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How often do you realize bamboo is stronger than oak?

Today is August 16 and the Navigate the Chaos question to consider is “how often do you realize bamboo is stronger than oak?” People who navigate the chaos and practice the art of living well understand the necessity in being flexible in matters both personal and professional. Throughout recorded history one strategy that has been echoed from one generation to the next centers around the concept that only the strong survive.

One famous example of this stems from Charles Darwin who wrote in his 1871 book The Descent of Man “With savages, the weak in body or mind are soon eliminated; and those that survive commonly exhibit a vigorous state of health.”

Decades later professor and author Leon C. Megginson noted “It is not the most intellectual of the species that survives; it is not the strongest that survives; but the species that survives is the one that is able best to adapt and adjust to the changing environment in which it finds itself.”

Today’s reflection challenges us to pause for a moment in order to define vigorous, strong, or strength. A simple definition and approach to each word might miss the nuance associated with today’s question. While many people might conclude oak is far superior in strength than bamboo, just the opposite is true. Bamboo is one substance that has survived in changing environments over the centuries and remains a symbol of enduring strength.

In his March 20, 2015, LinkedIn article “The Bamboo That Bends is Stronger Than the Oak That Resists,” Group President of Asia Pacific at Marriott International Craig S. Smith commented on the need to bend when he wrote:

“Throughout my career I have had many changes to my roles and responsibilities. All come with a certain trepidation and nervousness. But, we have two choices: we can hide from the change or embrace it as an opportunity to continue to develop ourselves…As changes come in your career, continue to perform well in every role you earn. Be consistent and be willing to learn something new from each role. You’ll soon find yourself looking forward to the next change, as it will become one of your greatest teachers.” Dwayne Johnson epitomizes the bamboo approach to navigating the chaos of his career.

Dwayne Douglas Johnson, also known by his ring name The Rock, is an American actor, producer and professional wrestler and has had to be flexible many times in his life to navigate the chaos. His path of navigating the chaos illustrates how being flexible like bamboo made him stronger than oak. Johnson graduated from Miami in 1995 with a Bachelor of General Studies degree in criminology and physiology but he was not quite ready to give up on his football dreams despite the lack of interest from the NFL.

He ultimately joined the Calgary Stampede as a backup linebacker but was cut two months into the season. “The dreams I had, they’re dashed,” he revealed to The Hollywood Reporter. “There is no more football. My relationship was crushed. That was my absolute worst time.” At the time of being cut from the Stampede he was 24 and had to move back home with his parents.

As a rambunctious teenager, Dwayne Johnson turned to the physicality of building up his body and ultimately football to overcome a rocky patch at home. Once again forced to sift through the rubble that was his life, it seemed only natural for him to look inward at what made him special, his wrestling pedigree. After years as a wrestler, he became a sought-after actor and movie star. As he said in an Instagram video “Sometimes the goal we’ve worked our ass off for years is never achieved. Playing professional football is the best thing that never happened to me. Have faith in the one thing that you wanted to happen is often the best thing that never happened. Have faith and keep plugging away.”

His life exemplifies the Japanese proverb “the bamboo that bends is stronger than the oak that resists.” Some people may equate oak with strength and, therefore, the stronger one is the better. But herein lies the key to understanding how to use this strategy to navigate the chaos, you need to define strength. Engineers use tensile to determine the strength properties of material.

Tensile strength is defined as the resistance offered by an object to breaking or splitting under tension. When this definition of strength is used, engineers have concluded that bamboo is stronger than steel. Steel has a tensile strength of 23,000 pounds per square inch. But bamboo surpasses steel with a noticeable lead at 28,000 pounds. So, yes, bamboo is indeed stronger than steel. The question is can you understand this definition of strength of are you stuck in an antiquated way of thinking?

As you navigate the chaos today take time to formulate your definition of strength. Johnson is indeed strong physically; but like the bamboo his tensile strength is even stronger than his ability to life heavy weights.

  • How do you define strength?

  • Have there been times while navigating the chaos of life where you were an oak tree but, upon reflection, realize a bamboo approach might have yielded a better result?

  • If you do not allow yourself to accept the realization of bamboo’s strength, why do you think that is?

  • Why must you always be an oak tree thinking that is the definition of strength?

  • How often do you remind yourself that the bamboo that bends is stronger than the oak tree that resists?


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