Engines are not Cabooses

Different people, different methods.  So simple, yet so easily forgotten!

Some people thrive when they are shown the basics and then given the reins, i.e. “I trust you–go right ahead!”  These are attack-mode learners, giving 110% to all they do, and loving every minute of it.   Pile on the responsibility; the more of that, the better.  High-speed, high-intensity, high-level growth.  (These are the people who, when you go hiking, march about 1/4 mile ahead of everyone else, trotting along, fording creeks, and walking across logs without trepidation. They ask for a financial logbook at a young age and are giddy about keeping their own deposit slips from the bank.)

But others can’t handle the “0-60mph in 1.9 seconds” approach.  They learn by reiteration and repetition, and would have the pants scared off of them if you gave them a heavy pack of responsibility after only a briefing.  They need the intensive course, often needing a push to practice initiative. (These are the people who, when you go hiking, are bothered by wet shoes, are suspicious about jumping across the creek, and generally wait for everybody else to catch up and cross the log before they try it.  They are not cowards; they are merely more cautious and deliberate.  They generally don’t like to ponder that “financial stuff”, and are very happy to let Mom organize the deposit slips.)

And that’s fine!  Some people can teach themselves physics and get done 2 months ahead of schedule; great!  Others need to hear each lesson 3 times and be personally tutored through the process; great!  Societally, we tend to point at “Miss or Mr. Physics/academic whizbang”, then turn frowningly upon “Miss/Mr. Have I ever seen this material before?” (after the third time through slope/intercept) and indict them for not being who they aren’t.  (yes; I used a double negative…think of it as stylistic freedom, the implementation of typically improper writing in order to inspire deeper consideration of important concepts.)

Let me interject at this point that by the “don’t-make-me-blaze-the-trail” ones I’m talking about those who are genuinely trying, not those who are careless or don’t even try half-heartedly to pay attention.

This is hard, isn’t it?  When I am so much one type, how do I accomodate the needs and gifts and issues of another type? 

The trail-blazers are tempted to look condescendingly upon their deliberate counterparts instead of using their “whizbanginess” to ease any struggling and aid them across the log, abstract or concrete.

The follower types can look at their leader siblings and friends and think, “I can’t be like them!  It’s no use; I’m useless, helpless, and stupid.  Why should I even try?”

Both attitudes are misplaced in focus; sadly, we siblings, parents, and friends tend to hold these poor ideas close to our hearts and neglect fixing our myopia.

After all, if it takes to 1 minute to reach 60 mph, or 10 minutes, does it truly matter? The more important fact is that we are always striving for improvement.  Lazily sitting back and opining, “I don’t need to work hard at this, or learn it more quickly, or take initiative or responsibility.  I’ll get there eventually….” is a coward’s choice.  Equally putrid is the choice of, “Everything is so easy for me–at half-intensity I can still do things better than everybody else, so why should I try too hard?”

True, some are leaders, and other followers, and we need both.  Both ought to do whatever they do to the best of their capacity and competency.  This automatically makes some engines and some cabooses, but both are important in the train, and the engine is not better than the caboose or vice versa.   It’s not about the engines slowing down and becoming cabooses, or cabooses grinding hard and becoming like engines.   It’s about striving to glorify God and enjoy Him the best that you can–become more and more like Christ. For, “This righteousness from God comes through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe. There is no difference, for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” (Rom 3:22-23)

So, trail-blazers and deliberate log-crossers alike, let us be patient with one another, realizing that the very thing I delight in may be what you despise, while the things that come easily to me may be the hardest of all for you. 

Collosians 3:14 “And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity.”

Let each part of the train do its best, helping the other parts as necessary, so that the precious cargo may arrive on time!  Let’s stop comparing apples to oranges, but rather, strive to be the best orange or apple that we can be through the help of the Holy Spirit sustaining strength!

Hebrews 10:24 “And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds.”

Please feel welcome to leave a comment if you have some helpful lessons that you’ve learned about this, shared struggles, and/or suggestions for how we can better accomodate each other’s needs.  It is my prayer that this post has encouraged you to see your siblings, friends, and parents in a different light……a rethinking of who we are and what that really means.

Published in: on July 31, 2008 at 8:13 pm  Comments (8)  

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8 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. Hmmm Sounds awfully like me and you. Ya got a lot of experience as far as that is concerned:)

    I suppose it is difficult to sometimes relate to those of another type… especially at work. But over time I think we all get better at figuring each other out.


  2. Nice word pictures…..train, and it parts, all heading the same direction.

    Is it possible that on a different (plane) track, the engines of this analogy will become the cabooses and vice-versa?

    What if the trail requires a slow pace and precision and deliberation? I submit that the roles would be reversed….not the train changing directions, but a complete flip-flop of who is “leading” the way.

    Food for thought…..

  3. Hi Alex –

    Thanks for crafting yet another thought-provoking blog and blasting it out into cyberspace for all of us to enjoy. Finding a balance between hurrying the more deliberate souls amongst us along and benefiting from their (sometimes) more thorough analysis of the situation can be difficult, but you seem to have struck a well-balanced chord.

    I would have to say that of the two categories you offered up four out of my five closest friends would best be described as “cabooses”. In individual areas they surpass me by leaps and bounds (music and art for instance), but as a general rule they prefer to go much slower than I do. I don’t think that it’s an accident that I have more friends like these though: they actually listen to what I’m trying to say, are comfortable as human beings and not just as human doings, provide an emotional ballast and are usually less intense.

    Someday you need to literally fulfill your metaphor (the “trailblazing one”, not the “engine/caboose one”) and go solo backpacking off-trail for a week or two. Nothing compares with the experience of wandering alone into a wilderness that offers tremendous beauty while periodically attempting to terminate your existence (beware of moose, rapids and seemingly frozen rivers in particular). Silence and solitude, heightened senses, time to actually think rather than merely absorbing new data, roaming into any valley or mountaintop that offers a challenge, trail-running for miles on end just for the joy of it. That’s one thing that most “cabooses” will never understand; they prefer a beach in Maui.


  4. Well, thank you for another thought-provoking comment.
    Finding that balance is indeed the trick, but it sure is tricky!
    Yup; personally, I think I know more cabooses than engines. (do you think they are a majority, or simply more prevalent amongst the young set (15-25) which has yet to learn to lead or care to learn to lead or care to lead?)
    I have spent the past 17 years and counting hitching my engine to my brother’s caboose, which is where many of my observations came for this post. (All the hiking/banklog/school stuff? True stories from Hans and I.)
    Too often I have tried to force him into a more engine-like existence (after all, I’m more of an engine, and everybody should me more like me, since I’m perfect.)
    All that suceeded in doing was to make my engine steam harder, his wheels grind the track, and put both of us and the train at a high risk for derailment.

    Your analogy of caboose friends balancing engine types is excellent; a variety of friends creates in us a heightening awareness of differing viewpoints and methodology.

    I’ve got more thoughts on this topic; stay tuned! Your thoughts are fueling my current thoughts, which are mixed with Hans’ and my parents’ thoughts…..and of course the thoughts of God in His word. Where will this lead?

    That description of solo backpacking sounds so much incredibly better than a beach in Maui that it’s laughable. Truly, it sounds exhilarating, and whisked me out of my chair and into the woods. Haha, my caboose brother didn’t say anything, but I’m betting that he was reading that description and thinking, “And WHY would you want to do THAT?”
    To each his own……but as long as somebody understands what I’m talking about!


  5. So…do you take topical requests for your blogging?

  6. Sure!
    I heartily enjoy suggestions upon which to rant, repose, and ruminate…not to mention that it keeps the posts rolling on out and rescues the blog from stagnation.
    Fire away! I’ll do my best to make up a quasi-intelligent exposition.

  7. Hmmm, so you prefer quasi- or pseudo-. Very interesting. Any particular reason? Do you think that the connotation seems a bit more sanguine? It definitely has more character (pseudo seems a bit sarcastic, and the word itself is “mushy”), but using words with the silent “p” is so much fun. One of life’s hardest decisions that no philosopher or theologian has been able to answer. Maybe we should start two factions based on a radical devotion to the use of one or another?

    I’ve been studying ecclesiology (using the bible as my primary source of course, He’s the one who came up with the idea) and Church History all summer, and since it’s on my mind anyway I would be interested to hear your thoughts on the matter. Feel free to give both your subjective opinion and an objective analysis if you wish. Basically a summary of what you believe the bible says about the Church (transcending generations, race and geography), the local church and the actual applications.

    Tall order, and if you want an easier request I can give one. Take your time, and I’m looking forward to hearing your response. If we disagree on any points I promise not to turn it into an “energized discussion” unless you specifically request. Otherwise the floor is yours.


  8. Well, I certainly enjoyed reading this Alex! And I must admit, I enjoyed reading the comments almost as much.:-)

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