This morning we spent at least three hours raking, blowing, gathering leaves in our backyard. I am not going to lie, I was cursing our blessed trees… the trees which I praised throughout the spring and summer. For half of the year, these trees provided shade and protection from the heat that is the Texas sun. The trees allowed us to play outside as they guarded us against different elements… these majestic living beings went from being my favorite part of our house to one of our most despised. I went from rejoicing about our mature trees to cursing their existence…
As I was gathering bag number 12 with Matthew, it hit me how trees are complicated and my mind went to how humans are complicated. As humans we don’t like things that are complicated. We like things to be neat and tidy. We like things to go into specific boxes… it requires less of us, it takes less of us, it lets us not have to reflect or even change.
My heart has been sad for the last few years. My heart has been sad because the lack of empathy… the lack of listening. My heart has been sad because there is an abundance of judgment and arrogance… my heart has been sad because our society has resorted to label people as “good” or “bad” based on if they fit our narrow criteria with no room for dialogue, for growth, for understanding.
Trees aren’t good or bad… they are trees. Just because my trees frustrate me during the fall doesn’t make them useless during the months of Spring and Summer… it means I have to accept the good with the bad… it means I have to realize it is complicated.
When I was practicing as a mental health counselor, I remember having numerous conversations on this subject. I remembered many conversations right around the time the Batman movie, The Dark Knight, was released. If I am honest, I hated the movie. It was incredibly violent and was not my cup of tea, but even in the midst of the violence, I saw a deeper meaning. I would talk with clients as they were expressing how they saw themselves as horrid for one action, one mistake, one choice. When I brought up the movie, all of them had seen it. I asked them if Batman was good or bad. They all immediately stated good. I then stopped them and reflected that although Batman was good, he had questionable actions that many…. or most… would label as bad. My goal was to help them realize that we are all complicated and all of us have dark and bright spots… We all have “good” and “bad” parts… and that is what makes us human.
No one is perfect. Just like there is not a perfect tree. We are complicated… we have many sides… we each go through different seasons. If we are quick to write someone off as “good” or “bad” we miss the complication that is being human. We also miss the point that people can change. Just because my tree is shedding its leaves today doesn’t mean it won’t protect me from the sun in a few months… it means there are different seasons… it means life is complicated.
Although it is easier to put people in boxes, I can hope, that enough of us will realize boxes only hurt all of us. We must realize all of us can change as quickly as a tree can go from dropping leaves to protecting us from the sun. I hope for this change not only because it is what we need as a society, but it is also what our children need. They need to see that mistakes happen and it is is not a life sentence. They need to see one bad decion isn’t a box but an opportunity.
This type of change doesn’t happen from pointing at others, it occurs with the internal hard work. It requires change on my part. It requires my vulnerability. It requires me to listen more than judge. It requires me to lead with empathy not ego.