Paul Bunyan and the Very Cold Winter

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Paul Bunyan was a giant lumberjack. His working companion was Babe the Blue Ox. By giant, think of Clifford the big red dog. Clifford could have joined Babe as one of Paul’s sidekicks.

Stories of Paul Bunyan first started circulating in North American logging camps in the early to mid 1800s. The first time a Paul Bunyan story was seen in print was in 1904 in Duluth, Minnesota.

As a kid, I remember hearing and reading a number of Paul Bunyan stories. I’ve forgotten most, but one stuck in my mind because it painted a vivid picture.

You guessed it – that story is the title of today’s post.

Here’s how it goes – one winter, it was so cold in the logging camp, that whenever a word was spoken it instantly froze into a block of ice and dropped to the ground. It was never heard.

The only way to have a conversation was to throw the frozen words into the bunkhouse stove or camp fire (in the proper order mind you). As they melted, they finally became audible.

This of course was a major obstacle in transacting both the business and social life of the logging camp. Imagine trying to tell a joke.

The frozen words, however, did have one benefit. An angry, hastily spoken, or unkind word could simply be scooped up and melted in the fire when no one else was around. Sort of like an “undo” button.

The moral of the story? Words matter. A lot. And once spoken, we can’t take them back.

Take a look at the photo. It’s a close up of the coachroof of my sailboat. I snapped it just as the sun was rising.

When I first came up the companionway with my coffee, all I saw was a wet deck. When I zoomed in, however, details emerged. I could see individual drops of moisture, the texture of my weatherdeck, and the sun’s soft illumination as it was rising.

As leaders, a lot of us are responsible for overseeing the “big picture.” This is both vital and necessary for the accomplishment of our organization’s goals.

But, that large tapestry is actually comprised of individuals. To see them, we need to pause – and zoom in.

Our world is getting more divided and a lot angrier. This affects all of us, including the individuals we lead or have influence with.

This week, pause – then choose one person you can zoom in on. Speak positive words into their life.

Here are three ideas. Please add your own.

  1. Words of Encouragement – we can help pick someone up when they are discouraged.
  2. Words of Affirmation – we can let someone know that we see them and that they have value.
  3. Words of Appreciation – we can offer thanks or appreciation to someone for something they have done or what they mean to us.

Oh – and sending a hand written note also “speaks” to someone in a very personal way. It’s sort of a lost art these days, but as leaders we can bring it back.

Words matter. Leaders initiate.

Who needs to hear a word from you this week?

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