Another Lesson at the Pool: Being a Good

Judy Ringer
3 min readApr 4, 2023

I’m a swimmer. Not a competitive one, but I enjoy getting in the water for 30–45 minutes each morning to center myself and begin the day. I usually swim between 6:30 and 7:30 am. It’s a busy pool at that time, and I often run into “unlikely teacher” lane partnerswhich I’ve written about in the past.

I’ve been swimming at my pool for almost 40 years (since it opened), and I can get territorial. I have a favorite lane, which I think of as “my lane” (I know, I’m not proud of this, just telling it like it is). And I think new members should familiarize themselves with pool rules about circle swimming, showering, and the lanes designated for faster swimmers, leisure swimmers and so on. So I see myself as an elder at my pool, if you will, and do my best to respectfully enforce some of the etiquette. But recently I received a well-timed and well-delivered etiquette lesson from Sam (not his real name), who didn’t even know he was teaching.

Sam’s relatively new to the pool. I swim in the most “leisure” lane there is, because my morning swim is just that. I like to stretch out in the pool, take my time, and do strokes that keep me limber and wake me up. Sam is a straightforward American Crawl swimmer and does lap after lap at the same speed for as long as he’s in the pool. His speed is a little faster than mine, so we have to accommodate each other. Being the more veteran swimmer, I was a little grumpy at first when Sam decided to use “my lane” a few weeks ago. But we’ve come to know each other’s idiosyncrasies. Sam is a courteous, smooth swimmer. He’s aware I’m there, and it’s relatively easy to be his lane partner. He makes no waves, literally and metaphorically.

Being a Good Neighbor

Maybe that’s why I was particularly attentive when, after he completed his laps one morning, he said, “Hey!” as I came to the end of the pool and was about to turn and continue swimming.

He said, “Hey! I’m done!” his facial expression happy and relieved to be finished. He swims a lot of laps. He’d made it! I congratulated him, and told him it was easy swimming with him. I appreciated how we accommodated each other. And he said: “Well, you got to. It’s like the weight room. There’s only so much. You gotta be a good neighbor.” Big smile, then he held out his hand and said, “I’m Sam!” and I offered my hand and name to him.

Many Lessons at the Pool

Carol, my original aikido teacher used to say, There are many lessons on the mat.” Yes Ma’am! And many lessons at the pool, too. There’s only so much. You gotta be a good neighbor. How’s that for a timely reminder — for the pool and for life in general?

I’m not always a good neighbor. When my attitude sours because someone slower or faster is getting in my lane, that’s not being a good neighbor. When I get grumpy because my coworker is in a happy mood and I’m not, I’m not being a good neighbor. When I think I deserve more — whatever “more” is and wherever “more” applies — I’ll remember Sam’s words. I’ll remember There’s only so much. You gotta be a good neighbor. I’ll notice the ki moment, and make room for my neighbor.

Where in your day to day travels are you being a good neighbor?



Judy Ringer

Judy Ringer is the author of Turn Enemies Into Allies: The Art of Peace in the Workplace and Unlikely Teachers: Finding the Hidden Gifts in Daily Conflict.