Reality Check: The Little Red Hens

Do you visualize how things should be? For example, do you picture how kids should act? What your spouse should do? How friends should behave?

Perhaps you have bigger pictures, such as how the county should progress, how the country should be run, or even how the whole world should get along.

Our “quality world” is what Dr. Wm. Glasser calls that set of pictures in our heads of how we want things to be. When we perceive that reality corresponds to our quality world, we are generally satisfied. If not, we feel pain and may take action to try to relieve that pain.

Years ago, newlyweds Sarah and Sam bought a hobby farm. Although suddenly widowed, Sarah managed to keep the dream alive and the farm going despite critics and naysayers.

Now, Sarah looks with pride at her tidy property and knows it was worth the sacrifice. She had never wanted nor asked for help; instead she worked, struggled, and penny-pinched. Sure, it was tough, but she made it and her children grew up hard-working and responsible.

Sarah’s new neighbour, Larry, has travelled around the globe working for assorted organizations. He enjoys doing work that matters and especially values helping those less fortunate.

Larry loves his new property and envisions a diverse landscape with berries, fruit trees, and gardens. Maybe he’ll start a co-op so people can buy shares in the produce. It’s a great adventure, and he’s excited to see how it transpires.

Sarah is initially delighted to have a young neighbour who values the land. She welcomed him with homemade bread. Larry thanked her; and as he eats gluten-free, assured her that his hens would enjoy it very much.

Speaking of hens, the best hen in Larry’s quality world is a free-range hen. He tells Sarah: “You should open that gate so your hens can roam. They would be healthier if you didn’t keep them penned up.”

Sarah: “My hens are just fine; thank you. And I would appreciate it if you keep your hens on your side of the fence.”

Larry: “But free-range hens eat bugs. That’s good for all of us. And the eggs are so much better. You’re not being logical.”

Sarah: “I’m not letting my hens out. You keep yours in your yard, and I’ll keep mine in mine.”

Larry: “But that doesn’t make sense. You’re not open to new ways of doing things.”

And so it goes. A relationship that could potentially have been mutually beneficial is now headed down a destructive path.

It’s not about the hens. It’s what happens when we choose not to tolerate the reality that other people have pictures and values in their quality worlds that are different from ours.

In “Take Charge of Your Life,” Glasser writes, “Tolerance, a virtue more professed than practiced, means making an effort to accept that others…have different pictures in their heads.”

It’s relatively easy, and can be quite satisfying, to be tolerant of folks with whom we have only minor differences. But Sarah’s and Larry’s quality worlds are quite different. What Sarah values is not what Larry values, and vice versa. Can they ever get along?

Possibly. Differences are most problematic when we are convinced that we know what is best for someone else and insist that they go along with us. They resist. Is that really a surprise?

Whether Larry and Sarah choose to get along may depend on which value each holds higher—being right? Or tolerating the other? What do you think?

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