Have you ever concluded an hour long conversation with someone about a topic you disagree on, and thought to yourself “Well, THAT was a waste of a perfectly good hour!” and walked away confident you had no impact whatsoever? Race, sexuality, world religion, politics, these are often the most difficult topics to discuss and why we are often told from a young age to never discuss religion or politics at a family event! But, I want to talk about that “wasted hour” a little more in depth and to do that, I am going to change to a farming analogy.
For most people, their understanding of farming is: you plant seeds, you let them grow and you pick the crop. Easy enough? But farmers, even non-professional gardeners, know that there is much more to the process. First of all you have to prepare the soil. That may start months or years in advance. Crop rotation is a science that tells what to grow, in what soil, in what order to maximize the nutrients needed for the next crop. Then there is preparing the land, which again can have several steps. Then there is planting the right seeds at the right time, caring for them while they are underground to allow them to break through the soil to sunlight, then comes the months’ long process of caring for the plants as they grow and mature to then finally harvest at the right time to maximize yield and minimize waste. It’s a long, laborious task that is a combination of science, nature, art and often a little good luck.
Now, let’s go back to your “wasted hour” and re-envision that. Rather than coming into that person’s head at “harvest season” (where you actually SEE the fruits of your labor) i.e. where you might see a light bulb moment or a shift in paradigm on their part… maybe, just maybe, you were the crop PRIOR to the crop rotation that was putting the right nutrients and foundation into creating the fertile ground. Somewhere down the line, weeks, months, maybe years later, someone ELSE may plant the seed that eventually maybe someone ELSE harvests. Or maybe someone else prepared the soil and you were simply caring for the planted seed that can still not be seen but needs care and cultivation all the same. Maybe, just maybe, you got to see the little shoots of green popping through the dirt to see sunlight or the first time… but very likely you are a step SOMEWHERE in that essential line of progress and growth.
I have been facilitating couples’ therapy many times when one partner tells me something that they have been trying to get the other to understand for years. When they conclude, I will often say “That is great that you were able to express your needs so clearly and concisely to me. But, can you now turn to your partner and tell them the same thing?” To which, inevitably, I hear “But, I’ve been saying this for years!” I am sure this is true… but now, in couple’s therapy, sitting with a paid professional, at this moment in time, maybe THIS is their harvest season? Or another essential step along the line. You can take a handful of seeds and toss them onto the ground in the middle of winter and no matter how fertile the soil is, it’s unlikely anything will grow from that. So, clearly timing is essential as well. So, the next time you leave a conversation, shaking your head, and feeling your effort was wasted, think about the very long, deliberate, labor intense process of growth and console yourself with the idea that you may be an early – but essential – step in their personal growth process…