Friday, June 7, 2013

Boat people

A rising tide and all that
A rising tide lifts all boats....
-John F. Kennedy, October 3, 1963.

The provenance of this phrase has been traced to the slogan of the New England Council, a regional business organization. It is a phrase we hear from our own chamber and its satellite organizations, even more so recently. These days the phrase usually poses as an easy answer to difficult questions regarding who benefits from the economic development promised by the promised development of Rochester as a destination medical center. It goes something like this: "A rising tide lifts all boats," someone declaims. Those who own the boats nod approvingly.

"A rising tide lifts all boats" brings with it certain assumptions like, one has a boat. Some do not have boats. Some boats are not in good-repair. Some boats are very crowded. Rising tides swamp some boats. Other boats sink. Folks without boats drown (or, as we also hear to approving nods, they "sink or swim" and that seems to be all that needs saying about that).

President Kennedy also said that day, "I would like to see us in this decade preparing as we must for all of the people who will come after us." The conversation we must have in this decade cannot be just about the rising tide, it must also be about boats.

1 comment:

  1. Well said, Dave. The "rising tide" is one of those metaphors that deserves to be, ahem, scuttled. It's only natural to use metaphors and analogies to simplify complicated issues, but the thoughtful person knows when to leave the safe shallow waters of the easy metaphor and to wade into deeper thoughts. Let me immediately apologize for the soggy puns.

    As a person who is interested in the basis of thought and consciousness, I find it interesting that my reflexive reaction when someone uses this metaphor is to extend it in the manner that you have done here. This makes me wonder at the mechanisms of communication we all use. Putting aside my intellectual prattle for a moment, I acknowledge the pathos underlying your message. An oversimplified metaphor can cause real human suffering.