Some years ago I heard a well known speaker use the story about Charles Blondin’s tightrope walk across Niagara Falls and was so taken by the story that I did some research. I found the ‘full’ details and now often use this story as part of one of my motivational speaking engagements.
On the 30th June 1859 Charles Blondin (real name: Jean Francois Gravelet) the famous tightrope walker, walked on a tightrope across Niagara Gorge. The usual story is that he walked across Niagara Falls – but – my research indicates that the man who owned the falls wouldn’t let Blondin do it there and Blondin settled on walking across the Gorge instead.
Blondin and his associates had strung a hawser across the Gorge to Goat Island in the middle of the Gorge. It was 1000 feet long and swayed 180 feet in the air. The Niagara River in the valley below derives its name from a North American Indian word meaning – Thunder Water- appropriately named!
A small crowd had gathered to see Blondin do this death-defying feat. Turning to the crowd Blondin asked, “Do you believe I can walk across the tightrope to Goat Island, 1000 feet in the wind and the rain, carrying only this long pole – and come back safely?”
The crowd obviously didn’t know if Blondin could do it but urged him on. (As crowds do!) So Blondin did it! All the way there and all the way back – whilst the rope swayed in the wind and rain. 1000 feet there – 1000 feet back. The crowd went wild!
Blondin quietened them and asked, “Do you believe that I can walk to the middle of the rope carrying this ball of string, lower it down to a boat in the river below (The boat was called: The Maid in the Mist) pull up a bottle, drink from it, throw the bottle away and come back safely?”
The crowd screamed, “We believe!” So – Blondin did it. Again the crowd was in uproar at this brilliant display of skill. Blondin hushed them again and enquired, “Do you believe I can walk all the way to Goat Island, 1000 feet and come back safely – with someone sat on my shoulders?” The crowded roared as one, “We believe!” “OK” said Blondin, “Who is it going to be?”
As you might imagine – at this question the crowd went silent and people began to shuffle their feet, looking away, hoping that Blondin wouldn’t select them. No one from the crowd would volunteer.
And isn’t that sometimes the way of the world today? People say they ‘believe’ but – they won’t take action! Perhaps now is the time for action with the ideas that you and I say we believe in.
Oh by the way, the man who eventually had the ‘pleasure’ of sitting on Blondin’s shoulders for the 1000 feet walk across Niagara Gorge was none other than his manager, Harry Colcroft.
Strange what managers have to do to demonstrate their faith in their people, isn’t it?
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