Can I help you start?

by Charlie D. Harper on June 30, 2012

“That’s more impressive than anything I’ve ever done.”
The man who said it was faceless, passing my house at twilight as I worked on my boat in the driveway.

I wanted to wave away the mystique of accomplishment and told him he could do it too.

“All you have to do is start.”

That’s what I said to him.

“All you have to do is start.”

I meant it as an invitation.

 

My well-to-do burby neighborhood has watched in supportive fascination as one of their own removed his Gray Flannel Suit and took a public risk by creating something.

It’s getting close to finished now, and actually looks like a boat to even the most casual observer. That, combined with the increased summer foot-traffic, has brought a host of well-wishers past to wave encouragement.

 

I love it.

 

Everyone has in them excitement, ability, and genius.
In most of us they lie dormant; stifled by expectations and fear or numbed away by television or the web.

 

Working on my boat is how I proselytize. Maybe filling my driveway with wood shavings can inspire someone to learn a language, take the quilting lessons they’ve always wanted, or write the novel that’s aching to get out.

Every time I wave back to someone, or answer their questions about the project, I hope I’ve incited them to act.

“All you have to do is start.”

It should have been innocuous, a take-it-or-leave-it suggestion of future possibility.
But he didn’t take it that way.

In an abstract “I’m not really interested, but I’m willing to dispute the point” way he talked about the knowledge or skill necessary to start such a thing.

On its face, what I’m doing appears to require great skill. In reality, a couple of library books, $200 in hand tools, and courage (or naivete) are enough to start. But how could he know that? I didn’t know it until the boat was half finished.

I should have conceded and re-issued the invitation another day; a day when we could talk without shouting across a yard, read intentions on each others faces, and when I could find out what excited him.

 

I should have, but I didn’t.

 

“All you have to do is start”.

I only said it once, but it landed so badly that it echoes in my mind.

After he disappeared into the dark I thought to track him down, apologize, and explain that I intended to invite rather than belittle. It was too late though. I didn’t know which way he went, and with the sky fading into night I had no idea what he even looked like.

So, I let him go.

After sitting with it for a few days I’ve realized my mistake:

 

People have to know you, or think they do, before you can inspire them. Prior to relationship it is presumptuous to suggest they change their priorities and, by extension, their lives.

 

In the absence of relationship the question isn’t innocuous, it’s pejorative.

Perhaps a better question is the one I ask you…

“Can I help you start?”

{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

Shanna Mann July 4, 2012 at 1:34 pm

Great point, Charlie. You need to show people you’ve been where they are before they believe they can follow you out.

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Charlie Harper July 4, 2012 at 11:01 pm

Thanks Shanna, you wrapped it up in one clean, concise sentence. That’s a nice turn of phrase.

Reply

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