A program caught my eye, from one of the TV screens hanging in a row in front of the cardio equipment at my gym. When I use the elliptical or treadmill, usually I’m engrossed in my own podcast or audiobook and I don’t pay a lot of attention to the televisions. But something about this one — “Mythbusters” on the Discovery Channel — drew me in.
The show follows investigators who use the scientific method to test the plausibility or veracity of rumors, urban legends, movie scenes, adages, and news stories. I don’t think I’d ever seen an episode before, and I missed the beginning of this one, so it took me a minute to understand what I was watching. They were in a workshop, rolling out sheets of thin metal foil, which turned out to be lead. They designed and attempted to construct various hollow forms with it — a cube, a geodesic sphere, a pillowy shape. I was delighted when I put it together and realized that they were making a “lead balloon.”
I’m not sure where I picked up the phrase (probably from my parents); I say it plenty: “That’ll go over like a like balloon.” Meaning — the idea’s not going to fly, the joke is going to ka-thunk, it’s sure to be a disaster, a flop, a failure.
I usually think it or say it regarding something that at least part of me wants to try. I’ve got the impulse, the inspiration. But I talk myself out of it because I can anticipate everything that might go wrong with it. I imagine that it will be poorly received, or misunderstood, or that it simply won’t work for any number of reasons. It’s ill-conceived. A freakin’ lead balloon — how ridiculous! — everyone knows that lead balloons can’t fly.
Well, the Mythbusters team made one that did. It took some figuring out — how to maximize the volume and minimize the surface area; how to work with the very fragile material, adjusting the ratio of helium in the gas with which they filled it because too much or too fast would tear it at the seams…
But in the end, the point was made — a lead balloon is not necessarily doomed. A lead balloon is a possibility
Just because something seems to defy common sense doesn’t mean that it can’t, nevertheless, happen. Even things that haven’t worked in the past, that we’ve tried unsuccessfully and deemed fruitless, with a bit of imagination and adjustment might fly if given another chance.
Maybe we need to tweak the proportions, or bring in other collaborators, or invite a different perspective on the problem. Maybe we need to step back and reconsider some of our fundamental assumptions.
A lot of the time, I think, it might be simply a matter of giving up our emotional investment in the impossibility of something.
Once we’ve decided that something is outside the realm of possibility, we relieve ourselves of responsibility for it. If we say, “It’s too late… too complicated… too expensive… the powers that be won’t stand for it… I don’t have the resources, the time, the ability…” then we don’t have to try anymore. The temptation to declare something impossible can be especially strong if we’ve lost or failed in the past, been thwarted or embarrassed. To avoid getting hurt again, we can just close off that whole corner of the sky.
It can feel safer and quite sensible to do so. Sadly, it’s also the very definition of discouragement. Because we’ve been disappointed or discouraged before, we subsequently un-courage ourselves going forward. Like lead balloons afraid to crash again, we preemptively choose a reality in which we were never meant to fly.
It doesn’t have to be this way, or stay this way (thank you, Mythbusters). We can re-open our hearts and minds to a world of possibility.
I’m not talking about outlandish fantasy or wishful thinking. I’m not talking about a divorce from factual reality and practical considerations. I am suggesting that if we’ve judged ourselves insufficient to our hearts’ desires, then we ought to reconsider our capacities. If we’re stuck in bleak assumptions of inevitability, everything broken, all that the world will not allow, please — let’s take another look.
Fact is, we have access to more knowledge than ever before. Fact is, there are more of us aware of each other and ourselves than ever before. Truth is, we are rich and mighty, capable and connected. Victor Hugo said, “Nothing else in the world is so powerful as an idea whose time has come.” It’s up to each of us to bring the ideas, infused with a sense of possibility. Up, up, and away, my friends.
I can’t wait to be with you this Sunday, February 4, 10:00am at Maple Street Dance Space. With the divine Patty Stephens. Please stick around after the service for our annual community meeting — all welcome. XO, Drew
©2024 Drew Groves