Visit my show at the PSCCU Credit Union, Vashon, Washington May, June 2024 

Why not let life be complex?

This US Presidential Inauguration Day, a group of riders on white horses wearing white coats will ride into Washington, D.C. to assume power.

At the same time, a group of black-coated riders on black horses will ride away.

Peace will be restored and the world will be generous and safe.

(I doubt you believe that.)

I’m just hoping that in the months to come we move away from the good-guy bad-guy rhetoric that has been polarizing this nation.

For the record: I believe there are bad guys. Folks who lie, distort the truth, incite violence or execute it, deliberately hurt others, or commit crimes against humanity. And there may be evil.

Just because I deeply disagree with someone doesn’t turn them into a villain.

Even when it doesn’t make for good headlines, life is complex.

Taking a page from nature

Nature is complex. She does not divide herself up into good guys and bad guys.

This week, a huge limb from a neighbor’s madrona tree crashed on our property, crushing our fence and leaving the property vulnerable to deer visitors. Of course, this happened when my husband was off-island.

Imagine how the story would have been covered by two polarized news sources.

Here’s what the anti-madrona-ists believe:

The tree is a nuisance, susceptible to fungal infections for which there are no cures. Any small disturbance of its land, whether from heavy equipment damage or watering can kill the tree. A tree or limb drop can cause hundreds of dollars of damage to property, including land and vehicles, and take hours to clean up. The madrona is BAD.

They might have covered my story like this

A limb weighing several hundred pounds dropped from a madrona Monday night, crushing a fence and nearby viburnum bush. With the fence open, the property became vulnerable to dozens of deer predators circling the area. The viburnum now is in critical care. The property owner said, “I don’t know what to do. The limb came from a tree on my neighbor’s land and half of it is on their property. And our property is now at risk.”

The pro-madrona-ists believe:

The madrona is a northwest native and belongs here. It thrives in undisturbed, dry, sandy soils and coastal bluffs. The tree needs no care and can survive both drought and winter floods. Its twisted branches, red-gold bark, and cankers glow spectacularly when hit by the late afternoon sun. The tree is GOOD.

Their coverage:

Two neighbors came out of their Covid isolation to work together this week to clean up a madrona limb that had dropped between their properties. The tree’s owners helped cut the tree with their chain saw, free the fence, and resurrect the deer netting. The event provided a perfect opportunity for the fence-neighbors to safe socialize outdoors. The fence’s owner reported, “It was great to catch up. We hadn’t talked in a year.”

Both stories were true.

Let life be complex

Picking sides sounds silly until we catch ourselves doing it all the time. Why not make a shift as we move into the new year?

Here’s my plan:

Allow life to be complex. Simple is good for headlines. Complexity is good for eco-systems and human relations.

Appreciate context. How we frame an issue or event dictates what we see.

Be wary of first reactions. They can be knee-jerk. A bit of detachment supports better inquiry.

Ask more questions. That includes questions to my side as well as the other sides–if we have to have sides.

Look for some good. It’s not “Pollyanna” to enter situations looking for the good and allowing those we don’t understand “the benefit of the doubt,” at least at first.

Let the beautiful and difficult dance together. Yes, cleaning up fallen madrona is a pain. And yes, I adore the tree. Both/and.

Returning to the Presidential Inauguration, I wish there would be white horses dancing through Washington streets next week. Along with black horses, chestnuts, bays, and fleabit grays, like mine. IIt would all be good–at least to someone who loves horses–and if you don’t mind the poop.

10 Responses

  1. The problem for me in Costa Rica is that many pro-Trump extremists I meet here do not want to depolarize. It’s like asking Nazis to engage in a productive dialogue with Jewish people. There are ex-pats who moved here because they were appalled that the United States betrayed them by having a black (another term was used) president. We liberals need more advice about how to talk to the other side when they don’t care about differing views. More ideas?

  2. Hi Gretchen, one thought I had off your post is to begin conversations with people who you believe “agree” with you (or are at least less entrenched in their positions) about what we need to have new kinds of conversations that are more inviting and less invested in assuming we “know” who the other person is. I think one of the things that gets in the way is people on all sides assume they connect and communicate well with people who seem like them and just don’t know how to have conversations with the “other side.” In my experience, we’re not good at having open and curious conversations with most people so maybe you can practice being curious and open in environments that seem less polarized and go from there.

    1. Great idea Mary for practicing from where we are….your idea of practicing being open in environments that seem less polarized is great. It also helps deflate the idea that “we all think alike” that shows up in groups that do share some ideas in common.

  3. Hello, Sally!
    Your madrona example is delightful… a positive illustration of the ways thinking in manichean (sp?) black/white, good/bad categories distorts reality. Timely!

    I always enjoy your observations.

  4. Hello, Sally!
    Your madrona example is delightful… a positive illustration of the ways thinking in manichean (sp?) black/white, good/bad categories distorts reality. Timely!

  5. Aloha Sally from Hilo Hawaii,
    As always you bring a wonderful perspective to life’s challenges and horses of course! Judgmental and survival-mode thinking actions only make the challenges we face more difficult. Before the inner beast is triggered, it’s helpful to me to pause, breathe deeply, smile and think of the first positive thought as a possibility, instead of wanting to choke someone… Ha-Ha! ❤️ miss our time together and your calm professionalism.

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