Wednesday, March 23, 2005


My compost methods (see previous post) are not, I think, so very unusual, and I don’t really beat myself up over the waste, which is not waste at all other than the money spent to purchase vegetables I don’t actually get inside myself.

You may notice that I make a concerted effort not to beat myself up over anything; rather, if I see that I am doing something that seems inappropriate or wrong, I just stop that behavior and replace it with more positive actions. Negative reinforcement doesn’t work on my staff, my dogs, or anyone else I have ever met—why would I want to try it on myself? Apologies are sometimes in order, but the exercise of public self-flagellation does not accomplish much, in my opinion.

Rather, I work hard to treat myself well, including organizing my life so that I can be strong and healthy, and that means having the option of good food at home. My diet is working very well these days, rich in high quality protein, whole grains and vegetables. Organizing food is different in rural Vermont from New York City, where greengrocers were on every other corner and one could purchase beautiful produce on the way home, no matter the hour at which one came home. In Vermont, I am home early and once home, I don’t want to leave my cozy nest. That means if I have good food—including vegetables—at home, I will eat them. If not, well, …not.

So I buy four or five vegetables a week, in addition to the basic onions, celery, carrots, garlic, coriander, and ginger. I figure I spend maybe ten dollars a week on vegetables, many of which end up in the compost. But some of them end up in me, and that is the goal of the exercise. I am paying ten dollars a week not for compost, but rather for the option on vegetables, the capacity to do something for my health every day that I would not have if I didn’t buy vegetables. And no, frozen won’t work—the holistic experience of peeling, slicing and cooking is part of the health benefit I am seeking.

Option preservation. This is something I first learned at business school, the concept that when choosing among alternatives, there is value in the one that keeps your options open, particularly when you have the ultimate alternative of compost. It’s a powerful guiding principle, particularly when dealing with people. Far too quick to draw lines between good and bad, we humans cope better when we create strategies that keep our options open. Do I dump the boyfriend? Write off the sibling or the friend who has been uncommunicative? Refuse to deal with the person who makes life difficult? Why? Aren’t we usually better off if we create an environment in which the annoying person has room to do the right thing, the creative thing, the loving thing? The observable fact that they don't often take it should not influence our willingness to create the right environment.

There are, of course, occasions when it is right and proper and even loving to make a clean break, but they are few in number. We tend to know them when we see them. For me, I find that when I think maybe I ought to make a clean break, I really need to redouble my efforts at bridge-building, even if bridge-building involves redefining the relationship in some fundamental way. Seeing the other person whole, speaking to the other person as an independent entity capable of making his or her own decision, and avoiding the trap of manipulating that person into doing what I want—all that practice often does redefine the relationship and makes room for shifting into new roles without the mutual flagellation that so often characterizes the ways we humans treat each other. I may not be able to see what the new options look like, but that should not prevent my pursuing new options in all faith that a better way will open up before me.

When I know--not think, but know--that it is time to make a break, then it is kindest to go ahead and do it, without second-guessing myself or pulling punches. But that’s only when I know, and that has happened only half a dozen times in my life, as compared to hundreds and hundreds of occasions of renewed bridge-building. More specifically, making a sharp break has only been necessary when the other person in the relationship has been unwilling to consider more than one option for dealing with me. If the game is defined from the other side as do-what-I-want-or-else, I will choose—with regret—to go for “or else.” This was the case when I left my husband twenty years ago, and also on the few occasions when I have needed to fire someone, and maybe a handful of other occasions. It appears that I don't take this step easily, and it may in fact be the challenge of this lifetime that I learn when it is time to let go.

There is a truism in dog training that in a group of dogs, the dog who barks is not necessarily the problem. If you look closely, you will find that there is another dog engaging in psychological warfare, egging on the hapless barker. The challenge for the trainer is to train the barking dog that he has the option to bark or not to bark, to enable him to ignore manipulative machinations and become a happy dog. Likewise, the goading dog needs to learn new ways to entertain himself and suppport his own self-esteem. It’s all about creating and preserving options, so that we can choose the right ones: there is always another way!

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