Friday, November 21, 2008
Relationships...of People and Trees
I don't know about you, but as I grow older...and hopefully wiser...I do more reminiscing and connecting the dots between all my past experiences, relationships, and how I have arrived to my present state of existence. Between my previous educations in communication and psychology and my practical sense of who and what events have been key in determining my life decisions, I have come to the consensus that who we are is the sum of all the relationships we have experienced and/or chosen in our lives.
When you really ponder this, it gets a bit complicated and onerous. Complicated, because relationships are a combined matter of the heart, mind, social and even cultural mores. Onerous because many of our relationships can be harmful and stifle our growth. Some relationships, especially those of family we were born into, we have no control or choice over. So at ground zero of this missive we start from the premise that much of our relational history we really had no choice over. For some of us that has been a positive benefit and for others who grew up in less hospitable family environments, it has been a handicap in our effort to develop into successful, fulfilled persons.
Of course many volumes of thick, hardbound books have been dedicated to psychological studies of who we are based on our genetics and family upbringings. There are more psychologists, ministers, sociologists and other professions studying the roots of human psyche than there are IRS agents looking to collect taxes. Human behavior can be so bazaar and unpredictable that one of my favorite sayings in life has been "why go to the zoo when you can just sit around any city in the world and observe the behaviors of the most interesting animals on Earth...humans".
Much of our initial behavior and interaction derives from our DNA genetic code and probably the relational programming and temperament we learn in early childhood. Yet, time after time we see spectacular examples of individuals who against all odds and adversities, rise to levels of greatness and proficiency that is totally foreign to the roots they came from. I guess it can come down to the question of how some "bad" people come from a good family or traditions, and vice versa, how some great humans can arise out of the ashes of devastating family conditions. For me that dichotomy points to the reality that no matter what circumstances and influences we come from, our minds and spirits if allowed can climb to whole new levels. We are the ONLY animals who have the power to become whatever we imagine we can be within reason and choose our relationships based on higher values than just physical attraction. The physical is part of our makeup obviously, but there is so much more to it.
I am convinced that where we control our destinies as far as identity and values are concerned is proportionate to the relationship choices WE make as we move through life. This starts at a very early age. We, like most animals in the kingdom, start out imitating and mimicking other people. Early in our life, we usually imitate our fathers or mothers depending on which sex we are. Boys are groomed to play with guns and trucks, girls are encouraged to play with "Barbie dolls" or clothes. Later on our behaviors modify a bit based on our first "best friend" or group of young peers who encourage us one direction or another in our behavior. Some of us are pressed towards athletic/physical competition; others of us are more exposed to intellectual or artistic pursuits. Some of us fall into the "brainy" group, others more about looks and image. Some lucky individuals fall into both camps which can increase their odds of success in society.
The hardest thing to do in life is decide as an individual what or who you want to be without regard to your upbringing or root environment. I would say MOST people in the world just go along with the program, fall in line, and live up to the expectations of their families, friends and others. A small percentage of people are able to break free of external controls or influences to become truly independent thinkers and doers. Let's face it...it is not "popular" to flow against the tide of society, family or otherwise. Most of us grow up in very controlled environments where we are rewarded for conforming and punished for "independence" or uniqueness. Those who don't fit in are often marginalized and ignored...which usually has lifelong consequences of being isolated and ineffective in the mainstream of humanity. But, then again, a very few rise through this cloud of non-identity to become significant icons of leadership or geniuses of creativity who stand out so much in the crowd that the "Crowd" now wants to adapt and adopt this icon's image or capability as their own. I would suggest that most of the world's "over achievers" are people who pursued very different paths from what they were originally "wired" socially to pursue. A few examples...Bill Gates, Warren Buffett...and yes...President elect Obama. Without knowing every biographical detail of these examples, I know enough generally about their backgrounds to know that they took paths very different from their original "programming".
One of my stepfather's favorite sayings was "as a twig is bent, so grows the tree"...and with my activities in youth of working his tree farm together...I was able to see this play out in nature. Trees that grew up heavily shaded by bigger, more mature trees did not grow as fast and were always limited by the size of the big tree it grew under. This was OK for brand new plantings that needed temporary shelter from the elements, but eventually trees that sprouted a little further from their source experienced more sunlight and got more rain...which caused it to grow faster and freer. Young trees that were stomped on or feasted on by deer or other animals in the kingdom often grew into weird shapes and sizes, or completely died before maturing.
WE SAY WE LOVE FLOWERS, YET WE PLUCK THEM. WE SAY WE LOVE TREES, YET WE CUT THEM DOWN. AND PEOPLE STILL WONDER WHY SOME ARE AFRAID WHEN TOLD THEY ARE LOVED ~Author Unknown
I have seen this same phenomenon of nature play out in lives around me. Many people are so controlled and "under the shadow" of their families or peers that they will never grow to their potential or outside the shade of those limiting influences. You listen to enough people telling you what you CAN'T do for long enough...you will believe them eventually.
Other people through circumstances or by design have been allowed to grow with less controlling influences. They have been free to take in the sunshine of fresh new ideas mixed with “rains” of experiences that cause them to grow fast and independently...without restriction. Of course, too much sunshine or water on a young sapling can cause premature death as well. But, if everything is in balance with the nature around them, those elements will actually make a person stronger...alas the old adage "what doesn't kill you makes you grow stronger".
You can have all balance of nature going for you when along comes a predator of some form that stomps all over you or tries to "suck the life out of you" such as a bloodsucker might do in nature. My comparison to this would be the bad influences or even uncontrollable circumstances that happen in life which can dampen your spirits, threaten your finances and even your very life. The key difference between humans and trees are that humans are more MOBILE...both physically and mentally. If we choose to, we can usually find a way to relocate...to move away or towards certain influences. If we are satisfied with where and who we are, there is probably no need to move or change our circumstances. Sometimes we just ride out the storms. But, for those of us who are not satisfied or living lives of "quiet desperation" where we are planted...perhaps it is time to consider some "moves". It can be physical adjustments, or simply mental or relational ones.
I strongly believe we make our own destinies based on the relationships we pursue or stay in. There is good and bad in some of our relational traditions. As stated earlier, we cannot choose the families we are born into. In most cases, we find great meaning and connectedness in our family bonds. "Blood is thicker than water" as the saying goes. Yet, many people I have met are also heavily stunted in their growth based on accepting proximity and security by staying "close to their roots". They don't have to worry about too much sun or rain in their lives, because the bigger trees will always decide how much of each they should get. In exchange, they give up the joy and freedom of the "sun" beating down on their faces and miss those “rains” of experience washing away all the "dust and debris" that has built up on their branches from the "bigger trees".
SOME PEOPLE CAN'T SEE THE FOREST FOR THE TREES...OTHERS CANT SEE THE TREES FOR THE FOREST... ~me
In life I have had my share of failed relationships...with friends and with women. At the same time, the long term relationships that I continue to treasure are those that have positively influenced my life and values. I am freer than many people because I have allowed myself to move in new directions throughout my life. I have been open to many different experiences and people. Someday maybe I'll even write a book about that wide variety of people who have influenced my growth...both for positive and negative. I retain control and responsibility over my own life BECAUSE I don't allow any other person to have an OVER-shadowing role in it. If people start controlling us, that usually means they don't accept us as we are...or they want too much from us. I have learned the hard way a few times not to pursue or give in to people that want to manipulate or control me. Instead, I have learned to gravitate towards a few "trees" that offer me enough space to get my share of sunshine and rain, yet I can look up to them and see how and where their source of growth is coming from.
SOME OF THE MOST DEFORMED TREES ARE THE MOST INTERESTING ONES...UNIQUE AND BEAUTIFUL IN THEIR OWN WAY EVEN THOUGH THEY WERE STOMPED ON OR DEFORMED AT AN EARLY AGE...~me
We all have been hurt or damaged by other people at some point in our lives. When this happens, it is part of the human condition that we experience pain and react…sometimes in very sub-conscious ways. Some of us live the rest of our lives REacting to the hurts others have caused us. We hole ourselves up in some corner of life holding on to our pain and covering up our wounds...never again to take the risk of relating or getting close to someone else because of the fear and expectation of being "stomped on" again.
Others of us are able to pick ourselves up and keep moving until we find a better relationship to connect to...a shadier spot next to a bigger and better "tree". Some of us need more shade than others just by our natures. Like trees, certain people are just stronger and more independent than others at getting by in life. Those trees/people tend to stand out in a crowd...they are not clumped together in easily identifiable groups. It takes a while to totally understand and take in their beauty...and that is OK. Often times, we want to be like them...but in reality we cannot because we did not grow up in the same family or under the same circumstances or diet of sunshine and rain. Yet, we still should appreciate the difference and respect the uniqueness of nature.
Let's face it, our relationships, or lack thereof, are the catalyst for whom and where we are in life. If we are rich, it is usually because we grew up around moneyed people or we were successful in selling or meeting the needs of other people with money or serving our employer. If we are poor...well, we didn't do any of the above. If we are happy, usually it is because we are around happy people. If we are down and depressed, it usually means we are alone or surrounded by negative, depressed people. Our lives and values are determined later in life by the relational choices we make. If we want to be successful, we need to surround ourselves with successful people...but then again, not so close or connected that their success overshadows our own capacity for it. If we want more passion in life, we need to pursue other passionate people and relationships. This is how we will make it happen. Remember, we have the unique ability to pick up and move ourselves towards the "forest and trees" we want to live and be influenced by.
ONE DEFORMED TREE IN THE DESERT CAN BE MORE VALUABLE IN SUSTAINING LIFE THAN A WHOLE FORREST OF TREES IN BETTER CLIMATES...~me
And finally, it’s all about balance. We will never find the relationships we want if we are totally shrouded and shaded by the relationships we have. Sometimes we have to take more risk to get where we want to go relationally. This may mean going through seemingly long times of being alone. If there is purpose and consideration in our alone time, then it can be a very positive growth period for our personal lives. Being alone doesn't have to mean being "lonely". Loneliness comes from being dependent on others...their reactions to you...their approval or lack thereof towards you. Being too focused on other’s reactions will cause your life to wilt and falter. On the contrary, if you are able to self focus in a positive manner...reflecting in the sunshine and rain of your own life without the definition or permission of others...you will more clearly see which "trees" you want to be like versus just looking for shelter in the "forest" of life.
One final correlation between trees and people...as I mentioned earlier about my family's tree farm, some of my best adolescent memories were the days and hours spent working the tree farm with my Stepfather. It was a truly bonding experience...and even though we didn't grow up from the same "blood roots", I was fortunate to have his shade over my life for those key formative years. His tree of life was strong, quiet, and independent yet underneath sensitive and even complicated. But...just like his careful tending of the trees, he tended carefully to the nurturing and caring of my mother, sister and me. We all should be so lucky to be transplanted near such a productive and plentiful "tree". Better yet...may we all aspire to become that kind of "tree" to someone else.
Blessed is the man
who does not walk in the counsel of the wicked
or stand in the way of sinners
or sit in the seat of mockers.
He is like a tree planted by streams of water,
which yields its fruit in season
and whose leaf does not wither.
Whatever he does prospers....Psalms 1:1,3