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The Best Medicine

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At nearly five months and counting, it’s clear that many of us are still trying to sort out, understand and learn to live with the events of September 11, 2001 – and I suspect that, on some levels, we will be doing so for months or even years to come.

Over and over again, we’ve been told how our lives are now different. Although it’ll still take us a while to find out what “different” really means, we know already that we’ve lost a certain amount of innocence. We’ve also lost a certain naiveté about the way things are in the wide world and are now reevaluating many things, from big important issues such as airport security to more modest concerns such as the courtesy and consideration we show each other in our daily lives.

As individuals and as a nation, we have been challenged by world events, and I will never stop being amazed that there are people in this world who would want to waste their own lives trying to destroy ours.

At the same time, we’re being told that we need to get on with our lives: Although I’m sure I’m not alone in being a bit tired of hearing that message, the underlying point is still valid: The fact is, the future awaits us and we each must decide how we will face what tomorrow brings!

GOOD NATURE

Thinking about such huge issues tends to make people gloomy – and understandably so, I suppose. But as more time passes, I actually find myself feeling more and more positive about life in general and business in particular. In fact, I decided to write on this topic, as difficult as it is, because lately I’ve been asking myself a simple question: What if, in our own ways as watershapers, we could actually help the world heal?

I think it’s an important and empowering question, because the answer is something that can give us hope and comfort in the midst of uncertainty.

In considering the future of watershaping, it becomes clear that our products have much to offer by way of comfort, tranquility, delight and, indeed, healing for wounded hearts and minds. In this context, the positive power of water is something we should fully embrace – and communicate every chance we get.

For years, we’ve been talking about how good water is for us physically and psychologically, how it beautifies and enlivens our surroundings, how it can be used to encompass the beauty of art, architecture and nature. That’s all truly great stuff, and I see nothing at all wrong with understanding those benefits and recognizing how the qualities of water fit into the needs of our current social and economic environment.

In other words, I believe that we watershapers can have a tremendously positive influence on the world, simply by continuing to do what we do best.

I’ll be the first to acknowledge that this is a tricky point to make, given the tone of our times. No one wants to exploit tragedy to turn a buck, and we certainly don’t want to appear so crass as to consider what has happened as anything other than horrific. At the same time, however, it doesn’t mean we must dwell on negativity and pessimism.

Quite the opposite. In fact, I believe that we have an obligation to participate in our economy in a proud and positive way. Communicating the curative benefits of our products is nothing to be ashamed about: It’s not an idea that’s a product of these troubled times but is something that has been part of the appeal of watershapes for generations.

This isn’t cynicism. Instead, it’s profoundly hopeful.

SAFE AND SOUND

In talking to prospective customers over the past few months, it’s become clear to me that they really do need water in their lives, perhaps more than ever before. They need a place to swim and relax. More than ever in my experience, they value the notion of creating an island of enjoyment and tranquility as part of their homes.

It all makes sense. In uncertain times, people crave a sense of security and safety. The most natural place to find that haven is in conjunction with their home. And the fact that I’m in a position to craft that haven for them is a source of great pride for me.

As watershapers, we create places to exercise, play, relax and reflect. I can’t see it as being opportunistic or exploitive to consider the possibility that recent events will drive many people to consolidate and dig in on the home front. Nor do I see a problem in expressing the thought that people who seek comfort in the privacy of their own homes should consider how much finer those spaces can be when water is included.

It’s a compelling story, and I’m not alone in urging watershapers to bring it to the forefront. My concern, however, is that we must unite in approaching these issues in a positive, supportive way.

I’m certainly not suggesting that we sell against the fear of travel or of urging people to spend money on something they don’t want or need just because of some perceived threat. By contrast, I believe that through a positive attitude and by telling the truth about the wonderful, restorative qualities of our products, we are uniquely positioned to give people looking for normalcy and comfort exactly what they need.

So now, more than ever, we should remember that watershapes are all about good moods, fun, enjoyment and togetherness. They embrace our ability to reward ourselves for hard work and give us a chance to harvest and enjoy the hard-won fruits of our labors.

At a time when our very way of life has been threatened, understanding and appreciating those values is crucial – and a key to re-establishing a sense of normalcy and calm.

UNDERCURRENTS

For all the uncertainty, an interesting thing is happening in our country: Spending is “in vogue.”

The President is telling us to spend money, there are even some companies out there giving their employees bonuses with instructions to spend it promptly. I hear it in my local market and beyond: Although travel and tourism are in dire straits, consumer confidence and optimism are still riding high. It’s as though there’s an underlying conviction that the current slowdown is truly temporary and that there’s little sense in worrying about an economy that’s already showing signs of bouncing back.

I take all of this as good reason to be optimistic. After all, we’ve seen what can happen when this massive and dynamic economy gets hot – and we all know that economics are cyclical. Certainly good times will come again, and what’s equally encouraging is that the length of the slowdown and its severity is mostly a product of our collective mental outlook.

That’s right. As amazing an engine as our economy may be, the one thing that fuels it more than anything else is mood.

And believe me, I get frustrated when I hear economic doomsayers spinning their gloomy yarns, because their negativity can become a self-fulfilling prophecy. As consumers, we look to each other to see how we’re doing. As an industry that by its very nature creates emblems of prosperity, our outlook and our own prosperity is a strong sign of good things to come.

Yes, we are capitalists, which means we involve ourselves in opportunities that come our way. We may not have chosen certain aspects of our current circumstances, but it’s our duty as members of this vast and diverse society to make what we can of the times we live in, for the sake of today and tomorrow. And we should get down to it with a smile!

This perspective should come as no surprise to those of you who’ve been reading this column through the past three years. I’ve used this space over and over to make a case for the power of a positive mindset, and I believe we have so much more control over our own destinies than we sometimes think.

As we swing into 2002, smiling on the telephone, polishing our skills and taking pride in the work we do become tremendously important.

A BIGGER PICTURE

What we have going in our little watershaping corner of the world is only a small part of a much bigger picture, but what I’ve been discussing here has huge implications and falls right in line with thoughts expressed by great philosophers through the ages.

They tell us that no matter what has happened in the past, we must take the next step. I believe that this is what our leaders mean when they tell us to return to normal and to go about the business of our lives. Yes, we should learn from history, and there is no question that the events of the past year will be with us forever – but that perspective should serve only to fuel our determination to move forward.

In that context, becoming the best watershapers we can possibly be and taking more pride in our work than ever before is how we join the battle. It’s the role we’ve been born to play, and now’s our chance to gain recognition for what we’ve always done so capably.

Sure, there are those who will dismiss pools, fountains, spas, ponds and streams as entirely frivolous – and in some ways I suppose they are. But when consumers call on me to beautify their homes and increase the quality of their outdoor environments, I am convinced deep down that we truly have something wonderful to offer: Through a positive, winning attitude, I give them just the beautifully frivolous fountain, or stream, or pond or pool they really want.

In times like these, there’s great value, virtue and honor to be found even in our frivolities. Today’s filmmakers should make their best movies, chefs should create their finest recipes, opera singers should belt out arias as never before – and watershapers should embrace and celebrate their works with a maximum amount of pride and vigor.

That’s what winners do: We carry on when others would quit and look up when others are looking down.

Brian Van Bower runs Aquatic Consultants, a design firm based in Miami, Fla., and is a co-founder of the Genesis 3 Design Group; dedicated to top-of-the-line performance in aquatic design and construction, this organization conducts schools for like-minded pool designers and builders. He can be reached at [email protected]

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