Attack Every Problem Like A Lion Traps An Ant
Lately, my wife and I have been having trouble with our water heater. Over the last few months we’ve been finding the blower blowing but no gas running along with it to actually heat our water. Recently, the gas would turn on for only 10 minutes before shutting off, leaving the blower going, sometimes all night while we slept.
You don’t fully appreciate what you have until you’re threatened with losing it, especially hot water. So my wife leapt into action. She engaged in a dialogue with a repair company (which sent their crack water heater man out several times) as well as with our water heater manufacturer. Emails and phone calls were exchanged. She read online manuals and articles, trying to diagnose our problem. She went over her findings with me in painstaking detail, and we finally figured out the blower wasn’t generating enough pressure to safely expel the carbon monoxide waste so the gas was actually being shut off by the unit appropriately. But because the water temperature hadn’t reached its set point, the blower would continue to run, further wearing it down and decreasing the amount of pressure it could generate, exacerbating the problem.
So my wife called in a plumber to drop a camera into our water heater exhaust pipe to see if some obstruction had arisen that had increased the resistance to flow just enough to cause the safety switch to shut off the gas to prevent a dangerous build up of carbon monoxide. We found an excessive build up of lint in our drier line, but nothing in our water heater line.
As I watched my wife struggle with these issues, I couldn’t help but think of a famous Buddhist quotation: “The lion king is said to advance three steps, then gather himself to spring, unleashing the same power whether he traps a tiny ant or attacks a fierce animal.”
HOW A LION ATTACKS
A lion doesn’t judge the strength of its opponent and adjust the force of its attack. It aims to completely overwhelm its adversary every single time with the full force of its might. It doesn’t matter how strong or weak its adversary is. The lion doesn’t care. It’s intimidated by nothing because it considers itself supreme—that is, supremely capable.
Without a doubt, this describes my wife perfectly.
APPLYING THE LION’S STRATEGY
Many benefits exist to taking the lion’s approach to solving problems.
- A fearful person can accomplish little even with the most effective tools. In dispensing with an assessment of its adversary’s strength, a lion maintains its courage. A lion would never say to itself (if it could talk): “This elephant is too big. I can never win. I won’t even try.” Not that we should deliberately avoid analyzing a problem to figure out the best way to solve it. But if we let that analysis discourage or intimidate us, we’re defeated before we ever start to fight. Another great Buddhist saying applies here: “A sword is useless in the hands of a coward.”
- Attacking everything with 100% effort guards us against regret. Even if we fail, feeling as if we did our very best, that we pulled out reserves of strength we didn’t know we had, can engender a feeling of satisfaction, of a battle well fought, even if all our efforts come to nothing.
- Unforeseen obstacles almost always arise when we seek to accomplish almost anything. If a lion is unwary, even an ant might find a way to escape it. Many people get discouraged by everyday problems because they anticipate needing only 25% of their energy, or 50% of their energy to deal with it, when in reality they need 90% or more. If we begin, continue, and conclude our attack with 100% effort the entire time, never relaxing our guard for a moment, we’ll enjoy the greatest likelihood of success, being as prepared as possible for a powerful obstacle we weren’t anticipating. We’re most able to maintain that kind of intense effort if we maintain it consistently, not for a moment letting up. We’re more likely to see more, catch more, and simply be more effective when our fires are fully stoked and therefore able to provide instant responses to surprising twists in the road.
- Winning builds confidence. Watching our full power flow out of us as we repeatedly face down problem after problem engenders confidence we can succeed no matter what obstacle appears next. Genuine confidence only comes from experience with victory.
In the end, my wife persevered and the water heater manufacturer relented by sending us a new blower. When the water heater man replaced it, he found caulk had been inappropriately applied to the outflow manifold as well as to the joint between the blower and the outflow pipe, narrowing the diameter of the outflow path in two places just enough to increase the resistance to flow beyond what the blower could handle. When he replaced it with the new one, the pressure increased by nearly 50%.
Though discouraged at several points, uncertain if we’d ever be able to diagnose the problem much less fix it, my wife never gave up, never slowed the pace at which she attacked the problem or decreased the energy she brought to bear on it, reminding me once again of this most basic formula: tenacity + 100% effort = victory.
Next week: Why We Don’t Know Better