“What kind of people live around these parts?” a traveler asked a farmer outside of town. The farmer replied, “What were the people like where you’re from?” The traveler said, “Oh they were a hateful bunch: back-biters, full of themselves, petty and contentious. I didn’t trust a soul.” “You’ll find the same sort around here” the farmer said. Dejected, the traveler continued on down the road.
A short time later, another traveler happened upon the farmer. “What kind of people live in this town?” he inquired. Again, the farmer answered the question with a question, “What are the people like where you’re from?” “They are the kindest people in the world and hard-working–the salt of the earth” returned the traveler. The farmer said, “You’ll find the same sort around here.”
Who owns the problem? This story not only contrasts two attitudes towards people but also hints at what shapes them. Some people have difficulty remaining neutral in the face of bad behavior. They let themselves get drawn in and entangled and feel responsible to fix or judge.
Edwin Freedman spent decades studying how anxiety shapes the culture of families and organizations. People have a radar for the scapegoat or victim; they’re ready to blame or fix. It’s one unhealthy way they take pressure off social interaction once the news, weather and sports have been covered.
Emotional maturity lets people differentiate; that is, it let’s other people own their stuff without allowing the anxiety they produce to trigger a reaction from us, whether judging or fixing. The sparks may be flying and directed at you, but you can choose to be a non-anxious presence. This role keeps us from taking ownership, catching their “cold,” or even planting seeds of contempt.
“…shape your worries into prayers, letting God know your concerns. Before you know it, a sense of God’s wholeness, everything coming together for good, will come and settle you down” (Phil. 4:6-7, The Message).