Today my altared space is about mowing lawns and thinning terrorists. It’s tempting to do both jobs fast to get them over with, but they just grow back, sometimes stronger.
Last summer my son was 12 years old. He wanted a job but he didn’t want to work. I know this feeling well. I want the identity that employment brings but sweating? Well, I could skip on that, thanks.
He was insistent, however, that he be our lawn man. We’ve got a big one, so it was no small undertaking. I broke the lawn into 8 manageable pieces (it really is large) and created a chart. He could do a section or two a day or take two days to accomplish the entire task. He was in charge. It was his lawn to mow (or fail to mow).
Fortunately, my son enjoys buying things. Nerf guns and sunglasses are on the list, but he had bigger things in mind too and needed to save $300 to buy an ipod. He talked about the ipod incessantly and planned how many mowings it would take to earn his way there.
When it came to actually moving the mower from garage to grass however, his plans failed to make the transition to action. As a mother it’s tough to listen to someone talk about the prize over and over while my grass was daily getting longer and longer. Not to mention it was a patchwork quilt with one section long and another short. Our yard looked pretty ragtag.
I tangled with my son occasionally. I’d lose it in frustration for his lazy approach to summer when there was a perfectly good occupation waiting for him. I knew he’d be happier with his well earned ipod. Additionally, once he got out there he almost always came in from mowing with a smile on his face, full of the pride that work inspires.
I’d point out how happy he seemed whenever he came in from working. He’d eagerly agree and make resolutions about tomorrow, but that was never enough to draw him out to the garage the next day. A week would go by with no mowing and finally I’d break down and ask the question I’d promised myself not to ask: “When do you think you might be ready to mow?”
A small explosion would erupt between the two of us and finally, in a huff, he’d go outside and get it done. The endorphins and the pride would do their work. He’d come in glowing.
“I really do love the feeling of a doing a job,” he’d say as he’d fill his glass of water.
“What is it that you love so much?” I’d ask.
“You look at all that neat, trimmed grass and it’s a great feeling.”
“That makes you feel like you can make a difference.”
“Yeah. I’m gonna get out there early next week so it doesn’t have a chance to get long.”
“I think that’s a great idea, Buddy. I think you’re really getting the idea that work brings more than a paycheck.”
But next week would come and there was usually something more interesting like reruns of reruns of Bugs Bunny.
It was incredibly tempting to take over. Many times I wanted to say, “You’ll mow the grass on Tuesdays and that’s that.” But my son was trying to become a working man and what he didn’t need was a boss. He needed someone to believe that somewhere inside of him there lived the motivation and maturity to be in business for himself.
It’s now a year later. I’ve never once asked my son to mow this summer and, yesterday, because there nothing better to do, he mowed our neighbor’s lawn. “He hates mowing his lawn and I’ve got time, so why not?”
Not only is he motivated but he asks me about weed products and trimmers. This yard is his. “If our yard looks really good, someone might want to hire me to do theirs.” He has the pride of ownership.
I’m convinced that, had I hounded him last summer, while I might not have been an embarrassment to my town, I would have killed that spark that got ignited in my son. It takes time for a spark to ignite and it’s slow to get burning, but nourished well, the fire will eventually glow on its own.
The same sentiment hit me when I heard this story on NPR’s All Things Considered about the situation in Kandahar. Soldiers there are frustrated because they feel their hands are tied when they can’t fully engage the enemy. If civilians are around they cannot fire. This makes some soldiers feel helpless, much like sitting ducks.
But the problem is not the individual terrorists, it is a society that supports and harbors them. In order to win this war it is not about defeating an enemy nearly so much as it is about empowering a people.
Like with my son, sometimes that takes time. It takes failing a few times or even many times, gaining valuable trust all the while. As officer Lt. Col Johnny Davis points out, “You have to be patient.” Maybe the people in Kandahar need time to recover from the situation in which they’ve been living and gain perspective.
“Just yesterday we captured a three-man team,” said Davis. He talks about taking the Taliban out one cell at a time. It may be slow, but going fast would turn the people of Kandahar against the United States and add fuel to the Taliban fire. The motivation must come from the citizens who walk on that grass for there to be a lasting peace.
They must own their nation just as my son now owns our yard. The micro and the macro are not usually all that different. Slow is the only fast I trust.
Are you ever tempted to be too speedy when it comes to getting a big project accomplished? Have you ever tried to foster motivation for someone else and realized you’d simply created another debate over which to tangle? How do you cheerlead for others in your life?
I’m taking a look at the Bigger Picture. I encourage you to do the same.