December 13

Don’t Pick the Flowers

December 13, 2006

Personal Growth

As I have counseled with thousands of people, I have encountered a theme so recurrent as to be almost monotonous. Almost all of us make demands on the attention, gratitude, respect—the “love”—of particular people, and these demands uniformly lead to disappointment, anger, and frustration. I can illustrate this by presenting the case of just one man, Steve, as he talked to me about his wife, Janet.

“She always seems to be pulling away from me,” he said.

“In what ways?” I asked.

“When I want to have sex, she’s almost always resistant, sometimes a little and sometimes completely. When I’m gone from the house for several hours, I always call her to let her know where I am, and just to check in with her. But when she’s gone from the house for hours, she hardly ever calls. It’s like she’s just emotionally distant all the time, and when I talk to her about it, she just gets more distant.”

“Can you see,” I asked, “that you’re placing demands on her to fill your emptiness?”

“Yes, I can see that, but where else am I supposed to go? She’s my wife. And when I feel empty, what else am I supposed to do?”

“Sometimes just seeing that you’re making demands will help you be less demanding.”

“You’d think so, but when I get empty, I still want her to do something to make me feel better.”

“So let’s talk about the consequences of your demands. When you pressure Janet to give you sex or attention or whatever, does she like it?”

“No.”

“And then what does she do?”

“She usually pulls away even farther.”

“So the more you try to get what you want, the less you get it.”

“You’re right, but when I feel empty, I forget that, and then I push her to get what I want.”

“So instead of talking only about the negative consequences of your pressuring her, let’s look at the positive consequences of your accepting her as she is.”

I then shared with him the following metaphor.

Years ago I was on a long hike in the desert with a friend. This particular part of the desert was especially arid, so there were sand and rocks everywhere, and an occasional cactus, but the rainfall was so sparse that I didn’t see a single green leaf. After an hour of walking, though, I spotted a small yellow flower in the shade of a cactus plant. I bent down to pick it, but my friend stopped me and explained that the seeds of this plant often lay in the dry ground for years, growing only after the slightest rainfall, and if I picked this flower before it had a chance to produce seeds, I could kill off any possibility for the plant to reproduce.

Sobered by that thought, I knelt down on the ground and admired the flower where it grew. It was beautiful, and I enjoyed it all the more knowing that my leaving it there would probably lead to the growth of more like it.

Had I picked that flower, I would have destroyed its beauty and eliminated the beauty of all its descendants.

The joy we receive from our relationships with other people can often be like the pleasure I received from that desert flower. We consistently find the greatest happiness in simply allowing people to be who and where they are—observing them and being with them. When we attempt to take what we want from them, however—when we pluck the flower from their stem, no matter how subtly we act or justified we feel—we eliminate the possibility of experiencing the full beauty we might have had, and often we kill the relationship entirely.

People are even greater miracles than flowers, because the very act of observing them and appreciating them can nourish them and empower them to grow and blossom all the more. As we accept and love people just as they are, they become more beautiful and have even more to give. What an inducement that should be for us not to meddle with the miracle.

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