Strong enough to bend

August 25, 2009

I’m back! Returned from the two-year mission for the LDS Church. Still getting back into the swing of things, and I’ve finally found time to write a few things here.

A friend mentioned a text to me the other day. It comes from a country song by Tanya Tucker. Although I’m generally not a big fan of country, I found these lyrics particularly striking:

There’s a tree out in the backyard
That never has been broken by the wind
And the reason it’s still standing
It was strong enough to bend.

Over the last two years as a missionary for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, I have learned the implications of this principle. Missionaries work intensively with people (especially with their companions, or full-time colleagues, who stay together 24 hours a day). One key I had to discover for myself is that my companion was not the same as I was, and that his way of doing things wasn’t necessarily bad just because I didn’t choose to do it that way myself. I had my own ways of doing things, which I felt were correct. But as long as I persisted in believing that everyone needed to do it my way, I had a hard time getting along with people. Once I finally learned how to let my companion be himself and do things his way, workable relationships became much easier to create and maintain. Of course, if he did need correction, I still had to give it to him. But I could now draw the line between what was truly necessary (by doctrine or rules or whatever) and what was simply my own opinion. I had to be “strong enough to bend,” as Tucker so aptly phrases it, and accept his way of doing things, modifying my own habits and idiosyncrasies as necessary.

I believe this is a crucial principle in all human relationships. If we are not willing to yield appropriately to one another, to make concessions, to strive to understand one another’s viewpoint, we will have difficulty building workable relationships in any capacity. This is true in the business world, in families (especially in marriage), even among roommates or classmates.

Now the question is, how do we develop that strength to bend and adapt within ourselves? We can’t force it on others–the only person over whom we have control is ourselves. And how do we begin there?