Garden gems: Looking from the outside in

When you start tending and paying attention to your own garden, you notice what’s going on with others’ – what plants are thriving, what the snails are nibbling, where a shrub needs pruning or shaping, where a spot of weeding would be handy to prevent them running amok. How much easier is it to see these things clearly from the outside looking in?!

Having been stung quite badly by some rogue nettles in our garden (a childhood flashback of falling into a huge mound of nettles by a stream springs to mind !), I suddenly became aware of a substantial patch of nettles creeping through the rails of the local school, and then further down there was a bramble entwined with a bush. On another corner was a broken beer bottle with a lethal shard of glass, still attached to the circular base, pointing upwards and almost inviting someone to trip and fall onto it! And yet when you looked within the school grounds, they were well tended and neat.

I wasn’t sure whose responsibility these areas were where they spilled out onto the pavement, so I asked the school, who were rather incredulous at first as the council-sent gardening team had been only that morning, so surely it couldn’t be all that bad. The property manager said that nonetheless she would take a look, and that there was no issue with responsibility and the gardeners would do whatever the school asked them to do.

I was amazed and delighted that by the next day all the edges and the growth under the fences had been cut right back and tidied up, including the brambles and nettles (I’d dealt with bottle straight away rather than risk leaving it).

So what is the point of me telling you all this, is it simply a feel good story about if you don’t ask, you don’t get?? Well, not really. It made me think about how amazed the lady was who I had spoken to. Since her experience was that the gardeners always did what they were asked to do, they were clearly obedient and conscientious, so how could what I was saying be true? She could not be convinced without going to see for herself.

I reflected that it’s so much easier to look outwards than looking inwards, and even when I do that, I see what needs to be done *from my point of view*!

There’s a nifty model called the Johari window, which I make use of from time to time in coaching. Like many a management model, it is a four-box grid, looking at what is ‘known’ and ‘unknown’ about us, by self and others.

As introduced by Alan Chapman on the BusinessBalls website, ‘The Johari Window model was devised by American psychologists Joseph Luft and Harry Ingham in 1955, while researching group dynamics at the University of California Los Angeles.’ (For such a long time I thought that Johari was an exotic name, to be pronounced like that femme fatale, Mata Hari…it turned out that the name had a much more amusing and in some ways mundane source: simply Jo from Joseph and Hari from Harry!)

Alan Chapman explains that there are four segments of the johari window:

1 – what is known by the person about him/herself and is also known by others – open area, open self, free area, free self, or ‘the arena’

2 – what is unknown by the person about him/herself but which others know – blind area, blind self, or ‘blindspot’

3 – what the person knows about him/herself that others do not know – hidden area, hidden self, avoided area, avoided self or ‘facade’

4 – what is unknown by the person about him/herself and is also unknown by others – unknown area or unknown self

If we live in isolation, always viewing the world only from our own standpoint, how will we ever find out what is in our own blindspot? Secretly of course we want to be right, or at least believe that we’re right, all the time! To that end we’re not generally too inclined to seek out opposing opinions or even simply different perspectives – instead, like tends to attract like, and so we reinforce each other’s viewpoints. Then we take offence when our worldview is shown to be skewed, through our experiences, our upbringing, our families, our schooling, our nation, our language, our culture!

The thing is though, we are made to live in relationship with each other, in diverse communities and our lives are richer for the complexity that that often brings. We need those alternative perspectives!

To take a completely different example of what is unknown to us, perhaps you use Microsoft Office software like Word, Outlook, or Excel, or other bits of technology? The phrase I often hear from my colleagues when I ask what they want to learn is ‘I don’t know what I don’t know!’. Sometimes there’s a sense of, ‘There must be a better way of doing this, surely? Please, can someone help me?!’ Or perhaps, ‘I’m so frustrated! This thing is so RUBBISH! Why won’t it just do what I want it to do??’.

I wonder how many of us feel like that about life in general? We get to the end of our tether, thinking to ourselves, the way that I’m doing life, it’s just not working, it’s too hard, too unsatisfying, too soulless. I just don’t know how to get myself out of this hole, because I know I need to find a different answer, but I don’t know what that is, and sometimes I don’t even really know what the question is! Surely someone out there must know a better way!

When things are really, truly awful, even for those of us who aren’t quite sure about God – who he is, what he stands for, what he expects from us, what those followers of his are about – the bit that seems to resonate within us is that when we reach the end of ourselves, we can turn to the one who must know more than us. The almighty, all-knowing, omnipresent One.

In that moment of no longer having the answers, of having lost control, it is then that we finally admit – there are things that you know, that I don’t know; things about me…who I am, who I could be, what I could accomplish, what my purpose is…but above all you know the me that is loved so recklessly, so insistently, so sacrificially by You. For to be truly known is to be loved and to be loved is to be known.

I wonder if you feel known? Or truly loved? Or both?

Can you identify with that sense of getting stuck in your own perspective? How do you stay open to other’s views? I’d love to hear your thoughts!

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