Rescued from Skating on Thin Ice
Overwhelmed by the throng of people whooshing past me, I drifted to the outer edge of the pond, unaware that I’d wandered onto thin ice. Suddenly, the ice gave out under me—the next thing I knew I was up to my armpits in water, clinging to the edge of broken ice.
The blue sky and sparkling sun was reflecting off the ice when my sisters and I had arrived at the ice skating rink on a back slew of the Mississippi River. As was common in the 1960s when we were kids, our mom had dropped us off and returned home to her chores. Seeing couples skating arm-in-arm and kids zipping around playing tag, I couldn’t wait to to join this enchanting scene. But as we started to circle the rink, I felt a little wobbly. While finding my “skating legs,” I fell behind my sisters, who had swooshed off with the crowd.
One of my sisters saw me fall through the ice and skated over to help. She inched toward me and tried to grab my hand, but the ice began to crack under her skates and water crept up her feet. Someone grabbed her and pulled her back. A crowd gathered around me. Everyone froze in the moment.
Out of nowhere, a strong young man skated up and—with one swift move—yanked me out of the water, set me down on solid ice … then skated away. This Un-Named Hero had just saved my life.
The crowd buzzed with shock and awe. Someone scolded me for skating on thin ice. Many inquired where our mom was. As I stood there shivering and wet, a Kind Woman stepped forward and took charge of the situation. She ushered my sister (whose feet had gotten wet) and me into the Warming Hut, got us out of our wet snowsuits, and served us hot cocoa. The Kind Woman did her best to warm and comfort us, then ordered her husband to drive us home.
Occasionally, I ponder … what if I had fallen completely under and couldn’t find the opening in the ice? What if my sister had fallen through trying to help me? What if my Un-Named Hero had not ventured onto the scene and taken swift action? What if the ice had broken under him during his rescue attempt?
Thinking about these terrifying possibilities still makes me shudder. But the magical parts of this story are just as vivid. Loyalty, bravery, and kindness saved me from disaster. These virtues also help us in the ordinary moments of everyday life.
Thin Ice Episode Teaches about Everyday Acts of Bravery
Until the Polar Vortex, Minnesota had a mild winter. With it has come a rash of accidental deaths from people falling through the ice. Every time I hear about one of these tragedies, I shudder and recall this story (which I originally posted in 2015). This tale offer timeless lessons relevant to leadership and collaboration, so I decided to resurrect the story and share it again.
On rare occasions, we are presented with the opportunity—and possess the necessary skills—to act with the gallantry of my Un-Named Hero, who skated over thin ice to rescue me. But there are many moments in our professional lives where small acts of bravery separate leaders from followers. Those with the courage to take initiative to pioneer new solutions will help their organizations excel. Brave leaders raise difficult issues, provide tough feedback, and share unpopular opinions. What holds people back from these bold actions? Fear of being judged … fear of being rejected … fear of failing … fear of losing control. With less fear and more courage, workers take on harder projects, deal better with change, and are more willing to speak up about important issues. Think of colleagues who demonstrate “everyday bravery” and how you can be more like them.
It’s easy to be loyal when you don’t have to give up anything. But loyalties are put to a test when it costs you something to stand by a friend or colleague. Many business situations, ranging from corporate lay-offs to petty office politics, test our loyalties. Roles and relationships shift and priorities evolve, which can strain co-workers’ bonds. My sister’s impulsive attempt to rescue me represents the unfiltered loyalty of a child for a loved one. In the workplace, you’re tested when you have to struggle with loyalty to a boss versus a colleague or the company versus a friend. Often, people choose personal recognition rather than giving credit to their teams. Think of a time when someone stood by you when it wasn’t easy for him/her. Is there a time when you stood by someone and it cost you. Was loyalty worth the price?
The moment of my rescue was heroic, but the Kind Woman showed another form of bravery. She saved me from the very serious danger of hypothermia. She also gave us emotional comfort and security. While some in the crowd scolded me for wandering onto thin ice and criticized my mother for her absence, she chose kindness over judgment. In his Forbes article about brave leaders, David K. Williams observes, “It takes more courage to choose kindness over rudeness.” Have you experienced judgment and acrimony during adversity? In contrast, have you benefited from random acts of kindness? Which type of leader is easier to follow?
Despite my close call, I remain enchanted with walking or skating on frozen lakes and ponds. I relish the adventure of frozen waters. I’ve learned to watch for warning signs of thin ice and proceed with bravery but caution … a lesson for business and life.