“When you plant lettuce, if it does not grow well, you don’t blame the lettuce. You look for reasons it is not doing well. It may need fertilizer, or more water, or less sun. You never blame the lettuce. Yet if we have problems with our friends or family, we blame the other person. But if we know how to take care of them, they will grow well, like the lettuce. Blaming has no positive effect at all, nor does trying to persuade using reason and argument. That is my experience. No blame, no reasoning, no argument, just understanding. If you understand, and you show that you understand, you can love, and the situation will change”
— Thich Nhat Hanh
When I read this quote the first thing that came to mind was, “how can I view my children and my husband as lettuce?” I loved the idea of not placing blame and being more understanding, but how can I not hold them responsible for their actions?
So I started with the thought of some flowers that I bought a few summers ago at a nursery. The woman at the nursery said the flowers would bloom all summer. The irrigation company said that there was enough water going to the area for the flowers to flourish. Yet a few weeks later all these flowers died! Although I really wasn’t mad at anyone (things happen), I did wonder about who I might blame for the incident. I thought maybe the woman at the nursery made a mistake about how long in the season these flowers live. Maybe the irrigation company was wrong and they did not get enough water. Or maybe I did a lousy job planting the flowers. But it didn’t occur to me to blame the flowers. I just felt one of the conditions was not right for the flowers to flourish.
So I began to wonder how can I bring this idea into my life so I won’t blame and be angry with people I love when I think their behavior is inappropriate or hurtful. Can I see them as the flower that does not thrive under certain conditions?
As I contemplated this idea, I started to think about the things that my children do that upset me. One thing that came to mind was how my children act when I pick them up from school (I live in a city where many parents drop-off and pick-up their children from school until they are older). Often when I showed up at school for pick-up, within minutes one of my children would be cranky, moody or angry. They would start to argue with each other or me and the beautiful afternoon I had imagined unraveled. I would try to explain to them that their behavior was unacceptable and hurtful and they should be grateful for this time together. But no matter what I said, within days my children went back to their old behavior.
And then I thought about the flowers that can’t flourish under certain conditions. And it occurred to me that my children were probably tired, hungry or maybe something happened at school that day to put them in a bad mood. Maybe the conditions at this time of day are not conditions where my children flourish. Interestingly, the first thing I felt when I believed this thought was less emotional pain.
My change of perspective helped me give up the idea that things are not as they should be. I stopped trying to make pick-up from school the way I had imagined it would be and I felt more relaxed and peaceful. I no longer saw the situation as bad or blamed them for their behavior because I realized the conditions were not ideal for my children to flourish. I started to bring food with me for them to eat on our walk home and sometimes that calmed them down. I practiced a breathing technique before I picked them up (the Pause) as I was aware of the potential conflicts that lurked around the corner. Most of all I had compassion for their experience and understanding for their inability to handle that time of the day. I believe my understanding has allowed all of us to move through afternoon pick-up the with more ease and less heartache. It’s still not always perfect especially when the girls argue, but my inner peace with what is happening helps me stay calm, say they right thing and work toward creating a condition where they can better thrive.
On difficult days, I still speak with them about their behavior when we get home and I try to make them aware of how their actions affect those around them. I hope that they will learn as they grow up to be kind and loving even when conditions are not perfect. But for now I can try to lead by example.
And those flowers. I planted them again for this coming summer with new soil and more water. Let’s see if the conditions are better for them to flourish this year. So far, so good.