If you don’t already follow Shane Parrish at Farnam Street, or listen to The Knowledge Project podcast, I highly recommend it. In this week’s newsletter, Parrish describes how he engages his kids when they exhibit ‘ineffective’ behavior (such as picking fights with each other). He coaches them to pause and think about their actions: Is what they’re doing going to make their lives easier or harder? Will it get them what they want? He asks them what things would look like if they poured gasoline, versus water, on their current ‘fire.’ “With water or gasoline, you can start a fire, make it bigger, or put it out. The choice is yours.”
What fires burn in our lives? Which ones warm us, give us light, and bring us together, and which scorch and destroy?
Obviously we don’t pour gasoline on a wildfire, unless we are arsonists or sociopaths. And we all rue the careless camper or hiker who accidentally sets our beloved forrests aflame with an errant cigarette butt or the like. What anaologies to our lives can we make of these events? Maybe the overwhelming emotional hijack of a post-traumatic trigger, a cutting word spoken or argument erupting in the heat of anger and resentment? In these moments, how can we slow down, recognize the gas can in our hands, loosen our grip, put it down and screw the cap on tight? Where did we put that water bottle? Better yet, can we just leave the cigarettes at home next time? ** deep breaths **
That scenario is less interesting to me, though, than the campfire or bonfire. I feel like I’ve written this analogy before on the blog, but I can’t find it. I don’t camp, but I love communing around an intentional, contained flame with good company and comfort food. This is the kind of fire that gathers us, warms us, strengthens our bonds. Right now it’s phone and FaceTime calls, hikes, and generally carving out time to spend together–these are the fires that feed me. The flame of a good, strong hearth requires tending, though. Someone needs to find and bring the wood; it has to be dry enough but not too much so, and made into the right size. Orientation of logs and branches matters for optimal airflow, so smoke billows skyward rather than swirling and suffocating the gathering. We must stoke and stimulate the flames to keep them going, and fuel them regularly to maintain light and warmth for us all to enjoy. It’s best if we take turns. Like maintaining strong fires, good relationships require us to participate actively, thoughtfully, and regularly.
As our collective care and attention perpetuate warmth and light, the best thing is when we attract others to join. When they hear the crackling flames and campfire songs, the laughter and joy emanating from intentional communion, they want to connect, and we widen our circle of friends. Cold and dark no longer feel so daunting; we feel safe and secure; we belong.
As we enter the coldest and darkest part of the year, I’m gathering my firewood and piling it high. Come to think of it, I must also tend to the forrest where the trees grow… An analogy for another time, perhaps.