The importance of being something

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Tumbleweed. When I think about western movies I think about tumbleweed. There is no high noon showdown between two gunslingers in the empty street of a small unknown town somewhere in the west without a moment where everything stands still except for a bush rolling through the background indicating a strong side wind which does not seem to have an effect on anybody else. But it sure gives the moments some extra dramatic tension. And it makes me also think of the underpaid intern who has to throw the weed at the right time and with the right amount of speed and rotation. I don’t know, do they learn that in film school? Is there a class like “Tumbleweed 101 – the art of western backgrounds”?

But besides that important place in the history of film making tumbleweed is an interesting plant. Their way to reproduce and spread is somewhat strange. The plants leave their roots behind to be blown away by the wind. And wherever they find a place to stay they start growing again. So even though they’re part of a countryside you never really know where they are. Except for maybe when they’re caught in your fence. Today here, tomorrow there. Always on the move to where the wind blows them. In a way there is nothing stable about them. They are omnipresent and yet distinctively absent.

A couple of blocks from down the street from our house is an oak tree. It was panted in 1871 and has since then grown to a circumference of more than 10 feet. This tree has been in exactly this place when my grandparents, my parents, and I were born. It has seen two world wars, survived almost all of my grandparents, and has a great chance of surviving my parents and me as well. That tree is so important that the intersection close by was named after that tree. It is big. It is strong. It came to stay. In other words, if you want to park your car you should find another spot. It will ruin your bumper.

Besides its size and age it is interesting that this tree became the main landmark of this part of town. You can count on it being exactly where it was before. In the 144 years it’s been there the oak has seen a few storms, lost a few branches and shed its leaves every single fall just to get new ones in spring. Life all around is busy and a lot is changing but the oak is just getting a little bit bigger and stronger every year. And with a life expectancy of well over 1,000 years it is still young. But already in this part of town it is the anchor everything seems to be fixed to.

I am not very old but old enough to have met over a thousand people. Introverts, extroverts, men, women, children, people with and without a common language, old, young, healthy, sick, from every continent (except Antarctica) and with a whole lot of different ethnicities. And over the years I worked with quite a bunch of them on different projects of different sizes. And when you have to work with someone it is always good to know where they stand. Their location (when you need them) as much as their opinions and convictions (at least relating to the project). It is somewhat annoying to work with someone you can’t get a hold of. Someone that might change his point of view depending on the people he is talking with. Someone who is looking for a quick reward and the least amount of work. Someone who is trying to avoid the storms in live by being where the wind blows him. You cannot rely on him because he is looking for an easy way out.

And when I realize that I don’t like working with people like that it is also reminding me that nobody likes to work with me when I’m such a person. It reminds me to be an oak and not a tumbleweed. To stand against the storms not looking for the path of least resistance. But then I face two let’s say problems. How do I tell people? And what if I’m wrong?

I read a facebook post recently where a young man said he likes to play a game he calls “spot the vegan”. And sure enough the first comment was along the lines of “There is nothing wrong about being a vegan, you murderer.” I have nothing against vegans and I welcome that they stand up for their convictions but I’m not sure if the reply was very helpful. Ok, it was provoked. The “game” itself is not really nice or productive. So how do I tell people about my standpoints? A “hi, nice to meet you, this is my creed” doesn’t help either. So maybe when the topic comes up? And probably more like a “I just want you to know and not offend you. But now you know where I stand on that topic and where to find me.”

And what if I’m wrong? What if the storms are not testing my stand but rather telling me to move a bit? The trouble is that it is impossible for me to know the difference. (At least as long as I don’t know my convictions to be faulty.) For that very reason I love to have good friends. Those who don’t have exactly my convictions and can see me from a little distance. Who can judge my actions and see when I get off track. And yet love me enough to tell me when I’m wrong. And I love them enough to except their input and not feel threatened. For they are on my side. They want to see me become an oak that defines its surroundings and not a tumbleweed that is blown away in the background.

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