A Lesson in Not Being Too Rigid
Several years ago, after a Sunday morning Spiritual Studies gathering, many of the participants gathered to plant a tree as a remuneration to the facilitator. Most of us were helping the two main individuals who had planned the tree-planting. As we gathered to plant the tree, the two planners began to argue. One had already taken the time to dig a hole of the appropriate depth, and watered it, and gotten the tree ready to place into the hole. The other individual, however, argued that it wasn’t exactly the right spot, and insisted that a new hole be dug about three feet away. Most of us observers didn’t say much, but we thought that a mere three feet wouldn’t make much difference.
The person who had dug the hole was rather upset at this turn of events, for she felt that all her work was now for naught. As it turned out, the man who wanted to move the hole got his way. He argued that he had a degree in landscaping (or some related field), and that therefore his argument had greater weight.
To all us observers, it was a sad sight -- something the two of them should have worked out ahead of time rather than force us all to witness their dispute (not to mention the time waste).
After it was over, Dr. Elan Neev told me a little story. (Dr. Elan Neev, who was one of the tree-planting participants, is the author of Wholistic Healing, and the founder of the Self Improvement Institute in Los Angeles.)
He said that people in Israeli villages adopt Army units, and would take care of the soldiers and feed them. In one case, a group of ladies had spent the day preparing a special meal for an Army unit, unaware that they were orthodox Jews and strict vegetarians. The meal that the ladies had prepared included chicken.
The troops came and when they saw that the meal included chicken, they quickly and quietly spoke to their rabbi.
The rabbi told them that the value of honoring their hostesses was more important than their principle of being vegetarians. He said they needed to compare these two competing values. The rabbi said that the value of not hurting another -- in this case, the ladies who worked all day to provide a special meal -- was much more important than their dietary choice. He encouraged the soldiers to eat the meal and to say nothing of the chicken, which is what they did.
When Dr. Neev was finished telling me this story, I paused, and said, “So they should have just planted the tree in the first hole, right?”
“Of course. The fact that the landscaper was ‘right’ about the location was less important than the way he hurt the woman’s feelings who had gone to all the work to plan the hole and to dig it. Of course they should have just planted the tree in that first hole. Now she will always have a bad feeling about that tree. It doesn’t matter that the landscaper was ‘right’ since the end result is a minus, not a plus.” [NOTE: The apple tree that we all planted in the “right” hole died a year later.]
This story reminds us of people with strict self-imposed dietary guidelines who go out to eat at restaurants or other people’s homes and who are endlessly picky about everything that may be in the food. “Oh, we can’t have sugar,” they say. “Oh, we can’t eat anything with pasteurized daily products in it,” “What type of oil did you use in this dressing,” etc., ad nauseam. The result is that the hosts feel disgusted, insulted, and everyone ends up with indigestion, regardless how “correct” the food happens to be.
You must wonder why such people don’t make such dietary arrangements ahead of time. Folks with strict dietary demands who then impose their systems and nuances upon everyone else don’t realize that they spoil the atmosphere so much that it counteracts any of the positive effects of the “good food.”
Dr. Neev then told me another story. Some years ago, he participated in a religious retreat in the Palm Springs area. The people leading the event were all strict vegetarians. On the last day of the retreat, the teacher served Hindu-style chicken. This shocked everyone, including his own students. The teacher encouraged everyone to enjoy the meal. He said, “One of my teachings is: No matter what you teach, you don’t want to be too attached to it.”