My mother has often told the story of teaching my younger sister and I to peel potatoes. My sister, who was unarguably the easier of us to raise, patiently watched and listened as my mom demonstrated proper peeling techniques and then began replicating my mothers teaching. Meanwhile, since I had emerged from the womb convinced I could do everything myself, I endeavored upon the task by ignoring my mother and stabbing the skin off the potato with the tip of the peeler.
While I do not remember that day, it seems like an accurate description of the way I approached life. But somewhere between the time of this lesson and my own conscious memories of peeling potatoes, I must have noticed that my sister could peel faster and more effectively than I could. My eventual innate desire for effectiveness and love of winning must have at some point slowed me down enough to convince me that another method was better than my own. Today as my sister and I peel potatoes at the sink you would never know that there was ever a difference in the way we had approached learning.
What I am certain was highly frustrating for my mother in the moment of teaching was that my impatience and unwillingness to listen in the moment made her feel as though she were failing in her success as a potato peeling instructor. Needing to control what my peeled potato looked like, or whether it was even useable, seemed very important in the moment. As a mother she wanted me to learn to listen, learn to cook, and many other important things that she likely felt ineffective at when trying to work with my independent and determined young spirit.
In hindsight, I have much sympathy for her and I am sure that the many times people told me as a child that they hoped I would “one day have a child like me” is what made me pray from a young age that God would never make me have a biological child of my own. I was unarguably difficult, and I have sympathy for those who truly did their best to try and mold me into what they believed I should be.
Ultimately, I have settled into a relationship that recognizes cause and effect. I am good at understanding my overall goals and when I want to sacrifice in the moment in order to achieve something ultimately more important in the end. I have recently been doing a book study regarding letting go of control. It discusses the idea of letting go of the need for certain outcomes that are outside of my own ability to control.
In essence, it tells me that in the analogy of a garden I am not in control of, or even responsible for the harvest. Rather, I am a worker who is responsible for the diligence in my service to the owner of the garden, who’s employ I am in. As long as I show up to do my work, and mind my responsibilities, the ultimate success or failure of the crop is not my burden to carry.
While seeing the results of a good harvest might be satisfying for me. The desire for that result is really more about my own desire to be viewed as successful, important and as a measure against which I might compare myself to another. But those things are about me, not about the ultimate goal of helping the owner of the land achieve successful results. My own desire for results in the moment, or validation and concern about the result of one crop, might damage the overall performance of the garden as a whole, which is not about me at all!
So when I encounter moments in life when I want to teach others and it seems highly important to insist that my way be followed, I must remember my place in the structure of the garden. I can show a child how to peel a potato and let go of whether or not they are successful in the moment. In the end, that child will either learn to properly peel a potato or they will not, but what I teach that child about their own agency and process of learning might be better achieved if I entrust the child to the natural consequences of cause and effect that will likely sort out the problem, whether I ever get to actually see the outcome or not.
PS: but yes, I would grab a child running into traffic! There are certainly issues of safety that are not the subjects I am referring to.