Flexibility and firmness

Upright between gusts,
Bamboo sways in a strong wind.
A robin sits undisturbed
Amid shifting shadows.

We are surrounded by the successful combination of flexibility and firmness, and equally witness the failure of one without the other. As in most things, finding balance and equilibrium between extremes more often yields success than rigidly attaching ourselves to hard and fast positions. The latter often appears to be a strong approach, but rigidity tends to produce collapse and calamitous failure; this is the weakness of strength alone.

These qualities can be observed in many living things, such as great trees firmly rooted that sway but do not break. Manmade suspension bridges and skyscrapers expand and contract in heat and cold and move with the wind. Lack of flexibility is rare in nature; natural conditions change too rapidly for narrow survival strategies to endure for very long. The same can be seen in actions and behavior of people, particularly in times of fear and conflict. Often, rigid displays of strength are met by equal force, or aggressive efforts at control from above are easily subverted by all-but-unseen forces of resistance from below.

In some circles, this approach to finding balance leads to the process of consensus, and consensus without doubt has advantages over an adversarial process. On the other hand, there are times when consensus cannot work; Hitler’s Final Solution for the Jews, for example. Sometimes, too much flexibility brings disaster.

Finding this balance, this sweet spot of firmness and flexibility is difficult. One cannot simply cut the proverbial baby in half, imposing some Solomon-like solution that purports to satisfy both sides, but at too high a cost. Observation must come first, and with that some understanding of the forces at work in any given situation. Without this, action is taken and commitments made that are often inappropriate to the situation.

If Cirrus Health had offered to join a private/public venture on a site chosen by the Hospital rather than rigidly attaching its proposal to Eighth Street East, recent outcomes might have been much different. Their inflexibility on this issue belied their stated commitment to providing healthcare as their first priority, and left them vulnerable to the appearance of placing self-serving financial interests ahead of healthcare. It’s hard to muscle or buy your way into a community, and trust cannot be imposed, but only earned. Similarly, if proponents of either Broadway or Perkins Street now rigidly attach themselves to either location, the entire hospital enterprise may fail. At some point, like a tree in a wind storm, positions must exhibit some flexibility or risk breaking altogether.

Whichever location is finally chosen, it will then be up to us in the community to show our flexibility and firmness as well. As in all things, Sonoma Valley can bend but so far. Our healthcare decisions must be firmly grounded on principles of quality, compassion, equity, financial accountability and environmentally sensitive land use, while recognizing we live in an era of unprecedented economic healthcare change requiring flexibility as well.