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“Go with the flow” is a recommendation we hear a lot. It has suggestions of a casual, hey-ho-whatever attitude and so it’s easy to reject it out of hand. Think about it a little longer and you can see that the currents of change, like the tide, are irresistable. ‘Go with the flow’ might be more that good advice.

I used to live near one of the fastest flowing tidal rivers in England. When we’d hire boats the standard advice was “if you travel with the tide, allow twice as long for the return journey”. This meant that if you hired a boat for an hour, and you set off in the direction the river was flowing, you had to start the return journey after 20 minutes, because you’d be struggling against the current for the remaining 40.

That was years ago, and if it has stayed with me it’s because it made an impression on me. Whatever the reason, I learned a long time ago to ‘go with the flow’ and only to fight the current when I have to.

It’s a philosophy that has served me well, but I’ve found that a lot of people don’t agree. Some seem to think life should be a struggle or a fight, and others think that “go with the flow” is some sort of passive, fatalistic, new-age mantra that writes me off as weak or unable to fight my corner when I think it’s important.

What it doesn’t mean

Going with the flow doesn’t mean giving up, not caring, nor being disengaged. To continue the metaphor, river banks are interesting places with a lot going on. You still have to navigate though (and steering with the current behind you needs a lot more skill that steering into the current). What’s more, if you have ever travelled by river, you’ll know that you get a completely different perspective on the places you pass through, and a river can take you to some really interesting and important ones.

People on the road see only the facades of buildings for example. From the river, you get to see the backs of building, gardens, wild nature and all sorts of hidden spaces reserved for the few. And you can stop off any time you choose.

If you have never tried it, I recommend river travel and, needless to say, I also think it’s a good idea to go with the flow and save your energy for the important trips.


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