives, would be if we were intensely engaged in helping others find their balloons - or, in fact, finding their balloons for them.


One of the early Christian writers, Tertullian, once remarked that the one thing that converted him to Christianity was not the arguments, because he could find a counterpoint for every argument. Rather, they (Christians) demonstrated something he didn’t have: “The thing that converted me to Christianity was the way that they loved each other.” One way to rephrase that is to say, "the thing that converted me to Christianity was the way each found one another’s balloon for them, or helped each other find their balloons."


Our reality is one where we cannot live life as though we are looking for our own balloons. If anything at all, the spirit of Thanksgiving stands in direct contrast to this idea. Remember, the Pilgrims found it prudent and worthwhile to offer thanks because the Native Americans helped them to find their own balloons or found their balloons for them.


As we look towards celebrating the holidays with family and friends, we are reminded of the ethos that guides our interactions with others - it is not about fighting for only ourselves but it is about fighting for each other. Thanksgiving and Christmas are about goodwill, the kind that provides us with more than enough reason to help others find their balloons - or, better still, to find their balloons for them.


Yours, or mine? May this season be one of harnessing our collective energies in finding each other’s balloon.


~Manny

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