Years ago I took a group of young men on a canoe trip down a swift river. Although everyone was carefully instructed in how to safely maneuver their craft, one young man, Dean, fell out of his canoe, and we soon discovered that he had not properly fastened his life jacket, which was floating down the river away from him. Struggling in the water, Dean was obviously afraid.
I paddled over to him and asked, "Want a lift?"
Immediately Dean grabbed hold of the gunnel, which is the upper edge of the side of the canoe. "Help me in," he said.
Canoes are not rotationally stable. If you lean much at all to either side, you'll tip the canoe over and fall into the water—as this boy had done. Once in the water, getting back into a canoe can be a most frustrating experience—impossible for many.
I grabbed both of Dean's arms and began to pull him over the gunnel while leaning back myself to counter-balance Dean's increasing weight on the one side of my boat. The gunnel is a narrow, hard piece of aluminum, so it can be fairly uncomfortable to have one's body weight dragged across it. As I pulled, Dean shouted, "That hurts. Stop."
So I let go of his arms, and immediately he fell back into the water. "Help me," he repeated, as the pitch of his voice rose.
"So, which do you want me to do? Help you? Or stop hurting you? Because if I help you, it will hurt—only for a few seconds, but I know it still hurts. Or I can avoid hurting you, and you'll stay in the water. You choose."
Dean opted for the help, and in a few seconds, he was sitting in my canoe, chest heaving. After we recovered his canoe a mile downstream, he was much more careful about fastening his life jacket and about balancing himself as he paddled.
In life, we all lose our balance. We fall into the water. We struggle to breathe. We often discover that without the help of others, we can't get out of the churning current. Getting back into the boat may require temporary discomfort, but the alternative is to stay in the water and drown.