Are you a diver or a swimmer?

Based on my observations, people generally fall into two categories. The deep divers are always questioning, probing the depths, looking for meaning and purpose. The surface swimmers are self-directed, confronting life directly, accepting things as they are, setting goals and moving toward them.

The swimmers tend to be the doers, always engaged; while the divers are the thinkers, more withdrawn; not sure where they are going. While there is obvious overlap, a healthy society requires both. Each has something to offer. Together they provide balance as one complements the other.

Politicians tend to be surface swimmers with Abraham Lincoln the most obvious exception. He agonized over the consequences of the Civil War he sought to avoid. But once committed, he was fully engaged; the pain and suffering he endured, etched in his face. Determined to prevail, he felt deeply the suffering and losses of both sides in the conflict.

Ulysses S. Grant, commander of the union forces, was willing to accept enormous losses in his determination to grind the rebels into submission. His single-minded determination to win at all costs bonded with Lincoln’s empathy in achieving victory. The brutal general and the compassionate president needed each other.

Donald Trump is an extreme example of a swimmer who rarely looks below the surface. What’s important to him is only what he has and wants. So confident in his surface skills, he ignores the complexities of the deep. Consumed by self, he swims in his own pool; floating above the tiled “Trump” he can see through the pristine water.

The combination probably works best in a marriage or relationship. The swimmer is more apt to be decisive, willing to make important decisions; while the diver, wary of risks and consequences, is more likely to go along. Understanding respective strengths and how they can reinforce each other makes for better outcomes and a more harmonious relationship.

I consider myself a deep diver. It’s no great achievement; just happens to be my personality. It has strengths but also carries significant burdens. I worry a lot, tend to be introverted, like to read and think and ask myself lots of questions. As a consequence, I have a fairly complex philosophy of life; a structure that I can cling to in times of doubt or trouble. Probing is difficult; the water becomes murky and cold, the currents unpredictable and creatures scary the deeper you go.

Fortunately, my late wife was a strong surface swimmer. She saw, accepted and dealt with life as it was.

She was not burdened with doubt or depression and could face problems with grace and courage. I so admired those qualities and drew on her strength more often than I like to admit. I sometimes saw obstacles where she saw doors and problems where she saw opportunities. I had doubts where she was decisive. Early on, I realized I was often more comfortable on the surface with her.

The difference is illustrated in the following parable: A couple are on a boat that sinks a mile from an island. The surface swimmer promptly assesses the situation and immediately strikes out for the shore, calculating the distance and how long it will take to get there; always on the lookout for a passing craft.

The diver first reacts to how cold the water is and what’s going to happen to his sinking boat. Should I stay with the boat or swim for the island? Maybe there are sharks in the water? Am I going to die? Have I been a good person? What will happen to my family if I don’t make it? Is the island inhabited?

While worrying about his situation, he notices his wife is already a third of the way to the island. She overlooks the obstacles and, determined to survive, she swims. Fifteen minutes later she is on the shore, looking back for her husband. He has confronted a hundred demons as he struggles through the surf and falls exhausted on the beach. His experience was more intense but he almost drowned. He learned something about himself. For her, it was an unexpected long swim and she learned nothing she did not already know.

It is important to know yourself and be comfortable with who you are; acknowledging your strengths and weaknesses. While you can modify your behavior; you remain essentially the same person. Divers can swim for a while and swimmers can dive. Deep is not necessarily profound nor is surface shallow.

An understanding of the gifts and burdens that attach to each provides a solid foundation.