The Stranger’s House

The stranger’s request was immediately suspicious and William’s radar immediately went up. The stranger claimed he was giving William a very large budget to build the home of his choice–William’s–just as long as it could handle a family with three kids. William knew a little about what that was like because he was paying alimony and child support to a wife and three kids.

When William pulled up to the beautiful lot overlooking a park, he saw another contractor he knew parked next door. Amazingly, as it turned out, Ray had received the same call, only for the lot next door! Ray had three kids as well, so he and William assumed that had something to do with them getting the jobs.

William argued that the whole thing was just too good to be true and he warned Ray to watch out. Ray said he was happy for the work and that he was grateful for William’s concern, but that he would happily keep working right up until something actually went wrong. William was essentially just waiting for an inevitable bomb to drop, so conversely he kept a very close eye on everything as a result. He often lamented all the struggle he would experience once it did all blow up.

The first thing Ray built was a picnic table. “What’s that for?” William asked him.

“My family. They come for lunch with me each day and the kids help clean up the lot. I’m hoping it teaches them a healthy work ethic, plus I eat well and sometimes we even dance.”

“Dance? You should wolf down a burrito or something. Time is money my friend. If you stop to eat your per-hour rate drops. I’d tell my wife to stay at home.”

“I am so sorry William, I did not know you were married! We will have to have you and your wife to dinner one night.”

“Uh, yeah, that’s fine. Her and I… we’re not together anymore.”

“I see.” Ray kept his focus on William. “My friend, you are breaking your back. We’re not young men anymore. Why don’t you hire more help?”

“I’m tellin’ you William, this whole house deal is a sham. This guy has something up his sleeve and we’re gonna get stuck with the bill in the end.”

“But every invoice has been paid on time.”

“He’s just setting us up. The fact that it’s going good is all part of his plan.”

“I see,” said Ray, confused. “So… the good news is actually… bad news…?”

Now William doesn’t seem as sure either. “Uh, yeah. Basically.”

In the months that followed, Ray’s wife did come down every day and those kids did keep that lot looking a lot better than William’s, next door. Everyday Ray sang at work, and he laughed with his co-workers, and he let his kids draw funny little cartoon characters on the wood before he used it. He really enjoyed building the house out of such fine materials. He was grateful to the trees and the people that supplied them. It was going to be a beautiful house. Ray had thought out every detail to ensure it would be ideal for the stranger’s family.

For those same months, William complained a lot, which made sense because he worked much more slowly. He insisted on doing too much himself because he was always worried about costs. That left him exhausted, which left him grumpy, which only served to make him even more suspicious of the stranger. All day he tried to figure out what scam the stranger was playing. He would take breaks from work and do math on pieces of wood in his attempt to find the hidden theft.

Soon the houses we’re nearing completion. Ray takes a lot of pride in his work. He enjoys his days with his co-workers and he is very grateful for the income. That’s all reflected in the home. It’s warm and decorated and beautiful. Care and attention has been paid. Conversely, William’s house looks uninspiring, unfinished and cheap. It looks like someone who didn’t care much at all, and it’s true William didn’t care about the house. He was too busy caring about his fears.

It was therefore ironic when one day there was a knock on the nearly finished stranger’s door. William opened it with concern. Why was anyone visiting? The stranger introduced himself rather plainly, and he explained that he was there to give William the deed to the house he had just built. William was suspicious.

The stranger then explained that William’s life would always be like the house he built. If he was distracted by fear and suspicion and mistrust; if he failed to offer his talents and skills, then the result would be to miss out on creating the things in life that truly bring it value. As a result, William was welcome to live inside the physical space that his own negative thinking had wrought. Then the stranger invited William come with him to Ray’s, which he did.

At Ray’s door, announcement of who the stranger was instantly got him a big hug from Ray’s entire family. They were just about to sit down to dinner. There was always plenty. Would the stranger please stay? After all, he had contributed meaningfully to Ray’s income that year. They would like to celebrate. William could join them too.

The stranger agreed, as did William. As they sat down, the stranger offered Ray and his wife the deed to their home and property. They were equally confused. What was going on? That’s when the stranger turned to William.

“Do you see William? Ray cared. He was active in that care. He invited his wife. They ate, they laughed, they danced. He cared about his family, his employees, his suppliers, his customers, and his work. You William, were worried. And worry only breeds more worry. So if you’d like to live in a nicer, calmer space, I would suggest you do as Ray did. Consider focusing your thoughts on caring rather than worrying, because whichever you do, that is where you will ultimately live.”

peace. s

Scott McPherson is an Edmonton-based writer, public speaker, and mindfulness facilitator who works with individuals, companies and non-profit organizations locally and around the world.

People in the House

Parents see it as parents and kids, but kids too-often see it as humans and tyrants because too often it is. As often as I’ll see it in a boardroom I’ll see it in a family; a total lack of awareness of the state of affairs prior to introducing something new. The kids act like idiots just when Mom and Dad were already at the end of their rope with a rough day at work. Or the parents are bending over backwards to help and the kids are attacking them as though they are the lowest life form on the Earth. These reactions are counterproductive to our own interests.

697 Relax and Succeed - Speak in such a wayWith interpersonal leadership from the parents, kids can be taught to communicate their mental weather. If a parent is losing their temper they can say to the child at that time, “Okay, I did not have a great day with my boss and now I’m getting upset with you—let’s talk about this when I have more patience because I don’t want us to treat each other disrespectfully.” Of course they’re little and can’t uphold their end of the bargain but that doesn’t matter—you’re teaching them, not the other way around. You can explain to them when you’re grumpy or tired or hungry or worried and by doing that you will teach them to eventually do it too.

The people who live together need to be aware of each others state of mind. That is the context in which all events take place. It doesn’t matter who’s younger or older or who’s the parent and who’s the kid, everyone contributes to the overall personality of a household and unaware parents are just as damaging to that peace as unaware kids. But parents who strive to maintain emotional awareness will also teach that skill to their kids.

697 Relax and Succeed - I used to think I was overreactingIf you’re a teen it isn’t unreasonable if a parent comes home worn out and is hurt that you couldn’t show your love for them by helping start dinner. Likewise it isn’t unreasonable for a kid to be tense and easily upset if they’re being bullied all day and now their parent is all-demands. It isn’t unreasonable for a parent to be upset that something they worked hundreds of hours in after-tax dollars to buy, ends up broken by their children through pure carelessness. It isn’t unreasonable for a teenager to be tired in the morning—when that is essentially biological.

Yes, we can greatly mitigate reactions to daily experiences, but since we have the emotions to express negative things we will express them because that’s how the world is built. Otherwise nature wouldn’t have built those reactions. It’s just that before we’re enlightened we don’t like it when we inevitably have the less pleasant experiences. But that’s what Yin and Yang mean. Together they create the world. You can’t have one without the other.

No story can be all high notes. That would be boring to read, watch or live. Your life is a story. And your family’s life is a story. Use your awareness of that fact to make both yours and your family’s a truly a great one. There’s nothing stopping you. You are the author of your own pages. It is you who gets to write out an angry reaction—or an upset reaction to someone else’s angry reaction. But you can also write something more peaceful. You can see your character from a bit more distance which will allow you to make calmer choices. Over time we can take upset family members—and ourselves—and learn to slow the energy down, just as we’ve been inadvertently taught to speed it up by being impatient with anything short of perfection.

697 Relax and Succeed - How to really love a childDon’t try to win or get your way. Families ultimately want to go in fundamentally the same healthy directions, so focus on those commonalities and request that everyone keep in mind that everyone has their interior lives and that some graciousness and patience would go a long way.

Don’t shoot for perfection. Healthy families find healthy ways to deal with conflict by having to deal with conflict. As long as the parent leads and provides some time for mistakes and growth, this process can bring families even closer together. Even if on some days it feels like it’s doing the opposite.

The one thing you can count on is most kids turn out far better than their parents imagined they would and, in the end, that’s as good for the parents as it is for the kids.

Have a wonderful day.

peace. s

Scott McPherson is an Edmonton-based writer, public speaker, and mindfulness facilitator who works with individuals, companies and non-profit organisations locally and around the world.