Wednesday, September 26, 2018

Wednesday Wisdom: 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 and they made lots of peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. As is often the case with peanut butter and jelly, much of it wound up on us and them instead of the bread.  

As a result, we washed tons of laundry and scrubbed lots of sticky fingers in those days. I sent many a suit and tie to the dry cleaners. I guess those are occupational hazards of raising six children.

In the ensuing years, 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 attitudes and our outlook on life.

Two friends of mine illustrate this principle.

One has had troubles, but also more than his share of blessings. Yet he always seems to see the grey clouds rather than the silver lining.  

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 he 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 friend has faced 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.  

He exudes confidence and appreciation, which 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 positive and uplifting.

As I said, it's not just peanut butter and jelly that end up back on us when we spread them around. What we send out comes back to us.

As I think about these two friends, I'm reminded of the story of a small settlement along a western trail.  


Wagon trains passing through the hamlet would spend the night and stock up on supplies before heading further west. On occasion, 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, "This seems like a pleasant enough place, but can you tell me what kind of people live here?"

The merchant replied, "Well, before I answer that, tell me what the people were like in the place you just left."

"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 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 lived 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. They soon discovered their new neighbors 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.  

Remember, be careful what you spread around, because some of it - like peanut butter and jelly - will end up on you. Are you happy with what you're sending out to the world? Are you pleased with the kinds of people you keep running into in your journey through mortality?

Tuesday, September 11, 2018

Wednesday Wisdom: Farnsworth's First Law of Life, Leadership, and Pyramids


Pyramids and other legacies are built by farmers, not by nomads.


I've always been fascinated by pyramids. I have made several trips to Central America to explore Mayan pyramids, where I stand in awe of what those ancients constructed. Going to Egypt is still on my bucket list.  

Pyramids are the ultimate expression of a legacy in stone. Centuries later, as we gaze in wonder upon their slopes or scale their heights, we want to know their builders' stories and understand how they created such magnificent structures.  

Pyramids can teach us many lessons about how to leave a legacy. Here's one we often overlook: Pyramid builders were not nomads or hunter-gatherers who roamed from place to place. Pyramids were built by farmers who had learned to feed and sustain populations sufficiently large to erect such enormous edifices.    
Before they constructed pyramids, those ancient builders first had to feed their people. They had to master the decidedly un-glamorous work of plowing, planting, irrigating, weeding, cultivating, protecting, and harvesting their fields, season after season. They patiently tended and improved their flocks, year after year. A long-term commitment to agriculture was a prerequisite to successful pyramid building. Without crops and herds, there were no pyramids.

Ironically, it is likely that the pyramid builders' most significant endowment to the world was not in the realm of stone masonry but in their accomplishments in the fields of agriculture and animal husbandry. Those massive pyramids certainly draw more attention, but the capacity to sustainably feed growing populations has had far more impact in the long run.


Those pyramid builders understood and practiced what Stephen R. Covey called "the law of the harvest." "All lasting results are produced in a sequence, are governed by principles, and are grown from the inside out." Before you reap, you must sow, you must water, you must weed, and you must cultivate. There are no shortcuts.

I learned those lessons first-hand as a boy growing up on a small family farm in Fruitland, New Mexico. When I say "small," I'm referring to the farm, not the family. The family was large, with a father, a mother, and 13 children. Feeding such a large "population" was a constant challenge for my parents.


Besides growing alfalfa and corn for our animals, our family also raised much of what we ate. In addition to milk from our dairy herd, we grew fruit trees and raised chickens, pigs, and beef cattle. Above all, our spacious garden was the heart of our self-sufficiency.  

For us children the garden represented endless hours of back-breaking effort: plowing, fertilizing, planting, hoeing, irrigating, thinning, picking, washing, canning. Notwithstanding our grumbling and resistance, our parents did not flinch or waver. They understood that our family needed the food and, more importantly, that we children needed to learn how to labor until the job was done, every day, all summer long.

It required hard work, patience, tenacity, and the wisdom of many years' experience raising vegetables. It required hoeing to the end of the row. It required steady, persistent attention, week after week, throughout the long growing season. There were no shortcuts.  

While many of us children detested every minute we spent in it, that garden sustained us physically while it also provided rich and rewarding life-lessons that would continue to bless us and our children and our children's children for decades to come.

When it comes to legacies, our parents left no monuments of stone. They did, however, raise children who were resilient, dependable, and perseverant. They built in us a sense of self-reliance and interdependence. They forged us into a family that loved each other and who knew how to face life's most difficult challenges and come out ahead. Our parents' true legacy was the character they developed in their children.  

The era of leaving legacies of pyramids is long over. I agree with Pericles, who said that what truly matters "is not what is engraved in stone monuments, but what is woven into the lives of others." In the modern world, our most important legacies will be the impact we have on the people we care about.  

Creating a significant and enduring legacy that is "woven into the lives of others" requires a long-term commitment to our most important associations. It requires that we master the decidedly un-glamorous work of planting, weeding, irrigating, and cultivating the relationships that matter to us most. It requires serving and shepherding our personal flock with love and patience and kindness.

When it comes to farming and legacy building, the law of the harvest still applies. There are no shortcuts, no quick fixes, no overnight successes. Persistence and tenacity are essential.

Just as in ancient times, nomads today build neither pyramids nor lasting legacies. The itinerant who believes that personal fulfillment is waiting just over the next hill, or the drifter who thinks the grass will be greener if he moves on to the next hook-up, in the end will not be able to marshal the interpersonal resources required to produce a meaningful legacy.  

At the end of his life, the relational gadfly will find himself alone and forgotten. He will discover to his chagrin that a man all wrapped up in himself makes a pretty small bundle, and that small self-centered bundles are seldom noticed or remembered.

The quality of our legacies will be a reflection of the quality of our lives and our relationships. Monumental legacies are usually left only by those who make monumental commitments to the people they love and then keep those commitments, day after day, year after year.