Leading Ethically Only is an educational outreach of Leadership Ethics Online (LEO). Essays range widely--from ethical analysis of the news, to ethical challenges to leaders in society, to personal reflections of an ethical nature. We welcome your thoughts and criticisms to make us better.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Working With Briars in Your Life

Life Makes Messes
The other day I decided to take my chain saw and clear away a large branch that had fallen in my side yard some time ago.  A strong wind blew that limb down.  I just let it lay where it fell for a while, still attached to the trunk at the top, hanging down at a forty-five degree angle.  No sap ran through it any more and week by week, its once-green leaves turned brown and wrinkled in death.  I drove in and out of my house for some time and decided it was time to clean up the mess.

I own an inexpensive Poulan saw, but it serves its purpose for a homeowner.  I started cutting off the small limbs, in lengths large enough to fit neatly into my truck bed.  As I cut three or four, I put down the saw, running still, and quickly picked up the cut branches and placed them in the truck.  Progress was fast.  I cut the limbs as I came to them and before long, I was cutting the large center limb in five foot lengths.

When there was only another ten feet or so, dangling in the air and still attached to the tree, I attached one end of it to a pulling chain, and the other end to a towing bar on my truck.  It pulled right off and fell to the ground.  I cut that into two pieces, both heavy, but manageable.  I then looked at a number of trash limbs growing all around the trunk, green and wild-looking.  I decided to clean around the trunk to trim the tree up better than I had cared for it in some time.

So I began to move quickly, cutting this one and that one.  I reached into a particularly messy bunch of greenery on the right side of the trunk, and then felt scratches on my hand.  Looking more closely, I saw that a thick briar, one that had been growing for a while, was somewhat hidden among the scattered little branches.  I realized I had to slow down, look with care, and cut both the small green branches around that briar, which were entangled with it.

I cut away the branches and that briar, loaded all carefully into the truck, then hauled it to the back of my thirty acres.  I knew a wet-weather drain where I would dump the results of my work.  I backed up carefully to the little drop-off, put on the emergency brake, then carefully remembered the thorny briar enmeshed amid the dead and live branches I had cut.  I slowed down, took my time, determined that the briar would not get me again.  The load came off with little trouble, and I drove back to the house.

But on the way back, I thought about what I had done during the two hours this work took.  I decided there was a little moral lesson to be found in this little incident, so I share it with you now.

There Are Messes in Our Lives

Life is like that tree.  One day, everything is fine, green and growing, beautiful and blowing in the wind.  Then, due to no fault of ours, troubles comes, strong forces break up what was fine and beautiful.  And we have a mess in our life.  There it sits, a reminder of what was, but no longer is.

We have several choices and, in the messes that have blown into my life, I have made them all.  We can get up every day, ignore the mess, and let one day follow after another.  We know it's there.  We may look the other way and see it out of the corner of our eye.  We may be aggravated it's there.  We may think back to when there was no mess, but are too preoccupied with memories of the past to deal with the present.  We may even be too bull-headed to change our routine and remove it.  A mess unattended to will stay there as long as it's allowed to remain.

But if we are wise, one day we decide to deal with it.  We have to set aside time.  We have to assess what tools we need.  And then we start.  We have to take the parts of the mess that appear closest at hand.  We take charge of them, one at a time.  We do not rush to the central, bigger parts of the mess.  We must remove the smaller parts, master them, and put them away, one by one.  After all, our messes often have larger issues attached to the smaller ones, and we never will get to the really tough ones until we have mastered what we should first.

Yet after we finally clean up the mess, we still must be careful.  The original destruction may be cleaned up.  But if we look closely, there are still little things left, very real and alive, that are waiting to grow into bigger problems later.  If we are presumptuous, we may jump right in and think we can remove them without much trouble.  But just like the big messes in our lives, they still can inflict pain and damage their own way.  So it is best to be warned by what they are, and to be just as careful with them as if they were as big as they someday will be, if we do not remove them now.  JDW

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