24 October 2006

Black Box Theory

In browsing information about sailing, I have come across the works of John Vigor. I've got a few of his books on order from Amazon, and will blog about them later. But for today, I want to talk about the Black Box. In his article, John tells us:

In 1986, when I started fitting out my own 31-footer, Freelance, for a voyage from Durban to the United States, I reduced the Fifth Essential to a simple system of accident prevention. In the Freelance corollary to the theory, every boat possesses an imaginary black box, a sort of bank account in which points are kept. In times of emergency, when there is nothing more to be done in the way of sensible seamanship, the points from your black box can buy your way out of trouble. You have no control over how the points are spent, of course; they withdraw themselves when the time is appropriate. You do have control over how the points get into the box: you earn them. For every seamanlike act you perform, you get a point in the black box. Points come in so many ways it would be impossible to list them all. But I can send you in the right direction. Let's say you're planning a weekend cruise down the coast, and time is precious. You have been wondering for some weeks if you ought to haul out the bosun's chair and inspect the masthead fittings. It has been a couple of years since you checked everything up there, but it would mean delaying your departure by an hour, maybe more, should you have to change a shackle or something. If you finally give in to the nagging voice inside you and go aloft, you earn a point in the box. If you don't take that trouble, your black box will stay empty. If you sniff the bilges for fumes before pushing the starter button, you'll score a point, just as you will for taking a precautionary reef at nightfall or checking the expiration date on your rocket flares. Thinking and worrying about what could happen is also a good way to earn points - if the wind started blowing into your quiet anchorage at 40 miles an hour and the engine wouldn't start, or whether you should put a couple of reefs in the mainsail before you climb into your bunk, just in case. No matter how good your seamanship, there are times when there is nothing left to do but batten down the hatches and pray. If you have a credit balance of points in the box, you'll be all right. People will say you're lucky, of course. They'll say a benign fate let you get away with it. But we know better. That luck was earned, maybe over quite a long period.
In a boat, of course, this makes perfect sense. But it also makes sense in the rest of life. Jason and I have started referring to tasks as "black box." Do you fold the laundry out of the drier, or just toss it on the bed? Black Box. It gets folded. Do you wash the dish you just used, or do you set it, crusty food and all, on the counter for someone else to do? Black Box. It gets washed. It's interesting to see our attitude to our home and our stuff change. And it's interesting to feel the energy change. When more is done, more is do-able. It's like all of a sudden, it's all more manageable. I'm not sure how that works, or why, but I can tell you that I'm feeling mighty fine about the state of the Black Box.


At 10/24/2006 08:52:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

You might want to read "His Needs, Her Needs" which is all about this exact topic. It's an excellent book, but only useful if both partners in the relationship read it and comprehend it. In other words, you have to both be committed to working on your relationship instead of just making it all about yourself.

At 10/25/2006 10:01:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Keep accumulating those karma brownie points! ;-)

At 10/28/2006 02:02:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Yeah mate, you've only got two kids, sometimes you just have to ditch the drier load on the bed, so you can empty the washer into the drier, just as you fly out the door to music practice, or you'll never keep up. We've found if we fold the washing on the pool table, the lads will put it away so they can play pool or table tennis, go the teenagers - that's points for their black boxes I'm calling :)

Love Lizzie


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