PORCH SWING POINT OF VIEW: The Wisdom of Stumps and Dogs


Recently, I received an email from a friend entitled, “Advice from an Old Farmer.” It was chock-full of witticisms and humor, but one particular recommendation stood out to me: “Life is simpler when you plow around the stump.”

I’m not sure about you, but I’m a list-maker. I make shopping lists, to-do lists, lists of books I want to read. Sure, part of the purpose of making a list is to guard against forgetfulness, but I also find great satisfaction in crossing items off a list as I complete them. When Saturday rolls around, I pull out my pocket spiral notebook and begin list-making:  tasks to be done and supplies to be purchased. This is goal setting on a minor scale and often all goes mostly to plan. But then comes the downfall of my lists. There are times, as you know, when things get in the way. Those stumps of life can separate us from our goals in the most frustrating of ways and can occupy much of our time and effort before we realize. Then, when we arrive at day’s end, our list remains undone, and as often as not, the stump remains unmoved as well. But still we fail to see the wisdom in simply moving around the obstruction rather than through it.

Which stumps do you frequently encounter? A traffic delay or a rude coworker? A chronic ailment or an argumentative neighbor? All are impediments to us reaching our goals. We can stop, stew, dwell, or argue, but in the end, not much will change about the situation. Anyone who has ever attempted to remove a stump knows it is no easy feat. Or we can take the old farmer’s advice and simply plow around it, move on with our day, keep our goals in sight, and accomplish what we’ve set out to do.

Winston Churchill has been credited as saying, “You’ll never reach your destination if you stop to throw a stone at every dog that barks.” When we allow ourselves to be distracted by our detractors, we quickly lose our focus and can become engaged in needless pettiness. Or once again, we can move on with purpose and intention.

Of course, I would be remiss if I didn’t say that occasionally you’ll find a stump that simply must be removed. A worthy cause may need addressed, a virtue for which you need to fight. Some rows must keep going, stump or not, and removing the obstacle is a matter of principle. Likewise, some “dogs” need a stone thrown at them, perhaps for the simple fact that no one has ever dared throw one before. You may well be the person to make a positive difference. It is my wish you’ll have the wisdom to recognize the times when you must fight for what is right and the times to know that keeping a straight row simply isn’t worth the tussle with the stump.

“God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.”

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