I’ve got this person in my life that I cannot avoid who keeps causing me grief. I don’t believe they do it intentionally, but they seem to be pretty good at it. Have you ever had someone in your life that just rubs you the wrong way and, try as you might, there seems to be no way to straighten things out? Now I’m not talking about someone who punches you in the face or does stuff really over-the-top, I’m talking about a person who you interact with on a regular basis that just causes…well…messes in your life. Wreckage, really.
If it was someone I could just walk away from or unfriend on Facebook, I would gladly do so, but I can’t. They aren’t a relative (which is a good thing) but they aren’t someone that I can completely avoid in my life. They just keep causing messes. It’s irritating. Ever have someone like that? Maybe you have someone like that right now like I do?
This blog entry is my opportunity to share something a mentor of mine told me that helps me focus and the important and not get bogged down in the ridiculous. I’ve made it into a parable, and I hope it helps you as much as it has helped me.
Sometime in the mid-1900s here in Chicago there were three shopkeepers who had shops near each other on Main Street: a Butcher, a Shoemaker, and a Chemist. Every day the shopkeepers would go downstairs, open their shops (folks lived above their shops in those days), and sweep the sidewalk in front of their shops. They did this every day, day-in and day-out. They would greet one another and any passers-by and then, when they were finished, open up their shops.
One day the Shoemaker took his lunch hour see the Chemist for some aspirin for a headache. As he left his shop he noticed that someone had dropped some butcher paper on his sidewalk. With a grunt he picked up the paper, crumpled it into a tight ball, and walked over to the Chemist’s shop. He got his aspirin and, after a nice chat, went back to his store.
On his way back to his shop, the Shoemaker stopped off at the Butcher’s and, making his way quickly past the lunch-hour line, threw the butcher paper on the counter. “What’s the big idea dropping this garbage on my walk,” he demanded. The Butcher just asked, “Whadd’ya mean,” and slammed his cleaver down on a thick slab of meat. After some heated words back-and-forth the Shoemaker stormed out loudly, and angrily made his way back to his store.
The next day as the Butcher was taking his mid-afternoon break he noticed that someone had dropped a bag on his sidewalk. Upon further inspection he discovered a receipt for the Chemist’s store. The Butcher didn’t want to make a scene at the Chemist’s like the Shoemaker had done to him the day before so instead he began waving the bag around while he went inside to get his broom and dust pan. He then dropped the bag back on the sidewalk and began to sweep the entire walk, all the while complaining loudly that “someone” (at which point he would gesture knowingly in the direction of the Chemist) had so insensitively dropped garbage on his nice, clean sidewalk and now he was forced to clean up in the heat of the day. It was a big scene, brought quite a crowd, and took up most of his afternoon.
Later that same day as the Chemist was closing up shop, he noticed a shoeshine tin on the sidewalk in front of his store. Upon further inspection he noted that some of the polish had spilled out and had dried in the afternoon sun into a nice. He looked up and down the sidewalk, but didn’t see anyone that might have dropped it, though there were several people in the area. He picked up the tin, walked over to the Shoemaker and asked if he had dropped it, which the Shoemaker denied because he had been in his shop all day long with his son teaching him the business. With a shrug, he walked back across the street, unlocked his store, tossed the tin in the garbage, grabbed his broom and a cloth and proceeded to clean up the shoe polish. After a a half hour he was satisfied it was clean, threw the trash in the can, and whistled to himself as he locked up his store for a second time and headed home.
Too often I am like the Butcher or the Shoemaker when it comes to people causing a mess on my side of the street in my life: I assume it was done intentionally and that I am just an innocent victim. I make a fuss and complain or go off on someone for dumping trash in my life (for causing wreckage if you will) on my side of the street. Wouldn’t it just be simpler for me to ask what happened, clean it up and move on? I am going to have to clean it up one way or another, so why add extra mess to an already messy thing?
I need to be more like the Chemist and realize that people are messy, and if I want people in my life, I am going to be confronted with the messes that normal, even healthy people make. There is no way around it: People are messy. Everyone has a toilet at home, right? That’s because humans are messy. Period.
Unless I want to live with wax mannequins that represent the people I want in my life, I am going to have messes in my life…even well-intentioned messes! Even messes from people who really, really, really, genuinely love me!
When confronted with a mess on “my side of the street” it seems I have one of three choices: 1. Let it just sit there and expect someone else to clean it up; 2. Complain about it and clean it up; or 3. Work on cleaning it up without making a bigger mess. Option one never ends well for me and just leads to resentment, bitterness, and broken relationships. Option two doesn’t work either because I just end up with a pity party, a victim mindset, and a missed opportunity to build relationships and prevent worse messes. It also takes a lot longer than just cleaning it up! Option three may not be easy, but it’s a good option and one that I will try to do more of in my life.
And that goes for when I make messes on the other side of the street, too. Am I going to confess that I made a mess, acknowledge the wreckage it has caused, ask for forgiveness, and work to clean it up? Or will I pretend that I’m perfect and do whatever I think is right, even covering up my messes? Oh the applications of the parable are vast! I like it!
So I will work on my side of the street. I will sweep every day, ask questions about the messes others seem to make in my life (rather than throw accusations), and do my best to keep my side of the street clean. I can’t control the other side of the street, but I can do my best on my side of it. And that just makes for a good, happy Shop.