May 2009

What do those waivers do anyway? or ‘I Think Group-Think’

How many times have you heard the words; “Did everyone bring their signed waiver?” Well, if you are a regular paddler with the club, or any club like me, then you have heard it many, many times. Perhaps you have asked yourself, like me, what do these waivers do for the club anyway? What do they do for me? I believe I have an answer, and I believe it is more than you “think” – pun intended.

There are three answers to the above questions that I want to address that I believe explains what those waivers do for us.

The first answer may be the most common one which you have all heard. That goes something like this; “You sign that waiver so that others are not responsible for you falling down and hurting yourself. If you do something silly, then you cannot come back and blame whoever designed the trip. You are solely responsible.” While that may be an overly naïve summation of the text of the waivers, I do not think that this is the point. There is more which those waivers do for us than just this.

The second answer you may have heard once or twice from a well spoken, concerned trip leader when asked why waivers are used. He or she may say something like this; “We all know that there are hazards to this sport. There are submerged tree limbs and rocks that we could hit or that we could step on accidentally. There is cold water to be aware of. These waivers bring to mind that there are many potential accidents that may happen and that there are many preventions that we must all put into practice in order to be safe on the water.” Well, again I believe that this is true. All paddlers are well advised and sensible if they pre-plan any trip and take into account any potential hazards. This rings true whether you are paddling by yourself of with a group. But to me this is still not quite the total of what those waivers do for us.

So what is it that I think the waivers do for us all? Group-Think! That is what they do. I like to think of the signing of the waiver as an initiation into the group-of-the-day. You are now a part of that pack which is going out for a paddle. Maybe it is a day trip, and maybe it is an advanced Sea Kayak lesson. But now, you know you are part of the fold.

Let me start back at the beginning of my idea train here. We all paddle alone at one time or another. When we do so we have a responsibility to watch out for ourselves. We pre-plan our trip on the water by thinking about how long we will be out, where we are going, when we will be back, what we need for our time away, etc. We want to be safe, have a good time, and be comfortable. We call this good planning, common sense, or being a good paddler. We all do this. Now think about yourself out there, who is the trip leader of your outing, who is the follower, who is the sweep, who has the chart, who has the lunch, who has the first aid kit, who has the tow rope, who will help you if you sprain a muscle, who will help you if you capsize? Too much to think about; too much responsibility! Not really, because you are all those roles. You have already, whether you know it or not, discussed all those responsibilities with yourself before you launched. You have all the gear, and you have it all handled. You are responsible for the group (i.e. yourself).

So now let’s extend that idea to the time when you meet up with other paddlers to go out on a simple day paddle around your favorite island. You have signed your waiver, and now you find yourself a part of a larger group of paddlers than just yourself. Think back to all those unspoken of responsibilities which you may or may not have been directly aware of when you planned your own trip.

Do you have everything now that you need to be out on the water by yourself? Yes. Are you capable of taking care of yourself? Are you feeling responsible for yourself? Yes. Nothing seems to have changed yet since you are paddling in the group. Now look around you. How about all those paddlers around you? Can we answer the previous questions for all of those paddlers? Who is the leader of the group? Who is the follower? Who is the sweep? Who has the tow rope, the medical kit, the chart, the plan for the day? Who will help the group if one or all capsize, or needs attention?

What should be the answer to those questions? The group! The cohesive individuals of the group will plan together, share resources together, and will help each other. All individuals who have come together from their separate ways to be a part of the group by signing that waiver, now all hold a shared responsibility for the group. We all have our role to play and to share within the pack. We all now are experiencing group-think! We are saying to ourselves, what can or should I do to allow the group to be safe, have a good time and be comfortable?

So this is group-think. Essentially it is not much more than what you do for yourself when you are an individual out alone. But now your have extended your concerns and responsibilities for safety, fun, and comfort to more than just yourself; you have extended it to yourself + the group. If everyone in the group does the same, we all share this additional responsibility until it is so light as to be almost imperceptible. In fact that extra load can be fun!

Everyone in the group can share the experience of paddling together. When you all come together you can discuss the plan for the day, decide each individual’s roles in the group. Share the roles throughout the day. Share the resources required to be carried for the day. And watch out for each other. We can all make decisions for the group. Talk together to decide what distance or challenge is just right for the whole group. Stay with the group and make the experience cohesive.

So group-think is how a group succeeds on the water. And group-think is shared by all members of the group. The next time you are paddling with your buddies, or the next time you are in a class with strangers, look around you and recognize that group. Be aware that you are a part of something larger than yourself for the moment. You are not only watching out for your safe time on the water, but all those others as well. You have entered the fold. When did that happen? When did you change your thought process to include all these other people in your awareness? When you signed that waiver, of course.

Group Think
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