Ethics and Morals, Philosophy

Reap What you Sow

I’ve gotten in the habit of teasing my daughters, recently, when we’re talking and I’m reverting to things I learned from the Bible, that I’m going all Biblical on them. So here I am, doing it on the blog. I was musing on this aphorism the other day, and how we usually see it applied to bad things. If you build your house on a flood plain, you’re going to be swept away. That sort of thing.

There are several verses in the Bible which talk about the concept. We’re to the point in our culture where a significant part of the adult population assumes that brown cows give chocolate milk… but in the era these were written, most had a firm grasp of where food came from. One’s daily sustenance came from the soil.

2 Corinthians 9:6
Consider this: Whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows generously will also reap generously.

Job 4:8
“According to what I have seen, those who plow iniquity And those who sow trouble harvest it.

Job is as gloomy as Job usually is – I know some of my readers have perhaps not read that story, and it’s a fascinating one simply from a plotting point of view. We authors do that sort of thing a lot, throwing everything in our arsenal at a main character until we have him at the point of breaking… But that’s a digression. It’s easy enough to find examples in our life of people who positively delight in sowing trouble. I try to avoid them, personally, but sometimes they make a point of walking into your house (even metaphorically speaking) and doing their thing on your personal carpet. Like this… (language warning at that link) weed seeds flourish in any environment, but a poison garden is carefully tended.

What we don’t often acknowledge in popular culture is the other verse – Job focuses on trouble, inevitably – which gives the concept a more positive spin. Sowing isn’t always seeds of strife. But how do you know what’s going to come up? You don’t plant zinnia seeds and expect to get snapdragons. So the first part of this is: sow what you want to reap. What kind of seeds do we sow in life? Do we build up a community of blog readers we can unleash like flying monkeys to fling poo at those we despise? Or do we plant the seeds of kindness, generosity, and the milk of human kindness? (and to those who say you can’t sow milk seeds, I point you at almond milk!) Kindness is – or ought to be – easy. Be aware of your fellow human beings, and treat them like you would want to be treated. Generosity? Well, set your financial house in order, minimize debt and wasteful spending, and you’ll have the extra you can use to give the deserving a hand up when life has kicked them in the ‘nads.

Now that you’ve figured out your seeds. we can move on to the next step. My daughter discovered this year that a garden isn’t as simple as sticking seeds in the ground and waiting for rain. Oh, she has a small harvest, but there are a lot of weeds and not a lot of yummies. Next season she’s going to have to put in a lot more seeds, and… there’s another aphorism that works here (only I’m sure it’s not Biblical). You get what you pay for. If you pay for your harvest with the sweat of your brow, and earning the money for more seeds (what? have you looked in a seed catalog recently?).

Um. My parentheses are taking over again. Sorry about that.

Where was I? Ah, yes… a garden is hard work. There’s watering, and weeding, and building up the soil in order to support strong, healthy growth. This part of the analogy extends nicely into the more abstract garden of life. Building up the soil is a parallel to a foundation to rest on – without a strong one, what follows is likely to resemble a hothouse plant. You know what I mean – floppy, breaking easily in the wind, and scorched by the sun. There’s an interesting article I found recently that talks about what leads to success, and one of the things is how we think about ourself. “Of Nobel laureates, he noted that “They exhibit a distinct self-confidence . . . a great capacity to tolerate frustration in their work, absorbing repeated failures without manifest psychological damage.” You and I both know we don’t always have that core-evaluation, as they call it, wholly interior to us. Some of us outsource that, at least in part. Perhaps this is akin to watering. My post yesterday about my husband, and how he is part of me, as I am of him – he also gives me perspective about my self, and my capacities. I do the same in return for him. With this confidence, we can change our trajectories toward success.

Success, by the way, is a whole ‘nother topic. It’s likely not defined for me as it is for you, and entirely different again for Joe down the street. I mean, who knows, for some people success might rely on being the very best poo-flinging flying monkey. Me, I’m more worried about providing stability for my children, so they can have the success in life that they desire. If I model defeat and give up when things go wrong, they will, as well. I’ll point you at another article, which discusses that children are deeply impacted by parental job loss, but more than that, by the perception that things are bad and getting worse – even if they aren’t. We create our own narratives, and they guide our lives. We reap what we sow.

Weeding? Well, have you ever heard this one: you are what you eat. I’m sure you have. There’s another one like it: you are who you spend time with. Weed out the negativity in your life ruthlessly. It’s been shown in more studies than the one I linked to that self-confidence and assurance of one’s own abilities lead to a healthy, happy life. If you walk away from people who want to tell you that you’ll never succeed because you’re… insert characteristic here... female, male, a child of divorced parents, the child of a single parent, the color of your skin, the survivor of a trauma, I could go on and on, but I won’t. If you internalize those words that others want to insert into your life story, then you allow them to pour herbicide on your garden of life. Humans are unconscious mimics, as Geothe and Seneca well knew. ““Tell me with whom you consort with and I will tell you who you are.” Goethe said. CS Lewis compared friendships to artwork:  “Friendship is unnecessary, like philosophy, like art, like the universe itself… It has no survival value; rather it is one of those things which give value to survival.”

Friends are the gentle hands that water and weed when we are so choked up we can’t see straight to do it ourselves. The friendships we build are in and of themselves the harvest of what we sow, even while they are helping the next season’s crop.

There, I must finish. Work is necessary. Not just for a paycheck, but to model for my growing garden the value of an ethic.