Okay. Let’s imagine.
You have a lovely garden, full of climbing roses and lilacs and other colorful flowers that make you happy.
Your neighbor across the side fence has crabgrass and volunteer tomatoes from seeds dropped by birds in flight and walnut trees springing forth from nuts buried by neighborhood squirrels. And oxalis. There’s always oxalis. (It’s pretty till it takes over your whole garden.)
This neighbor pays no attention–for them, what happens in the front yard stays in the front yard. Their mess of weeds is quickly working its way between the slats of the wood fence. However, the foxtails are now cozying up with the geraniums halfway across your yard, so you decide to try to make the neighbor see the error of their ways and see the much more logical and let’s face it, RIGHT, way of yours.
You practice in the mirror. “Hey, neighbor!” you say to your reflection in a cheery tone, “here are some cookies I just baked. I wondered if we could chat a minute about our front gardens,” you say, holding up an imaginary tray, smiling pleasantly.
You find yourself quite convincing, so you try it face to face. They take the tray of cookies but stare at you like you’re speaking Space Man when you perkily mention they should take care of the weeds on their side of the fence and keep them out of your garden.
You think, I must not have said it right. What better words could I use? Or maybe they’ll listen if I make them pie instead of cookies.
You keep trying–pie after cake after fresh squeezed orange juice. Still the neighbor takes the gifts but ignores the weeds. Their weed seeds are falling on your fertile ground, but your words are falling on cold, lifeless gravel.
So where am I going with all this floral flatulence?
Last week I shared some of the ways I’m learning to retrain my brain and do life differently. Then I promised to blow your mind with an amazing tool I’m finally beginning to understand. (Okay, so there was no promise of mind-blowing. There was, however, the promise of a tool. I was trying to get you so excited that you will come back every week to see if perhaps your mind will be blown this time.)
BOUNDARIES. All this garden-speak is about learning that you can control what’s in your own garden, but you can’t control what’s in your neighbor’s.
Most of my life I worked under the misguided idea that I just hadn’t found the right way to get that neighbor to clean up their side of the fence. Turns out, they can even plant weeds in their yard on purpose, who knew? Because, after all, it’s their yard, not mine.
Our individual job in this world of analogies gone wild? To simply mind the fence and all that is on our side of it. Stop taking them cookies. To stop using our words when that other person isn’t even listening. It’s not only a waste of your breath, it’s a waste of your cookies.
The other person’s weeds can represent many things: negativity, blame, shame. Guilt. Patronizing opinions. Manipulation to get you to bring them those cookies, even though they’re totally messing with your lantana.
If we are to take care of our own responsibilities–the space on our side of the fence–we may need to build a better fence so the foxtails can’t get through. We may need to find a method to stop the weeds from growing if they do make it under the fence. Point is, we need to use our precious energy to cultivate the beauty in our own garden. We need to recognize that all the sweet talking and baked goods in the world will not make someone listen who doesn’t want to listen.
This is a difficult lesson for those of us who think that if we can only find the right words, the right mixture of flour, butter and cinnamon, the other person will suddenly see our side. This is called Wishful Thinking.
A wise woman once told me, “The only person’s behavior we can change is our own, all other is merely wishful thinking.”
For me it turned out that all the Nice I tried to take on a decorative plate to my mother *Wishing* she would see I was worth loving didn’t make any difference long term. At the end of her life she still heaped negative and hurtful words on me via sticky notes on the backs of her possessions sent after her death by her lawyer. Those were her choices, those were her decisions. My job was to not let the hemlock of her words and actions poison me. My job was to decide who I wanted to be in the face of that pain.
It took my mother’s death to realize I couldn’t have pleased her if she didn’t want to be pleased. I don’t regret anything I did for her, but I do regret the wasted energy of all my Wishing. Boundaries, they’re our friends!
The Bring Your Own Beverage Conversation: Does any of this ring true to you? Have you wasted time and energy believing that if you just tried hard enough someone would change how they treated you? Does the garden analogy make sense to you or did I just have a darned good time naming flowers?
And remember, be kind to yourself.