On being ... questioned

By Ingrid Sapona

One day last week I went down to the boat to rig it. The first few years I had the boat, every fall I carefully labeled every item as I took it off, noting exactly where and how it was connected. Those first few springs, with the help and patience of some girlfriends, I managed to re-rig it. Eventually I realized I can do most of the rigging myself, but there are a few things -- like attaching the boom -- that do require a second set of hands. Fortunately, there’s usually someone nearby when I need a quick hand.

The boat came with a furling jib. I love having it, but the mechanics behind it are still somewhat of a mystery to me. That said, over the years I’ve had to troubleshoot some problems, so I’ve learned a thing or two about it. One of the main things I learned is that my furler isn’t a particularly common brand (at least at my club) and there are some very distinct differences between mine and some of the more popular makes and models. In other words, I’ve learned the hard way that what works on other furlers doesn’t necessarily work on mine.

Anyway, the other day I was contentedly puttering away, attaching the jib. Some of the steps are a bit finicky, but everything was going well. As I was raising the sail, a friend stopped and asked if I needed a hand. I had everything under control, but it is a bit easier with two -- one person to hold the line (him) and one person to cleat it off (me). So I said sure and handed him the line.

As I bent down to cleat it, he asked why I was doing it there. I told him that that’s where the line goes. He said, “Why don’t you cleat it off at the mast? That way, if you want to adjust it later, it’s easier to reach it.” I told him that though it was somewhat inconvenient, this was where it had to be cleated. He then asked, “Why?” I said I didn’t know why exactly, but I assured him it was cleated there for a reason.

To my less-than-informative response he then said, “I’m sure you could cleat it off at the mast -- that’s where I cleat mine”. A few minutes later I remembered why I can’t cleat it at the mast -- it has to do with one of the significant design differences between my furler and most other brands (including his). So, as I started on the next step (attaching the jib sheets -- the lines that control the jib while under sail), I explained the reason I cleat it where I do.

Attaching my jib sheets happens to be one of the particularly finicky steps. The sheets are quite thick and every spring it’s a struggle to get the two of them through the clew (a metal ring at one of the bottom corners of the sail). I know they both fit through, it’s just a matter of muscle and patience.

When he saw me struggle with the sheets, he asked why I use such thick lines. My answer, however unsophisticated, was because they are the jib sheets the sail came with. I assured him the sheets fit and I continued working. As I struggled with them, I figured the next question would be, “Why is that clew so small?” Fortunately, he spared me that question!

Next, I wanted to test to see whether the jib furled and unfurled. At this point I ran into a problem -- one that I’ve encountered before. After cursing it, I proceeded to start fixing it. This immediately provoked further questions and suggestions. I didn’t have answers to all the questions, but I rejected all of his suggestions, explaining that all I know is that my method -- though painstaking -- worked, so that was how I intended to proceed. At this point, sensing my exasperation with his “help”, he took leave.

Left alone, I eventually managed to finish the job. All the way home, I replayed the conversation in my head, trying to figure out why I was so annoyed at the questions. If there’s anyone who should be open to questions, it’s me. I’ve always lived by the rule that there’s no such thing as a stupid question and that, as my father used to say, “questions are free”. And yet, if he’d have asked me one more, I think I’d have completely lost it.

I know part of my reaction was because I somehow took the exchange personally. But why? Sure, some of the questions were a pretext for offering unsolicited advice. But why couldn’t I just take the advice or leave it? After all, I know this guy pretty well and I think he meant well.

I realized that every time he asked something that I didn’t have a specific, reasoned answer for, I felt stupid. And, even though I knew what I was doing, in the face of question after question that I didn’t have a ready answer for, I felt inadequate, which was absurd. Sadly, this wasn’t the first time I’ve had this type of exchange and have experienced these feelings, which is why it was important for me reflect on it. Eventually it dawned on me that though I may not have lacked skill or knowledge, what I did lack was self-confidence.

In reflecting further on this type of interchange, I’m happy to report that I’ve come up with the ultimate response -- one that’s so straightforward and definitive, it’s bound to end the discussion right then and there. (Frankly, I’m embarrassed that I haven’t come up with this before -- but maybe it has something to do with the fact that I don’t have children.) Anyway, I think you’ll agree -- in some situations, the best response is the tried-and-true, “Because I said so.” Go ahead, give it a try -- I’ll bet it works!

© 2008 Ingrid Sapona


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