Rocking the boat creates drama, unnecessary storms

This column was originally published as part of my “Looking Homeward” series at

“A troublemaker,” an unknown writer once penned, “is a person who rocks the boat, then persuades everyone else there is a storm at sea.”

Ever met that person? They’re unpredictable, even scary. You tiptoe around them because you aren’t sure what mood will prevail or what situation will erupt.

Will they support an issue or criticize it? Be your ally or your enemy? Help solve a problem or create a larger one?

These folks come in all sizes and shapes. Little ones start boat-rocking about age three. At 30, some perfect their wave-making styles. And other steadfast souls consider themselves pros during their retirement era.

Why do they do it?

After 47 years in the ministry, my father’s professional and personal experiences gave him a unique window into interpersonal relationships.

“The bottom line of a troublemaker’s motivation,” he once wrote, “is the desire to control.”

They control by crisis. If they cause a crisis or discover one in progress, they have an uncanny ability to use its urgency to control the household or organization or community.

They control by alarm. Using the old shock method, they keep people off balance, taking the best of news and making the worst of headlines out of it.

The Russian news service was once a master of this alarm-driven reporting. Someone observed that if only the USA and Russia were engaged in a sporting event, and the USA won, the news release from Moscow would read: “Russia finished second and the U.S. finished next to last.”

Troublemakers know how to spin the facts to create an unsettling climate, ripe for crisis.

They also control by manipulating information. A troublemaker seeks information not for knowledge but for personal advantage. “If I have information you don’t,” they reason, “then I am in control.”

Often smart and exceptionally articulate, these folks sometimes see themselves in “devil’s advocate” roles, keeping everyone honest and on their toes. Yet their meddlesome ways often distract and sometimes destroy relationships as well as affect an organization’s overall health.

On the home front, troublemaking mode generates a force that drains the will and energy out of the strongest parents. At the other end of the spectrum, aging troublemakers often create a tension that precedes their arrival as family members warn each other of impending visits.

In either environment, once a person causes a crisis, the boat rocks with such force that family, friends and colleagues are convinced there is a storm at sea and they react accordingly.

And then drama begins.

Yet, to be honest, we’ve all done it. We’ve all rocked the boat with an issue we thought was storm-worthy only to realize later that perhaps we overreacted.

Maybe we were seeking control. Maybe we wanted some attention. Or maybe we were having a bad day and let our emotions churn unchecked, creating a horrific storm that should have only been a short sail though some rough waters.

Life has enough of its own stormy seas. Let’s make sure the waves we make are appropriate — and needed.