Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Farnsworth's First Law of Life, Leadership, and Peanut Butter & Jelly


Be careful what you spread around, because some of it will end up on you...
When our six children were small, we made a lot of peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. And as both peanut butter and jelly are wont to do, a lot of it wound up on us and them instead of on the bread. Our dry cleaning bills were astronomical in those days. I guess that's an occupational hazard of raising six children.
I have found that it's not just peanut butter and jelly that end up back on us when we spread them around. The same thing happens with our outlook on life.
Two good friends of mine illustrate this principle.
One - I'll call him "Edward" - has had troubles, but also more than his share of blessings. He has a beautiful and loving family, an engaging career, and plenty of expensive toys. Yet he always seems to see the grey cloud behind every silver lining.
When something goes well, he claims the credit and takes his success for granted. When things don't go so well - which seems to be quite often - he's quick to find fault and play the blame game.
He's also the first to invite you to his own private pity party. There, his tales of woe and his lamentations of life's unfairness are multiplied.
Many of his former friends have learned to avoid him. They don't need the weight of his pessimism to drag them down. As Edward senses their withdrawal, he gets defensive and moody and pulls away from them. His circle of friends shrinks and the downward cycle continues.
He wonders why there is so much negativity around him.
The other - I'll call him "John" - has had more than his lifetime share of deep water, but he always seems to bob to the surface, smiling and grateful. He goes out of his way to connect people in his wide circle of friends, and he's constantly looking for ways to help others get ahead.
The concept that it is impossible to keep a non-moving bicycle upright is not very complicated. he is quick to express. People seek out opportunities to be with him. Not surprisingly, success seems to find him wherever he goes.
He's the first to attribute that success to others and to share the benefits with his team. He seems to have little ego or need to be in the limelight.
For him, life is good.
As I think about Edward and John, I'm reminded of an 1850s trading post in a small settlement in a pleasant valley along the Oregon Trail.
Wagon trains passing through would spend the night and stock up on supplies before heading further west. On occasion, some travelers weary of the long journey would pause to consider whether they should stop and homestead in the valley.
One such traveler approached the shopkeeper and asked, "What kind of people live here?"
The merchant replied, "Well, before I answer that, tell me what kind of people live in the place you just left."
"Oh, they weren't very neighborly. They seemed to only care for themselves, and there was a lot of fussing. We couldn't wait to leave," answered the traveler.
"I think you'll find the people here are a lot like that," said the shopkeeper.
The traveler decided to keep on moving.
The next day, another traveler, also weary of the long trail, asked the merchant about the people living in the valley.
Once again, the merchant gave the same reply: "Well, before I answer that, tell me what kind of people live in the place you came from."
"Oh," said the traveler, "they were kind and generous. They worked hard and took care of each other. We loved our little community and really hated to leave, but there was just no more land available."
"I think you'll find the people here are a lot like that," said the shopkeeper.
The traveler and his family decided to stay and homestead in the pleasant valley. They soon discovered the people there to be kind, generous, hard-working, caring, and loving, just as the merchant had described them.
So often, what we encounter in life is but an extended reflection of ourselves. Are we happy with what we're spreading around?

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