“Get A Haircut!”

Ryan, a buddy of mine, could swim like a fish when he was a kid. It’s like he had been born with gills and fins. He learned to swim in the ocean against strong currents, and that resistance built up his strength and endurance.

Early in his freshman year of high school, the swim coach caught a flash of Ryan swimming laps in the pool. With no waves and sharks to hold Ryan back, he shot through the water at a record-breaking time.

The coach ran over to the side of the pool and got Ryan’s attention.

“I want you on the swim team, kid,” the coach gushed. “With you on the team, I think we can take regionals, maybe even state.”

“Cool,” Ryan said, jumping out of the pool and taking off his swimming cap. Ryan was from California. In California, they said things like cool as a way of expressing a superlative state.

“So here’s what you need to do,” the coach continued. “Come to my office, and I’ll give you some trunks. Practice is every day after school from 3:15 to 4:30. Don’t be late, or I’ll make you do so many extra laps your hair will fall out. And speaking of hair, cut off those locks before practice tomorrow. You look like a hippie.” ‘

“I am a hippie,” Ryan answered.

“Heh?” the coach asked. “Okay, I don’t care what you are. I’m just saying you can’t have long hair on the swim team. Long hair slows you down. Cut it off,” the coach answered.

“No,” Ryan said. “I don’t want to be on the swim team if I have to cut my hair.”  Ryan was from California. In addition to saying things like cool, many Californians flashed peace signs well into the 70s. And quite of few of them had long hair, especially the young men. It was sort of a California way of saying, “Hey, I’m a guy. And my hair is longer than my mom’s. Deal with it.”

While Ryan declined to join the team, he continued to swim laps at open-swim time at the school. Everyone who saw him cutting through the water would say, “Why aren’t you on the swim team?”

Ryan would answer: “Can’t. My hair’s too long.”

“Get a haircut”, an impasse that created two losers.

The coach could have found a way to accept Ryan’s hair. Yes, long hair creates drag and friction, and that kind of things would slow a swimmer down. But if Ryan had a natural gift for swimming, even with long hair he would still have beaten bald kids. Or the coach could have asked him to wear a swimmer’s cap…which Ryan wore the day the coach say him in the pool. The coach stood by his “Get a haircut” position. When he retired 15 years later, his team had never made it to state. His team never even made it to regionals.

Ryan could have taken the long view, too. Had he thought about it, he might have considered that winning all sorts of swimming medals could have opened up college scholarships, maybe even Olympic competition for him. Instead, he chose to keep his hair. And since his grades weren’t stellar and his family didn’t have means, he didn’t make college a priority. So he never went. Since high school, Ryan has driven a truck cross country. He’s good at it, and he loves it. A couple of times he was offered a job working in the office as management. He turned it down. The offer stipulated that he would need to cut his hair that now reaches down to his belt. Ryan refused.

I’m not judging who was more wrong in this scenario. But I’m stating the obvious: when two parties remain at an impasse, both parties lose.

Had either Ryan or the swim coach budged on the hair issue, both sides would have reaped the rewards. Since neither side budged, both suffered. Have you reached an impasse with someone in your life? Have your goals and the goals of your boss or your company been at odds for so long that you don’t see how a resolution is possible? Do you have a conflict with your spouse, friend or child that seems insurmountable? Perhaps it is beyond repair. If that’s the case, cut your losses and prepare to move on. But…

Here’s my $.o2: Consider being the bigger person and budging a little to make things right. Never compromise your core values, but if you’re locking horns over a preference or an ego issue, you’re really shooting yourself and the other person in the foot.

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