United they stand
Our society emphasizes the superstar over the coordinated efforts of the group. We naturally focus on the Messis of soccer, the Michael Jordans of basketball, or the Russell Wilsons of football (of course, he is pretty amazing!). But the Castellers show us that it is the combined efforts of ordinary, but dedicated individuals that can reach new heights.
In Catalonia, a proud province in Spain, there is a folk tradition of erecting towers of people, standing on each other’s shoulders! It is amazing to watch. The participants are called “Castellers,” because they form human castles. Started at the end of the 18th century, this folk tradition is widely performed in Catalonia today. Different cities compete to see who can build the highest human tower.
During my visit to Barcelona, my wife and I watched a practice session at one of the local clubs. The process of building a tower is a poem to leadership, teamwork, and mutual trust. It demonstrates the power of community in an extraordinary way. Each succeeding layer of performers depends on the individuals below them.
First, all of the Castellers wrap their torsos with a long stretchy fabric to give them greater stability and core strength, much like weight lifters use belts around their middle.
The largest individuals form the base of the tower, with arms around each other’s shoulders, and twenty or so lean up against the group of four forming the base. The next group climbs up the backs of the base, supporting each other as they stand on the shoulders of the individuals below them. Men, women, boys, and girls form the tower. Each layer of performers must move together, as one, to provide the necessary support for each other. Finally, small children climb up the backs of all of the layers until the final youngster, crouching on the crown of the tower, raises her hand triumphantly to the sky. It’s enough to give any parent a heart attack! Fortunately, accidents are very rare.
Once the tower is formed, it has to be deconstructed. Each layer climbs down the backs of the proceeding layer, all in harmony with each other. The coach, like an orchestra conductor, walks around this human castle, using his voice like a baton, telling each layer when to move. It’s a human symphony working together to create something, which to our eyes looks impossible.
But what do the Castellers teach us?
We need each other. Each layer of Castellers is completely dependent on the layer beneath them. This act requires cooperation, mutual trust, and total commitment to the enterprise. Each person must give 100% to the project. No one can become distracted, because the lives of others are dependent on each other. It’s easy to forget this in our every day lives. We are interdependent in ways that we can’t always see. We can easily forget how much we do need each other in order to be successful.
Success requires total commitment to the goal. As you watch the tower rise, one sees the complete engagement of every member of the tower. The focus and concentration of each individual is a sight to behold. The load bearers at the bottom have to hold over 700 pounds on their shoulders! Each person has unwavering dedication to the undertaking.
We are all connected. We can be one with the world around us, just as the Castellers show us that they as individuals, together, create a single structure. Their folk tradition teaches us something that we often forget.
United, connected, and committed, we are powerful and greater than the sum of the parts. Together we can reach towards the sky.