Who's Holding Your Ladder?

by Don Meyer, Ph.D. | Apr 25, 2009

"Those who insist on doing everything themselves can still paint but not very high and not very effectively. And because they insist on doing it themselves, it's not very safe or sensible."
Samuel R. Chand

If you read this column regularly you know I love books. I'm always reading. My lists are long but I'm always looking for good ones. My books change my life. And I often refer to them as my friends. 

You can imagine my excitement, then, when David Dillon gave me Samuel R. Chand's Who's Holding Your Ladder? David is a church leader from West Virginia who visited our campus with his son who was exploring VFCC as a college option. After he returned home, he expressed his appreciation by sending me this book. 

As soon as I saw the cover, I knew I would enjoy it. Chand's idea for the book was inspired when he was a featured speaker in Queens, NY. Before his session began he noticed a man, standing on a tall ladder, painting. 

The more Chand watched the man on the ladder, the more curious he became. Why does he seem so fearless? Would he go up higher? But the question which intrigued Chand the most was this one...who was holding the painter's ladder down there on the street? Unless the painter had help, he would never be able to go any further. 

Chand never did see who held that painter's ladder, but he never forgot the insight that painter gave him. "Those who hold the ladders," Chand thought, "are as important as the ladders themselves." 

As I read this book I thought about all of the people who are holding my ladder. Without them my life would literally grind to a halt. If I simply pondered my present world, I could list family, colleagues, neighbors, medical professionals, mechanics, lawyers, bankers, pilots, law enforcement, educators, gardeners, and IT specialists. My list could go on and on. Without all of those people, my ladder would, at the least, be extremely unstable, or, at the most, would completely fall over. 

But then I could go back through my life and a whole new army of ladder holders comes to mind. Without them I shudder to think where I'd be today. My whole life is indebted to those wonderful people. 

Chand also challenges the reader with this question, "Whose ladder are you holding?" That question causes me to reflect on the people who are counting on me to hold their ladders. What if I were to let go? What if I were unsteady holding someone's ladder? 

Here are the author's five essential qualities for ladder holders: 

  1. Strength. "They have to be strong. They must be people who can handle instruction and criticism..."
  2. Attentiveness. "They need to be able to pay attention, be alert..."
  3. Faithfulness. "I need people who remain at the ladder no matter how difficult things become."
  4. Firmness. "By that I mean not exploited by manipulative people..."
  5. Loyalty. "I do not mean they must agree all the time. Loyalty doesn't mean repeating, 'yes, yes, yes,' no matter what..."
 He goes on to share three excellent insights regarding loyalty: 
  • You may disagree with my head, but not my heart.
  • You may disagree with how I do things but not why I do things.
  • You may disagree with my methods but not my motivations.
Who's holding your ladder? Whose ladder are you holding? These questions remind us of our enormous dependency on each other. We really do need each other. 

This brings me to a very important question Chand asked, "If you were marooned on that (an) island, who is the ladder holder you'd call?" And I could add one more thought, "If persons in my world were marooned on an island, and they called their ladder holders, I wonder if my phone would ring." 

Think about it.

Dr. Don Meyer is President of 
Valley Forge Christian College, Phoenixville, PA 
Responses can be mailed to