Norton: Is it better to build bridges, or burn them?
The origin of “burning bridges” has its roots in ancient Rome. They were not only burning the bridges, but also burning the boats. In some cases, they burned the bridges and the boats so the enemy could not pursue them. And in other cases, they burned both bridges and boats so the enemy could not flee.
Throughout our journey in this life, we have all heard the expression or received guidance around burning bridges. It’s interesting because sometimes we are encouraged not to burn the bridges, and other times people may suggest that we burn the bridges behind us. In a recent conversation this topic came up, and it was fun, but also a bit polarizing for the group as there were very strong opinions.
In doing a little research on the topic I stumbled onto a page with some audacious quotes about burning bridges. The list of quotes started out with some very strong feelings about why we should burn the bridges behind us. “Sometimes burning bridges isn’t a bad thing. It prevents you from going back to a place you should never have been to begin with.” — Anonymous
While others support not burning bridges such as the person who anonymously made this statement, “The bridge you burn today may be the one you have to cross tomorrow.”
For me, if at all possible, I prefer not to burn the bridges behind me. I do agree that there are times when moving ahead and never looking back makes sense. But before I do that, I would really rather preserve the opportunity to save a relationship, resolve a conflict, or just maintain the potential for a better outcome in the future. Just because we disagree today doesn’t mean we will disagree tomorrow.
The intensity of opinions has created a heightened state of awareness when it comes to burning or not burning bridges. And unfortunately, sadly, it has escalated into not just burning bridges and burning the boats but leaving nothing but scorched earth behind when conflict or disagreements arise.
I always wonder why there is a need to take this route. I understand that people have very strong feelings and opinions, and those feelings and opinions may not line up with our own. However, if there is no room to find a middle ground on a given topic, there could be an opportunity to work together or to help one another in the future.
The song, “It’s a Small World (After All)” was written in 1963. If you have visited Disney, you have probably taken a ride through the attraction named after the song, and you probably couldn’t get the song out of your head for the rest of the day. There was no internet in 1963, nor was there any social media. Access to information was limited to what we read in the newspaper, watched on television, or listened to on the radio. Today, we have instant access to information and can reach people in a matter of a few clicks, creating a very small world.
This is important when it comes to burning bridges because when we burn a bridge, the boat, and leave scorched earth behind us because of one person, group of people, or company, we could also be burning bridges with everyone that is associated or connected to someone else that we may want to get to know, or a place where we are hoping to work, or even a referral where we are trying to make a sale. I am not suggesting that anyone compromise their integrity or their position just to appease others. What I am suggesting is that perhaps we can try an alternate approach because we, or someone we know, may really need that bridge again one day.
Romans 12:8 states: “Do all that you can to live at peace with everyone.” How about you? Do you prefer to burn the bridges or build the bridges? I would love to hear your story at firstname.lastname@example.org and when we realize that when we leave roads, bridges, and doors open for the future, it really will be a better than good year.
Michael Norton is the grateful president of XINNIX, a personal and professional coach, and a consultant, trainer, encourager, and motivator to businesses of all sizes.