Ebbs and flows

中国日报网 2014-05-30 14:50



Ebbs and flows

Reader question:

Please explain this sentence: “Small schools go through their ebbs and flows with athletics.” Ebbs and flows?

My comments:

This is to say that good athletes are hard to come by in small schools. As a result and in consequence, outstanding athletic achievements are few and far between.

Ebbs and flows is a term that originally describes the comings and goings of the tides in the sea. Here, it’s likened to the state of athletics in small schools, which, like it is with the sea, sees its own share of ups and downs – and lots more downs than ups, but let me explain by and by.

First, ebb and flow. Flow is the word that’s descriptive of floating water in great supply. In “ebb and flow”, it refers to the high tides coming in. Ebb, which describes something that decreases in quantity and volume, refers to the tide retreating from the shores.

Therefore, when we talk about the ebb and flow of the sea, we are speaking of the nature of the great oceans, now roaring with its waves lashing rocks near the shores, now receding with such gentleness that we call one of the oceans the Pacific.

And because of its unmistakable regularity, people begin to use “ebb and flow” to describe other aspects of life that are similarly affected by such cycles of high and low, up and down, great prosperity and hard times.

In our example, the athletics program in small schools is likened to the comings and goings of the tide.


Meaning good athletes are hard to come by and you’d better enjoy them while they’re here. Small schools, you see, cannot compete with big schools for talent. If they develop their own, they have trouble keeping them for good young athletes all want to go to the big schools which have better coaches and other resources to help them grow and fully develop their talent.

So, for small schools, outstanding athletic achievements are a sometimes thing. They come in spurts and are not at all consistent. In other words, you cannot expect good results every year as you can expect from the big schools.

Hence, “small schools go through their ebbs and flows in athletics”, with the emphasis clearly on “ebbs” rather than “flows”.

And that’s only natural, of course. Anyways, “ebb and flow” is the term to describe anything that regularly gets larger and smaller. Everything goes through such cycles, from economies to people’s emotions. Everyone and everything experiences their ups and downs, with few exceptions.

There are exceptions of course. Commodity prices, for example, seem to be enjoying their flow without ever experiencing any ebb.

Chinese soccer, too, is going in one direction only – going downhill, that is, and progressively getting worse and worse. It had its flows, such as they were, in the late 1970s and early 80s. It’s been in its ebbs since and there are no signs of its ever getting back to be flowing again.

Its flow will come, in good time I’m sure, like everything else. Just don’t wait for its coming. It seems it has taken for ever and just may take for ever more.

Alright, no more ado. Here are media examples of ebb and flow:

1. When Celeste Biegen opened a pet boutique on Market Street in DC Ranch, she envisioned a “lovely strolling mall” and a steady stream of customers.

What she got, she said, is a ghost town.

As far as Biegen is concerned, the north Scottsdale shopping center is a victim of the recession and “bad branding.”

“I didn’t sign on to be in a dead shopping area,” said Biegen, who closed her store, the Barkery Etc., after poor sales.

Like any retail project, Market Street has its ebbs and flows. Recently departed tenants include Flo's Hong Kong Food Market, Blue Wasabi Sushi and San Felipe’s Cantina, which reopened in northeast Phoenix.

- Shopping center ebbs and flows in downturn, AZCentral.com, June 9, 2009.

2. An obvious explanation for the shift lies in the flexibility offered by self-employment—a valued perk in an era of dual-income households. “I might be putting in as many hours as anyone, but they’re the hours I choose,” says Kate Bonnycastle, a Halifax-area copywriter who went independent in 2006 after years of working in-house at major firms. “I can work at night, I can work early in the morning. I can run out and drop stuff off for my kids at school in the middle of the afternoon.”

But work-life balance is only part of the picture. Technology and the economy’s march toward specialization has rewarded people willing to provide narrowly defined services to a select list of clients. The result, say economists, has been an increasing symbiosis between big global firms and entrepreneurs: instead of hiring the talented workers on a permanent basis, the giants build business-to-business relationships with them, contracting their services when needed, in some cases keeping them on retainer. The arrangement can work as well for the upstart as it does for the corporate giant. Bonnycastle, for one, boasts a list of blue-chip clients that has included McDonald’s, Vancity Group and Bell Canada. “I think I’m the future,” says the 44-year-old. “All companies have their ebbs and flows, but because I work for several clients, I have year-round work.”

Linda Duxbury, a professor at Carleton University’s Sprott School of Business, agrees that the new reality can be liberating to the gifted and ambitious (though studies suggest they work just as many hours as employees with equivalent skills). It’s large firms and institutions, she warns, who might regret the implications, because their need for brains is as urgent as their need to keep a lid on labour costs. “These people starting their own businesses are also the ones employers are going to really want to hire,” explains Duxbury, who studies changes in Canada’s labour force and workplaces. “It leads to a situation I call ‘jobs without people and people without jobs.’ We’re going to have a shortage of people at the talent end, and an oversupply of people with no skills that the market needs.”

The best employers, of course, still have their pick of bright applicants. And few on the Maclean’s honour list worry about the siren call of self-employment stealing their stars. David Clarkson, vice-president of strategy and planning for Cisco Canada, says the company boasts a minuscule one per cent annual turnover rate—that is, employees who choose to leave. Still, he says, the company works hard to avoid the atmosphere of a faceless corporation where innovation is underappreciated. “Cisco is a culture of cowboys, where being disruptive is viewed as a positive thing,” Clarkson says. “People do try to correct things that are wrong, and I think as a company you should not be punishing that.”

Some firms, notes CIBC’s Tal, have gone so far as to encourage employees to start up new business units under their corporate umbrellas, replicating the decision-making latitude and reward structure of an independent business, complete with bonuses and profit sharing. That might not be enough to keep, say, a Steve Jobs from bolting from Atari in pursuit of his own grand visions. But it’s a sign, at least, that a new reality is starting to sink in. In an economy that rewards independence and ingenuity, the greatest competition for human talent might not come from the firm down the street. It might well come from the talent itself.

- Be your own boss and you’re in charge, macleans.ca, October 25, 2012.

3. Environmentalist. Humanitarian. Feminist. Activist. To give Lauren Hill just one label is to seriously misunderstand her—the Florida-born surfer, who splits her time between the U.S. and Bryon Bay, Australia, is instead a product of her own deep-seated passion for improving the world as a whole. Her career? As diverse as her interests—she’s a writer, educator, and editor of her own online magazine while knee-deep in a film project she’s been involved with since April called “Beyond the Surface.” (She traveled to India with Liz Clark, Emi Koch, Kate Baldwin and director Crytsal Thornburg-Homcy to explore the usage of surfing as a tool for social development).

All of her “do good” work sounds like—well—work, but Hill insists her pursuits are just part of the ebb and flow of her life. Maybe that’s why, when Hill starts to speak, we’re sucked right in.

You have a lot on your plate right now—what does your daily routine look like?

An ideal day starts with the sun, straight to the ocean for a few hours of surfing before it gets too hot. The middle of the day is for writing, research, crafting, or a siesta if I’ve had a long surf. The cool of the late afternoon often allows for gardening or hanging with friends who drop by. Then back to the ocean for a sunset slide at the Pass, one of the most spectacular sunset spots in the world.

Tell me about some of the cultural nuances you’ve noticed as you split your time between the United States and Australia.

Generally speaking, Americans could teach Australians a thing or two about efficiency and ambition. Australians can teach us Americans quite a lot about having fun and not getting so caught up in doing-ness. Also, I love language, so it’s one of the first (and most consistent) differences that I notice between my two homes. Aussies are absolute foul mouths, and this tends to rub off a bit, which is fun. I love how jovial they are.

Let’s say you’re parallel parking and you almost hit the car behind you, but you stop just in time. Your Aussie mate might say, “Oh! Bee’s dick.” Meaning, of course, that there’s only a very tiny space between your car and the other car. Their slang is unbelievably hilarious; it’s quite rough and rugged. Sometimes it’s totally indecipherable, but sometimes it’s quite masterfully descriptive. Americans are so polite compared to Australians. If you hear someone say “Thank you so much!” you can almost guarantee that an American said it. I love that. There’s a sweetness in conversing with people that goes amiss sometimes in Australia.

What was your goal in creating “Beyond the Surface”?

The trip inspired much in me, so I’ve been writing quite extensively about our experiences there and about some of the questions raised by our month-long adventure. While there were lots of really moving stories of women’s self-help groups and women like Ishita Malaviya, India’s first recognized female surfer, the most common story for women in India is all too riddled with rape, abuse, neglect, and a lack of access to education and quality healthcare.

Sixty million: that’s the number of women in India who are “missing” because they have either been aborted because of their sex, killed at birth, died of neglect and abuse because they were girls, or murdered by their husband’s family for not paying enough dowry. This happens because women are fundamentally seen as less valuable and less capable members of society. And yet, where do these people think they came from? Almost all of us are birthed and nurtured into this world by the invaluable, yet unpaid work of a woman.

- Lauren Hill talks India’s trashed beaches and ecofeminism, GrandTV.com, August 30, 2013.




About the author:

Zhang Xin is Trainer at chinadaily.com.cn. He has been with China Daily since 1988, when he graduated from Beijing Foreign Studies University. Write him at: zhangxin@chinadaily.com.cn, or raise a question for potential use in a future column.



Train of thought

Fair game

Long leash?

More Pinocchios?


(作者张欣 中国日报网英语点津 编辑:陈丹妮)


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