Row, Row, Row Your Boat

Several years ago, I was asked by a friend to be a speaker at a 5th grade farewell ceremony when their original speaker canceled at the last minute. Being a football coach who does character training sessions, she felt I could come up with something on short notice. It must have went well as I am invited back every year to deliver the same speech. Each year it is a new audience of 11-year olds.

My speech is the nursery rhyme Row, Row, Row Your Boat and how it is life’s instructional manual with ‘your boat’ being a metaphor for ‘your life’. It is certainly a simple message for the young students, but it has enough ‘meat’ to it that the teachers (who hear it every year) and the parents also enjoy it.

Here is a link to a video of a recent talk. It is less than 13 minutes and I encourage you to watch it for the full effect. Below, is a recap of how I break the song down line-by-line.

Row, Row, Row Your Boat

    • First and foremost it is Your Boat, no one else’s. You have ownership and accountability.
    • Yes, Mom will make sure you have a life jacket, rain slicker and a packed lunch. Dad will make sure it has a fresh coat of paint, no leaks and the oars are in working order. But ultimately, it’s your boat/life.
    • A good solid boat made of good materials that is properly maintained weathers the storms better; same with life, build your life with good materials and maintain that fitness – physical, mental, spiritual – as storms are a part of life.
    • The word ‘Row’ is an action word. It denotes work. It is stated three times, not just once or twice. We are not talking about a little work and then cruising and then maybe working some more. You are going to have to work and work and work. The saying is that a body in motion stays in motion while a body at rest stays at rest. You need a strong work ethic.
    • Work also takes skill and practice. Whatever you choose to do, work at getting better and you will be more effective while going further. The example is an Olympic rowing team which covers greater distances more efficiently.
    • It is this work that propels your boat/your life.

Gently Down the Stream

      • Be gentle with life, with nature and those around you. Have a reverence and respect for life. Where does thrashing about in a rowboat get you? In the stream and all wet. Too many people go through life harshly, leaving marks and scars along the way. Getting themselves and those around them, all wet!
      • Be gentle with how you treat yourself and others, including your thoughts and beliefs. Be gentle, with compassion and a soft and loving heart. Have wisdom. Leave no collateral damage along your journey.
      • Go at life with a gentle rate of speed – not too fast, not too slow – set a good pace. Life is a marathon and not a sprint. It is how you finish that matters.
      • The stream flows along a path from one place to another. It provides the journey. Lead your boat along that journey.
      • The direction is down the stream as life moves in a forward progression taking a certain path within boundaries. It is your boat, if you want to fight upstream against that progression you can make that choice. However it will be a huge investment of energy and then when you are tired of fighting, the current sweeps you away with little resistance or control on your part. Go with the current but use your oars to guide your boat where you want it to go along the current. You can explore the whole stream as well as side streams.

Merrily, merrily, merrily, merrily

    • Choose to be happy, it is a choice. Enjoy life and greet challenges in stride with joy.
    • Attitude is everything in life and a positive attitude creates positive energy. Be positive.
    • A key point is that we say merrily four times while we say row just three. That is a good balance. Plenty of effort but making sure you enjoy life.

Life is but a Dream

    • Make your life about living your dreams. Dream it and live it.
    • Thoughts become actions so watch your thoughts.
    • The word ‘but’ here means ‘completely, there is nothing more to say’. Everything is created first in the mind, then in practice. Thought about it first. So life is nothing more than your dreams/thoughts made into action. Integrity on those thoughts leads to integrity in your actions.

Singing the rhyme as a group symbolizes teamwork. The act of singing in sync, just like oars rowing, becomes a unifier. The rhyme’s musical tempo is gentle – not fast like a rap, and not slow like a ballad – the right pace. I like to find the 5th grade ‘tough’ guy that “is no way going to sing” and will go through the motions. I note that choosing to go through the motions in life will get you nowhere. This type of prideful decision, as opposed to doing their part to better the whole, can be a major stumbling block to success.

I use this nursery rhyme as part of my character coaching with the high school football team to make these same points. The points become the acronym OWL PRIDE – Ownership, Work Ethic, Leadership, Positive, Respect, Integrity, Dedicated to team, Enthusiasm.

I found a unique connection to this nursery rhyme and scripture. The Greek word hupéretés is used rarely, just 20 times, in the New Testament and has a connection to rowing. Hupéretés meaning is an underling, servant, an attendant. It comes from hypo, meaning “under,” and ēressō, meaning “to row.” This Greek word is found in 1 Corinthians 4:1, “Thus should one regard us: as servants of Christ and stewards of the mysteries of God.” The word servants in this scripture suitably means, rowers.

Reverently row your boat along the stream God has provided. Be gentle, be respectful, be happy, and in the words of St. Catherine of Sienna, “Be who God meant you to be and you will set the world on fire.”

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