Since I was about five I worked in my grandfather’s small meat business. He was a genius at finding creative affordable solutions to everyday problems and did well financially, sadly it was often at the expense of his relationship with everyone around him. A lot of people who new him use harsh words to describe him. I was fortunate to go on a trip to Europe with him and see his hometown in Germany and I was able to see a warmer side to him that most people never saw. I also recognized part of myself in him, I have the same ability to see what’s not right and to see the solution. I also have his potential to come off cold and rigid, I have seen how much trouble that caused my grandfather and so I do my best to hear, acknowledge, and have compassion for the feelings and opinions of others.
At the meat shop my grandfather often told me not to smarten up the other guy. He was referring to other businesses in the same industry near us and his belief was that if we helped these competitors they would take business away from us. There was a smaller family run sausage business in our neighborhood that had gone through some difficult times and was struggling to survive. They were buying some meat from my grandfather and he could see they were in need of guidance, he stayed silent out of fear that helping them would hurt his business.
Over the years there were several repeats of this scenario, the cycle continuing with my dad running the business as he also cautioned me not to smarten up the other guy. The belief of not helping others didn’t sit well with me and at the same time I didn’t know why, or have the knowledge or tools to speak up or act differently.
I was afraid my father and his father were right and if we helped the other guys they would take business away and we’d go bankrupt and be homeless.
In my twenties I fell in love with surfing and surfed as often as I could and traveled all over the pacific ocean in search of waves. As I was learning I ran into a familiar belief system, most surfers were unwilling to help anyone else learn about surfing or surf spots. They were afraid that if they helped someone learn how to surf there would be less waves for them. Also if they gave away any information or photos or video of a surf spot it would attract more people and there would be less waves for them.
There are stories of experienced surfers who went against the sharing taboo and told outsiders or surf media about secret spots and were then shunned by the surf gang that ruled that spot. This was very frustrating and heart breaking for me as I was so stoked and blown away by the joy and beauty of surfing that I wanted to share these feelings and amazing adventures with everyone. I was afraid that if I shared any knowledge about surfing that I would be blacklisted and my new love would be taken from me.
On the surface it seems like both my father and his father, and surfers are right, that if we give away knowledge we will loose business or waves and suffer. If we count the waves per day at a given surf spot and divide by the number of surfers then more surfers would equal less waves per surfer at that surf spot. And giving away secret sausage making tips will equate to less customers per sausage maker, people can only eat so much sausage per day right? These are factual statements and at the same time a very narrow view, a black and white perception that misses the rest of the full color spectrum. I’m reminded of the saying, what does it profit a person to gain the world and lose their soul? Or being a sausage king if most people hate you and all of your profits go to pay lawyers fees?
What’s the point of hoarding waves if you’re surrounded by a bunch of jerks?
How different could it be to get one wave or no waves and be surrounded by people who love and respect you? People who come from all over the world to hear what you have to say? People who are stoked to help you on their own dime, and won’t let you pay for anything? How would it feel to be adored and revered all your life, to have hundreds or even thousands of people at your funeral grieving your passing and telling all who will listen what a positive influence you were in their life? Might that feel better than a few hundred perfect epic barrels or a large bank account?
It seems to me that the following inventions exist because of crowded surf lineups: The modern high performance surfboard, the technology was created only because the market has grown big enough to make a return on the investment in materials and machinery. Same goes for leashes, super warm and flexible wetsuits, and surf charter yachts. And how about the wavegarden and other wave parks, boat waves, and off season surfing adventures like downwinders?
What about being able to quit that soul crushing job and surf for a living?
Pro surfers, instructors, guides, board makers, clothing and wetsuit makers, and most of the surf industry can feed their families because there are lots of surfers buying their goods and services.
For my father and his father the solution can be simple and universal. By giving away the secrets of the trade they can transition from producer to teacher. In doing so they are seen as masters, and hungry apprentices seek them out from all over the land. They become trusted allies of everyone in the industry. Shift from a hierarchical employer and employees business to a linear circular organization where everyone serves a vital purpose and profits are shared. In gratitude hundreds of people speak at their funeral about how thankful they are to have known my fathers and how their mentorship is something they hope to emulate.
There were many years that I felt the frustration and anger of those who were on the receiving end of my grandfather’s abrasiveness. I can only guess how many times I heard, “that old man is a blankety blank blank…” For me this wasn’t who he is, it was an accurate description of how he reacted to uncomfortable feelings.
My hunch is that growing up in Nazi Germany and leaving his home as a teenager triggered scary feelings of guilt about leaving, shame at not doing more, rage at those in power, anxiety that he might be next, fear that there is no safe place, alone and abandoned by everyone. Also moving to a foreign country and not speaking the language probably made it really difficult to talk to anyone or get any help with his inner turmoil. I suspect his was a hard experience to go through especially without the guidance or tools to make any sense of it all.
My Kung Fu Master grew up in a southern California ghetto and was surrounded by violence, he learned spiritual and physical tools to survive and be at peace with his life experiences. Quite often people will come to the studio or stop him on the street and say how glad they are to have had him in their life and how his influence changed their life for the better and how grateful they are to have him as a teacher. I agree with them and I feel the same way. I’m so grateful to have been shown the wisdom of being able to take care of myself physically and emotionally, to be aware of my thoughts and feelings, and have powerful inner tools to respond in a positive way and be content and at peace with all my feelings and any life situation.
My father and grandfather also teach me powerful lessons, often it was showing me what not to do. My understanding is that while learning in this way is hurtful it pretty much guarantees that I also learn to be compassionate, as being on the receiving end of abuse creates a strong desire to protect others and do my best to be a safe place for those who are suffering. Now that I have been given this knowledge and the tools to end the cycle of violence in my family and all my relationships it seems my purpose in life is to share this wisdom with all. For me this seems to be a great way to help others and experience the benefits of giving.