short excerpts...other writings...upon occasion or as prompted...
The tiger in the water? A representation of my life -- spirit and environment!


Saturday, December 17, 2011

Look Beyond the Broken Fence

A popular magnet bears the inscription, "A friend is someone who looks beyond your broken fence and admires the flowers in your garden." What the saying refers to is the separation of person (flowers) and problem (broken fence).

The separation of person and problem is the basis of unconditional love. Those who make love, friendship, or even collegiality conditional on specific behavior -- or the lack of specific behavior -- are destined to miss out on the wonderful experiences of real love. After all, the person is not the problem; the person's behavior is. Certainly, we can stop the behavior by killing the person, but then we are left with no future opportunities to receive the many blessings this person could have brought us.

Much unhappiness in this world results from people equating person and problem. Disliked behaviors are translated into dislike for the person exhibiting the behavior, and hurt feelings result from an unwillingness to overlook behaviors that offend. I know several people who say that they never forgive or forget and avoid all people who have ever offended them. Since no one is so perfect as to never offend anyone, it is not surprising that these people tend to have few friends and lead generally unhappy and difficult lives. They seem unaware that they have the power to bring love and happiness -- and blessings -- into their lives by looking beyond all the broken fences that they see, rather than telling their neighbors that they intend to move out of the neighborhood unless the neighbors get their act together immediately and repair their fences.

Couples who have been happily married 30, 40, and 50 years have learned this strategy. Without unconditional love, their marriages would have failed years earlier. They typically address the problem while supporting the person.

It has been one of my tasks in life to "fix" broken educational programs. Usually this means working with teachers who are afraid of "newfangled" ideas when the old ones have worked just fine, in their opinion, for years. However, obviously the old ones have not been working find in recent days, or I would not have been brought in as a consultant. If I were to treat each of these stonewallers (and sometimes worse -- I've been called names and had scathingly negative letters written about me, sometimes even before I have arrived on site) as a personal enemies, I would never have been able to get the programs in shape (and to date, I've had no failures -- knock on wood). In nearly all cases, there was a common enemy: fear of the unknown, i.e. fear to try new things because they might not work as well as the old things. By separating the problem (resistance due to fear of the unknown) from the person, I have been able not only to fix programs but also to build teams even in places where there previously had been enmity among colleagues. It begins with deliberately separating the person from the problem and ends with not even being able to see an equation between person and problem.

While it would be nice to have no broken fences or to see that all our neighbors are mending their fences, the fences are far less important than the flowers beyond them. If our neighbors have time to tend only to one of the other, let it be the flowers. They bring greater warmth and happiness into our lives.


Excerpted and adapted from a collection of vignettes I published, copyright 2003.

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About Me

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I am the mother of 4 birth children (plus 3 others who lived with us) and grandmother of 2, all of them exceptional children. Married for 42 years, I grew up in Maine, live in California, and work in many places in education, linguistics, and program management. In my spare time, I rescue and tame feral cats and have the scars to prove it. A long-time ignorantly blissful atheist converted by a theophanic experience to Catholicism, I am now a joyful catechist. Oh, I also authored a dozen books, two under my pen name of Mahlou (Blest Atheist and A Believer-in-Waiting's First Encounters with God).

My Other Blogs

100th Lamb. This is my main blog, the one I keep most updated.

The Clan of Mahlou
. This is background information about various members of the extended Mahlou family. It is very much a work still in progress. Soon I will begin posting excerpts from a new book I am writing, Raising God's Rainbow Makers.

Modern Mysticism. This blog discusses the mystical in our pragmatic, practical, realistic, and rational 21st century world and is to those who spend some or much of their time in an irrational/mystical relationship with God. If such things do not strain your credulity, you are welcome to follow the blog and participate in it.

Recommended Reading List

Because I am blog inept, I don't quite know how to get a reading list to stay at the end of the page and not disappear from sight. Therefore, I entered it as my first post. I suppose that is not all that bad because readers started commenting about the books, even suggesting additional readings. So, you can participate with others in my reading list by clicking here.
I do post additional books as I read them and find them to be meaningful to me, and therefore, hopefully, meaningful to you. One advantage of all the plane traveling I do is that I acquire reading time that I might not otherwise take.