2 things… (or some words to live by from my dad)

When I was a kid, my dad often reminded me 2 things that really helped at the time w/my interactions with my brothers. Both of these things stuck with me & I find I’m using them just about every day… so that I don’t antagonize or further exacerbate contentious situations, & so that I don’t get offended or weighed down by life & the messes it can bring. FWIW:

  • “Don’t throw wood on the fire.” This one is based on Proverbs 26:20/21 which states, “Without wood a fire goes out; without a gossip a quarrel dies down. As charcoal to embers and as wood to fire, so is a quarrelsome person for kindling strife.” Don’t intentionally stoke the fires of conflict.”

The main context for this one used to be my interactions with my 3 younger brothers… they LOVED to antagonize me (so it seemed) just to get a reaction (attention?) out of me. And yes, they did get plenty of reactions… After one such “reaction,” my dad pulled me aside & challenged me (admonished? rebuked? corrected? instructed? All of the above?) to NOT add to the antagonism with my own special brand of fire accelerant… He, for some reason, thought that I could control myself & not cause situations to escalate by taking those situations up a notch… hence the “don’t throw wood on the fire.”

I sure knew how fire worked – loved building & stoking campfires or our every-morning-fire in the Franklin stove so that I’d be warmed while I folded newspapers & prepped to head out on my route. If I didn’t put wood on the campfire, if I didn’t adequately stoke the stove, the fire would eventually burn out. And in these situations, THAT was the goal – to let the fires that I was invited (provoked? teased? prodded?) into stoking, just die out.

It initially seemed impossible; like I’d be losing something if I didn’t give a prompt & powerful response (in the form of a cord or 2 of proverbial wood,) but over time I saw (& experienced) the wisdom in those words. And I learned to avoid meaningless & even potentially dangerous situations by not adding to the heated emotions, loud/angry words, & the like.

  • Let stuff go – let the stuff that COULD bug you or get under your skin be LIKE WATER OFF A DUCK’S BACK.. just let it roll off. This one comes from Proverbs 25:28, “A man without self-control is like a city broken into without walls.” Self-control is a virtue; & exercising it means I have a choice about how I respond to & with others.

I like words. I mean, I REALLY like words. Reading good ones. Receiving spoken, life giving encouragements. Sharing the same with others, with interest. They can convey one’s feelings, thoughts, & affections; they can help to purge your soul, like a good power wash to a filthy sidewalk.

They can also be a snare, a corrosive agent eating its way deep into your being. The words (& actions) of others, when laid a hold of & pondered, internalized, & analyzed ad nauseam can completely sidetrack, derail, & paralyze a person.

That’s how it was for me… if people could get under my skin, antagonize & provoke me enough, I HAD to respond… often in even greater measure. Young Me couldn’t understand HOW a person (let alone me) could be on the receiving end of such vitriol, & NOT say or do (or SAY & DO) something.

You can probably see the problem: I was in bondage to the words, actions, & hostilities of others. And when others know they can get a rise out of you every time, they’ll use it Indiscriminately. And it sucks.

It might have been at Virginia Lake, on Lakeside in old west Reno. The ‘lake’ has ducks & geese aplenty, & we would often go play at the park, walk around the lake, & yes, feed the ducks & geese our old crusty bread. (This was back in the Days, before we were told that we are not Supposed to feed ducks & geese bread. Those were simpler times, & any stomach distress or empty calories that Young Me may have caused or contributed to the ducks & geese was 100% unintentional.)

As we were feeding ducks, I believe that my dad & I were verbally processing through the conundrum: “How does one NOT respond in kind when provoked? When They push all the right (wrong?) buttons & it feels like there is No Choice but to respond/retaliate?” The response I got (as best as I recall,) went something like this:

“See the ducks? They glide through the water. They swim in & through it, & it doesn’t weigh them down, it doesn’t slow them down. It just rolls right off of them, & then they keep going. They can go under the fountain & get sprayed with jets of water… & the water just rolls right off their little backs. THAT is what you can do when it seems people are pushing your buttons. When they’re antagonizing you, attempting to get you to lash out, to respond in your frustration. You can be like a duck – just let ALL of that roll off your back. Quack.”

And for some reason, it stuck. I knew i could be like a duck. I didn’t have to respond to provocation. I could have self-control & not give others the power to direct me & my life.

Maybe its over-simplified. Sure there are other mental processes that have to be engaged to work through how, why, & when a response is necessary/not necessary. But the “water off a duck’s back” sure gave Young Me a great picture to use to DO those other processes. Maybe it’ll help you, too.

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