It’s funny the things you pick up along the way. Sayings that get ‘stuck’ in your head, that stay with you over years. My Grandpa Leslie is responsible for quite a few of these sticky ideas that seem to follow me around, inviting me to look at situations in a particular way. The statement, ‘Farmers are smart’, wiggled its way into my heart and mind many years ago when Grandpa and I were chatting in his Montreal apartment. Honestly, I don’t remember what we were discussing, but I remember the lesson…
“Farmers are smart”, he said, “Do you know why?
Because they don’t dig up their seed.”
Simple, true, profound.
Farmers are smart. They know something about seeds, that I needed to hear. For seeds to take root and flourish, they must be left alone. Once planted, a farmer must unwaveringly trust that transformation is at work underground. Seeds planted carry a coming harvest, but for that harvest to come, a farmer must leave them be – they must trust them in the hiddenness and darkness of the soil.
What a nuisance, if – out of concern for the growth of the seeds – a farmer continually dug them up, just to check each day if they were doing ok. Under this kind of scrutiny and surveillance the seeds would never have the chance to take root. It’s a crazy thought! Surely, no farmer would be foolish enough to do such a thing. So, Grandpa was right – farmers ARE smart, because they don’t dig up their seeds.
Grandpa’s analogy has niggled at me over the years as I have wrestled with the realisation that I am often the foolish farmer in the story, digging up my seeds, instead of trusting them to grow over time. I have often planted ‘seeds’ – be they commitments, goals, relationships, conversations, hopes – only to check on my progress way too often, and in doing so, starve the possibility of progress. A goal or new direction that is exposed and analysed too often can be devastated by well-meaning surveillance and critique.
Don’t get me wrong, I am passionate about learning and growth. The thought of waking up in ten years the same person that I am today is my kind of nightmare. Every aspect of my daily life is caught up in some sort of search for meaning. I am driven to uncover, to question, to learn and to push beyond my own boundaries.
While my insistence on learning, questioning, living with more wisdom, kindness, etc. is a great strength, my insistence on checking in on my progress towards those very goals is a very great weakness. My pursuit of growth, understanding and the unravelling of great mysteries is hindered by my equally strong need to answer the questions, ‘How am I doing? Am I succeeding?’.
On the surface these may seem like ‘good questions’, but I have instead come to think of them as thieves of peace and saboteurs of progress. They feed on my fear that things won’t change, and they implore me to look for ‘evidence’ of those changes too quickly and too often.
I don’t think I’m alone in my tendency to get caught up measuring progress too often and in a manner that undermines the very progress I seek. The inclination to ‘dig up our seeds’, and in doing so to compromise the possibility for growth over time, presents itself in a myriad of other contexts.
For example, our propensity to over-analyse, over measure, ‘check for the sake of checking’ (even though we know it didn’t help last time) is rampant in education. Our commitment to continual improvement can too easily be used to justify all sorts of behaviours that are really akin to the farmer digging up his seed – anxious for the harvest, but not able to trust the process required for real transformation to take place.
I have seen played out in groups working together towards a shared goal, those meeting for a shared purpose, as I observe the members accidentally, but often habitually, returning again and again to the question of ‘how are we doing?’. This simple question has the capacity to rob them of getting on with ‘the doing’, warts and all. It sounds like the right thing to keep asking – and at times, yes, I suppose it is. But when it becomes a continual and constant questioning of progress, I believe the inward gaze can be a death spiral.
And what about those times we set goals for a new routine or way of being – and within a moment of the choice being made to make a change, the daily ‘critiquing’ begins? When the changes sought take time, a persistent questioning of ‘how are we going?’ can be debilitating. How differently would things progress if we gave ourselves permission to plant seeds (new thinking, new ideas, new practices) and gave ourselves 6 (or dare I say 12!) months before daring to review our progress.
Sometimes it’s others who dig up our seeds. As I write this, I’m thinking of new and innovative educational stories and projects, where educators are pushing the boundaries of the possible, only to find that their efforts are, too often and too quickly, put under the microscope in order to ‘prove’ their validity. In light of such surveillance, innovation is compromised, and new practices struggle to take root, grow and develop. We need to stop digging up seeds.
Sometimes we dig up children’s seeds and they suffer under our anxious gaze. We give up too soon and we forget that deep learning and breakthrough happens over time. Instead of focussing on what we can do to support the environment around the seed – we get distracted with critique, assessment, and over analysis of the seed itself. I wonder what would emerge if we gave as much attention to the soil (the quality of the contexts and relationships around children) as we did to the seed itself?
This significance of ‘giving time’ for growth was illustrated to me recently when my six-year-old son, Jeremiah, came up to me asking (as he does almost every other day), “Mummy, can you height me?”. This is Jem’s delightful way of asking me to check his height against the wall chart in our hallway.
On this particular day, Emmylou, my ten-year-old daughter, heard the repeated request and replied somewhat exasperated,
“Jem, you can’t do it again yet – when you check too often you can’t see any change.”
How right she was, when you check too often you can’t see any change.
I wonder if we are like Jeremiah, ‘heighting’ ourselves too often, confused and disappointed when we don’t see any change. Could it be, that in our constant critiquing of our own progress, we are fooled into believing that we’re getting nowhere?
What might shift if we consciously allowed time for change, reminding ourselves regularly to trust the process and the seeds that we have planted (in ourselves and in each other) knowing that, given the right nourishment and sufficient time, good harvests are ahead. Let’s be very careful that in our longing for a better tomorrow, we don’t accidentally dig up the seeds of today.
Farmers are smart. Don’t dig up your seed.