Recently I read a post by one of my friends and co-founders of Flying Island Press, Zachary Ricks called Going Straight. Before you read on, I am going to ask you to go read his post, most of what I am about to say is not going to make sense unless you do.
Ok you read it right?
We’re good now right?
Before I get into this two deep let me say two things.
First, my farming experience has come as an adult. I don’t think it lessens it, but it does make it different. My experience is also on a much smaller scale, you might call it hobby farming, heck you might even call what I am doing just goofing around. Whatever you want to call it, it is different than what he has experienced.
Second, I am going to use some humor here. I am not in anyway meaning to lessen the message that Mr. Ricks is sending. He has a good message here and I am hopefully going to add to it and not take away from it. We are both using the farming metaphor to describe life, and well that just lends itself to some pretty humorous things. Not the least of which is the idea of two “old men” arguing about which kind of farming is a better metaphor for life.
Mr. Ricks starts with the premise that if you are going to get anywhere in life, if you want to reach your goals you need to look straight ahead and plow your rows straight by keeping your eyes on your goal. If you do then you will make nice straight lines. While I was reading this, I could not help but think about the very small amount of “creating rows” I have done. First, I will say that I have never done this with a tractor. All of our farming has been done by hand. The biggest power tiller that you can rent from your local supply store is the largest piece of equipment that I have used on our farm. That being said the tiller (and yes I know that is different than disking and that is different than plowing but hey I gotta start somewhere) I have used on the 3+ acres that we messed with this year, yanked me around until I was sore even after days of trying to pick the rocks out of the soil, and I never had anything that looked like a straight line. When we went back and use the furrower the story was much the same. Then we had a string guiding us and I was still all over the place. I guess it does not mean that we had a bad field, just that we had one that didn’t have straight lines as hard as we tried. So while I like the idea of keeping your eyes on the end of the field and getting straight to your goals, it is not something I really have any experience with.
Well one of the reasons that we make straight lines in our fields is that we want to be able to use equipment in helping us to continue the growing process. We want to have it help us spray the crops to keep the weeds down and of course water. If your lines aren’t straight, then when you run your equipment through you’re going to run over some of your crops.
What does this have to do with life? Simple. If you don’t keep your eyes on where you are going and keep your “lines straight” you are going to have a hard time later, some of the work that you did in the past will get lost, because you didn’t do it in the right order, or it was off track. You might even waste time redoing things because you didn’t understand enough to have done it right in the first place. You might find yourself at the end of the field, (the end of a project) only to realize that you plowed the wrong field. These are very real dangers, and very good reasons for keeping your eyes on your final goal.
While I don’t have any experience plowing and making strait rows, one of the things that I do have some experience in, is herding animals and pulling weeds. For me, while the idea of keeping your eyes on your goal makes a lot of sense, I find myself having to make sure that not only am I headed in the right direction, but also that the animals that I am trying to herd are going there as well. That means taking my eyes off the end goal. That sometimes means running around side to side to keep the strays from wandering off. It means some turning my back on the goal so that I can run back and get a sheep that has decided to be stubborn. It is these side trips that can, from time to time, tell you if an animal is sick, tell you if you have missed a spot where they could graze, figure out which ones of them are the leaders (if you don’t know already,) and in general get a good look at your animals. Some times you even learn that you and a new sheep needed a bath.
These side trips in life, let you know what you are missing. You might find things that interest you, they might give you ideas about future projects, or help you to realize that you have a problem. While you always want to keep an eye on that end goal, you don’t want to be chasing “sheep” all day, some times it is good to move from side to side and look at things from a new angle. You might just find out something about yourself that you didn’t know before. But you to want to keep an eye on where you are going so that you don’t end up getting completely side tracked and not making it to your goal.
As for the weeds, well, while you are down on your hands and knees pulling weeds it is a good idea to know where in the field you are, but over all that can some times make things worse. If you have ever worked on a really large project, one that felt overwhelming, you likely know the virtue of just keeping your head down and moving forward, because if you look at the end goal too much you will get depressed because it seems too far away. Along with not letting your self get overwhelmed, there are things that need a level of detail that you can’t give them if you have only half your focus on them. If you are weeding along with your eyes on the end of the field, to make sure that you are in your row, then you might start pulling up the plants that you are there to weed around. Sure, it might mean that you accidentally change rows, or that you reach the end of the row before you realize it (won’t that be a pleasant surprise,) but it also means that you have given the little details the level of attention they need.
I don’t think any one way is right. Mr. Ricks points out that not keeping straight means that it will take you longer to reach your goals. He is right. Some times it feels like it takes way too long to move the sheep from the barn to the pen only a hundred feet away, but as I said some times it gives you a new perspective. Then again some times it is just down right annoying. When you are trying to get ready for work and need to get the sheep moved, the chickens fed and the children all up and started on their day before you get yourself out the door.
Can life be described as one farming metaphor or another? Likely not. I guess what I am saying here is that you have to be flexible. Everything in your life is likely there for a reason. If that means you get to make nice straight rows, awesome. If that means that you spend a while running after sheep, or down on your hands and knees in the dirt, well that is part of life too. Keep open, keep flexible, and don’t get discouraged if your life is not always straight, you can do better next time.
Thank you to Zachary Ricks for the great post, and wonderful ideas. You can learn more about him and what he is up to at his site Mad Poet Files Trust me you want to keep an eye there, beyond being wise, he is also a wonderful story teller. His book Battle Hymn is awesome and I am eagerly awaiting the next one in the series.
2 thoughts on “I Herd That”
This is a good post, and gets at some of the things that the concept of “straight rows” doesn’t. You’re always going to have distractions, things will come out of the woodwork, and occasionally you lose a sheep along the way.
But there’s also something I heard this last week about not looking back and keeping your focus forward. Faith is a forward-looking proposition. Your favorite supervillain monologue is a good example of not keeping your eyes on the prize. Peter got in trouble when he looked around and took his eyes off the goal.
Good post, Jeff.
Thank you sir, I really hoped that I was not taking away from what you wrote.
I really like that point, Faith is a forward looking proposition. We are, with our faith, looking to the future. We are hoping we are praying, and we have faith of what the future will hold. So many people think that faith, because of it’s depth of history and adherence to that history and the rules laid down, that Faith is a backward looking thing. It really is not. What is the phrase, those who don’t know history are doomed to repeat it. We try to learn from the past, the good and the bad, so that our faith can guide us forward. I mean everyone should learn from the story of Esther, she had incredible courage, but I think we can all agree that both what they end up doing to huge groups of people, and what they had planned for Esther and her people, is something we should not repeat.
Thanks again for the great post and something to think about.