Do you know any POWs? My friend Dave Carey* was a prisoner of war in Vietnam. He shared that when a U.S. soldier would be captured, he was thrown into a prison cell where he felt isolated and terrified.
Fortunately, a trick the more experienced prisoners had learned in order to make contact with each other was a covert way to determine if someone in the neighboring cells was a fellow countryman. They would quietly tap out a rhythm on the wall.
They’d knock, “shave and a haircut.” This tempo was very familiar to Americans but was indistinguishable to others. When a double-knock came back in the rhythm of “two bits,” they knew they had a friend nearby. Can you imagine the tremendous comfort such a simple call and response generated?
“Are you out there or am I in this scary place all alone?” the question would go out.
“I am here with you.” the answer would come back.
Even through walls, the men in those camps created a community. They used morse code to talk, to encourage one another after difficult beatings, and to perform imaginary talent shows. They were literally one another’s lifelines.
I have often thought about this story and how it illustrates the life-saving power of community.
And while today most of us are not enduring anything so threatening, I see lessons for the new challenges we face.
Nowadays, it’s easy to feel isolated. Many of us move away from our home towns, we live busier lives in which the time for interpersonal connection is more limited, and we experience the pressure to show only our “good” side on social media. In some ways we are alone in “cells.”
I’m prone to loneliness so it’s especially easy for me to feel separated. Then, occasionally, I remember to ask, “Is anyone there?” “Have you ever been in the boat that I’m in?”
When I do, inevitably a reassuring answer comes back, “You’re not alone.” I’m here with you!” “I’ve been where you are.”
WOW, that is so comforting! Why don’t I reach out to the community around me more often?
I think I just forget that I can. I wonder if you do, too? Well I want us both to stop forgetting!
The uber-comforting power of realizing we are not alone is the reason I created the Advice Column podcast. It’s a place where we remind each other that we aren’t alone. It’s a vehicle for sharing ideas to help one another grow, and it’s a platform where you can always hear an enthusiastic knock back on the wall, “TWO BITS!”
We need your experiences, your feelings and your learning. Thank you for being an indispensable part of the community that believes WE’RE BETTER TOGETHER.
Dave Carey’s book, The Ways We Choose