OK this is going to seem really simplistic, but many teachers I’ve worked with have found it helpful.
When I think of people, when I think of individuals, I think of gardens. I think of each of us as standing in the center of a circle — a garden wall — filled with flower beds.
The garden wall is a boundary, a personal boundary, a membrane that defines where we end and others begin.
The garden is ourselves: our needs, our safety, our identities, our happiness, our interests, our power, our reality.
We cultivate our own gardens. We choose what flowers we plant and where and when we plant them. Ideally, we make our gardens beautiful and safe for ourselves. We range freely in our gardens and value them.
And we decide if and when anybody else gets to come into our gardens. We build up our garden walls, lower them, open the garden gate, close the garden gate. We invite people in when we want to and, when we don’t want them in our gardens, we have the right to tell them to get out. Ideally.
I told you it would be simplistic!
But the metaphor is also really useful.
Because, if my garden is my reality and your garden is your reality, then I don’t get to trash your garden. I don’t even get to enter your garden without your permission. I get to talk to you over our garden walls about our gardens, try to understand why you planted deadly nightshade right next to your garden gate, admire your hollyhocks, think about planting some of my own.
I get to wonder about your garden, your reality, from the safety of my own garden, my own reality.
I don’t have to take on your problems or energy or emotions. I don’t have to convince you to make your garden look like mine. I might think your garden desperately needs tending, but when I remind myself that it’s yours, I’m clear that the weeds in your garden are not my responsibility. I might wonder about them; I might express concern about them; I might itch to pull them; but I don’t need to fight you about them. They’re yours.
Conflict happens, I believe, when I charge into your garden and start planting or fixing or weeding or judging or — UGH — defining your garden for you. Or when you do this to me. Engagement happens when I can be curious about you and your garden without co-opting or colonizing it. And, importantly,
when I am confident that I can prevent you from co-opting or colonizing my garden.
I’m here in my garden. You’re there in yours. Let’s be clear about that.