Everyone wants to have a right-hand man (or woman), right? Someone you trust implicitly. Someone who will cover for you in a pinch and make decisions just as you would have made them. Someone you can groom to be your successor when the inevitable promotion opportunities come rolling in.
The expression “right-hand man” (as well as the tradition of seating the guest of honor at the right hand of the host) originated from times when leaders had to worry about assassination on a daily basis. Before the days of explosives and automatic weapons, the easiest way to assassinate a leader was to have the person sitting to his right grab his sword arm and hang on, rendering him relatively helpless so that others in the room could then kill him. If you were a leader, it was in your best interest to put the person you most trusted next to your sword arm. Since most people are right-handed, the “right-hand man” came to be synonymous for someone you could trust with your life.
Leadership can be a lonely role. Having a right-hand man (person) will encourage you when things get rough. A trusted “second-in-command” can keep an eye on your blind spots and warn you when you’re stepping into dangerous territory. If you don’t have one, it’s never too late to develop that person (or to look for someone with the right qualities to fill your next open position.)
(Interestingly enough, the word “sinister” originally meant “on the left.” Maybe that’s where we get the idea of “hold your friends close but your enemies closer.”)
Coal miners used to take canaries in cages down into the tunnels with them. The canary has a highly sensitive respiratory system. If poisonous methane or carbon monoxide gas started to seep into the tunnels, the birds would stop singing, sway noticeably and die, giving the miners an early warning system before the gas overcame them or resulted in an explosion.
Considering the canary’s purpose, wouldn’t it be nonsense to give it an enclosed, oxygenated cage? Would it make any more sense to put the canary on life support while you went on working? Ridiculous, right? All you would accomplish is covering up the symptoms of the problem (i.e., the canary’s death). The source of the problem (i.e., the poisonous gas) would continue to fill up the mine until it eventually exploded or suffocated all the miners.
But don’t we do the same thing with our problems sometimes? Don’t we cover up the symptoms rather than deal with the sources? When a friend challenges us about something we are planning to do, do we stop sharing information with him or her? When we feel guilty about the way we are behaving, do we make excuses to justify our actions? When we come across a Scripture that nails us to the wall, do we take a break from reading our Bibles? When we have emotional pain, do we deaden it with addictive behaviors?
These types of solutions will make us feel better short-term, but they are typically followed by deeper emotional and mental plunges as our temporary fixes wear off. Long-term, they are much more trouble than they are worth and very destructive. And if we keep ignoring the canary’s complaint, it will eventually stop complaining; then we are in serious trouble. How many canaries can we afford to silence, eliminate or ignore before we succumb to the real problem?
A canary can be our best friend. Granted, their constant chirping gets on the nerves, but we can learn to consider it as an early warning system. Listen to them closely. Give yourself time to really consider what they have to say. Talk it over with someone objective and trustworthy, and get their take on the message. And by all means, if you find all the canaries singing the same song, get out of that hole you are in!