Sustaining the Ballast

The bottom of a ship is the place where it is open to vulnerability; the place where running onto rocks will tear open a gash and sink its proud beauty.  It is also the place wherein any ballast is loaded and held so as to keep it upright, afloat and level in the water.

It is a part with a slightly absurd funny name; a part which remains unseen below the waterline; a part few crew venture into and seldom ever see.

In the 18th century in Britain the word in commonplace use for a person who was deemed by his friends and acquaintance to be a reliable trustworthy fellow was that he was said to have ‘sound bottom’ – another slightly schoolboyish absurdity.

The ship of state has a bottom, and its bottom is in need of constant scrutiny and upkeep, so as for it to remain sound. The likeness of the bottom of the ship of state with an 18th century regular guy goes further – the type of guy who is meant has what they in those days called ‘character’; and so too the ship of state in order to remain upright, afloat and level in the water also needs to have ‘character’.

The ballast of a ship is normally gravel and aggregates; because these commodities are inexpensive, easy to add and to remove in gradated amounts as per need demands, and they also bear the appropriate weight and density – mass – to be suitable as ballast.

Too much ballast and the ship is sluggish and in danger in high seas; too little and the ship is erratic to steer and liable to capsize.  And what constitutes the right amount of ballast will vary according to the amount and nature of the cargo proper it is carrying. A lightweight and large volume cargo will require the ship have more ballast than will a dense and heavy cargo of similar volume.  There are other variables which come into play and determine adjustments to a ship’s ballast, but let us leave this exposition here for now.

The 18th century regular guy of ‘sound bottom’ will likewise adjust his conduct and demeanour according to the social and personal situation accordingly as he feels fit. He will adjust to what he feels is required by it. Indeed there were schools and courses; and a literature at this time given over to advice and grooming of young gentlemen into these things. In part this training was purely social etiquette, sat on the surface of things and concerned with manners, avoiding doing ‘what just wasn’t done’.  But there was something more to it than knowing only where to place the fork and the spoon.  The novels of Jane Austen are discussions of what this something more might be; and in them she discusses what makes a true gentleman (or gentle woman) in the strata of society among which she herself moved.

And the ship of state needs its ballast too.  A ballast that is able to be adjusted responsively to changing situations as they arise, like a ship facing all weathers and a variety of latitudes. What this adjustment depends on and how it is carried out is, as is a ship’s bottom, normally invisible and vulnerable. Not many people consciously go there.

The aggregates it contains refer more so to statistical means and data than to stones and gravels.  But even statistics fail to go the whole nine yards so as to be able to analyse and explain (away?) the trick of keeping a person or nation ‘on course’.  So, the ‘bottom line’ reveals itself to be: what then is this unnoted item akin to character and conduct. and to ballast and aggregates, which goes so far towards preventing a nation sinking under a sea of troubles?

Let’s return to ‘character’. Each choice available asks a person for a decision. Each decision made answers a choice. More, each decision made answers a desire, a need, a hope, an expectation, an anticipation, a drive, and instinct, a fear, a care…..

‘The purposes of a person’s heart are deep waters, but one who has insight draws them out.’

We do not know for certain what governs the decisions we make to the extent that we can explain them away wholly to ourselves or to others. Some parts of our understanding of why we made this or that decision must always remain and rest on a pure blind faith.  And this element of them resting on pure faith is possibly the crucial part of all motivations?

This might be the unseen hidden ballast constituting any person’s ‘bottom’:  Put succinctly, if our outlook is by and large beneficent and acts to lay down trust and assurance, caring and goodwill, then our unfathomable natures are most liable to be rested on a sound ‘bottom’.  Conversely, our natures, if jaundiced, or aggravated, or cynical and dismissive, will in all probability give us cause to regret and wish away decisions we make when guided by such a star.

As the body suffers under bad influences; and the mind likewise, the state too suffers when the collateral of valuable bottom is insufficient to sustain it under the conditions of the day.  The health and wellbeing of a human mind is directly analogous to that of a state or a nation; both depend very much in the final instance not on the wealth of that person or state; the numbers of people employed in it, or the brilliance of its best minds; it depends in the first place, and without which it cannot stand healthy; on fair dealing, a due respect, truth-telling, honouring pledges, accepting consequences, and certainly most of all – on it responding happily by renewing and repairing things found within itself which are justifiably and deservedly adversely criticised.

A ship of state with sound bottom will act with wiling responsiveness and without bearing ill-will; it will apply with an honest vigour to the betterment and resolution of issues needing addressing.

For this to happen the persons who make up the body of the state; those uppermost in it firstly, but thereafter and in proportion descending all the way to the lowest stratum; should be open and ready, bearing their share in the work to fix things.  And this share is always personal, always involving character and the amendment of behaviour and conduct.

No shifting of blame or of onus onto one social segment or another; no ducking and diving and shirking; but – to take up an out of favour and out of fashion word; carrying out one’s duty by one another and fixing at least one’s own share of the deal.

These are psychological states, and psychological states are all-important; vital; invaluable.  Ask yourself what caused the crashes of 1929 and 2008?  The answer will be a psychological one – a collapse of investor confidence in the marketplace.  But that is not particularly important here. It is the psychology, the frames of mind which were allowed to pass muster and go along unheeded, unconcerned about; that were behaviours and the demeanours which conducted and constructed the decisions made and the choices laid which started up and accumulated long time back and which inched and led slowly, without waver or waiver, into The Great Depression and Black Thursday.

‘Let your light shine before men in such a way that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father who is in heaven’

‘These, then, are the things you should teach. Encourage and rebuke with all authority. Do not let anyone despise you’

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