Boats and Buildings: An Analogy For Your Social Supports

black and white image of a sailing boat

Last night a friend of mine and I were discussing life, as we do in Peace Corps, and our personal social support systems. Who are our friends? What do they mean to us? Where do they fit in our respective lives. Over the course of the discussion an analogy emerged about friendship; about the different types of support people get from their friends, and I liked the analogy so I thought that I would share it: as an individual, depending on your support system, you are either a boat, or a building. Neither is better or worse than the other, and there are some distinct advantages and disadvantages to each, and obviously in reality it’s not so black and white, but give me a chance to explain.

Boats

Boats are craft designed to move around over the waters of the world. Their world is inherently a moving world, even when they desire to stay relatively fixed, and as a result they must learn to sometimes just ebb and flow with the currents that take them. A boat’s support is an anchor. Anchors are extremely beneficial to a boat because they allow a boat to pick a spot to stay at for the time being and while their world moves around, find some sense of calm. When they are ready to go, boats can pull their anchors up with them and move on to the next stage of life, knowing always their support is there with them.

Problems for boats arise when they lose their anchor. Without an anchor, a boat is constantly forced to move about, most likely heading for the nearest harbor or port to put up in dry dock for an anchor refitting. But boats do not last long in dry dock, as their structures are designed to be floated, and without constant attention and unnatural external support structures they will actually collapse in on themselves. The casual example of this that my friend shared was that of the stereotyped old man who has lost his wife, the love of his life, and passes away briefly afterwards. Sometimes anchors are just that important.

Being a boat primarily, may also mean that you find yourself as someone else’s anchor (obviously in real life, boats and anchors don’t work this way). Problems can arise when one person’s anchor is inherently not a boat, and is unwilling to travel around, to ebb and flow through life. If your anchor cannot come with you, or will not come with you, it may be hard to find peace in your journeys.

Buildings

On the flip-side of boats are buildings. Buildings are people who have developed a foundation of friends, preferably dug deep for an even more solid footings. Though no single individual in this group may shine above the rest, it is only because all of them are so important. When a building is having problems, the problems can be distributed amongst different friends, never putting too much stress on a single person (some friends may exist to help with specific problems). Depending on the strength of the foundation, buildings can grow tall, and become even larger than the largest boats, but at steep costs.

Buildings cannot ebb and flow, and though they may sway in the breeze, their ability to journey is limited. The deeper their roots, their foundation, the harder it is to move locations. Though a boat may lose an anchor and potentially survive, a building losing its foundation is an almost guaranteed tragedy.

What is both a curse and wonder of foundations is that a solid foundation rarely needs constant attention. Sometimes, a completely unattended foundation might allow small problems to escalate into friendship-shattering problems, but by striking a healthy balance of giving attention depending on each unique part of the foundation, a building is able to grow tall and mighty. However, even the strongest buildings will need their lally columns, those not-quite-foundation individuals that are still ever critical to holding a building upright.

Some buildings are built on slab foundations. With a slab foundation, there is a very real sense of support every day. Your foundation is constantly beneath your feet, you feel it, you attend to it every day, and you may think it is the best thing in the world. But beware slab foundations, as the true strength of a foundation lies in its depth, and though you might not be as immediately aware of a more depthful foundation, it is ever more important than the sense of constant support granted by a slab foundation.

There you have it. Boats and buildings. Please feel free to tell me what you think. It’s not a perfect analogy of course, nothing is, but I liked the fit of it.

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3 Comments

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3 responses to “Boats and Buildings: An Analogy For Your Social Supports

  1. Andrew Carroll

    I like the analogy. But I love the fact that you hot linked lally column. Amazing. Even though I know what they are I clicked the link to see what wikipedia said. I didn’t know they were invented in Massachusetts, although there are no footnotes so I don’t know where that came from.

  2. glad you liked it andy. I figured you of all people would appreciate the lally column reference. I was trying to explain them to my friend, and he’s like, “I have no idea what you are talking about.” Turns out people in California don’t really build basements! Who knew?!