R came to me in minor tizzy with a very, very New Yorky concern.
R reported that she
Has worked very hard indeed to establish a community garden with other friends and neighbors in the Lower East Side/East Village area. But, you see, our garden is not officially designated as a NYC Greenspace and so our group never feels totally safe in our plot because, well, if there are complaints about the garden the whole thing could be shut down. And that would be terrible.
If a New York community gardener could be boiled down into one person R might be a good candidate – slightly old-timey, sweet, earnest, community minded, a bit nervous and yet emboldened by her passion for growing plants and uses that as a lens for her day to day goings on.
The group is constituted of all women and mostly older ones. They have agreed in past board meetings, “by majority vote, mind you” (to quote R’s rejoinder) to certain standards for the individual plots within the larger garden – height (6 feet) and tidiness to name two critical ones.
It seems that one woman in the group of gardeners is not living up to her agreements…she grows plants higher than 6 feet (everyone else dutifully prunes to keep their plants in check), she plants vines and spindly flowers and doesn’t tend her space very well or much.
I can appreciate a wild garden but this plot is an eyesore due to its central location that is starting to draw real and serious complaints.
Additionally the lady who care takes this plot is allegedly difficult to get along with and has been totally resistant to help and to critique and likes getting under peoples skin.
This back and forth has gone on for a while and it is just getting too contentious for R – she fears for the future of the garden.
It all felt appropriately dramatic. R spoke about this matter as if it was high diplomacy. And for her it was. Despite her old fashioned fussy and worrying charm the situation deserved full attention and care.
The first thing that came to mind for me was a Parenting 101 sort of thing – don’t indulge behavior and don’t feed reactions. The point being that if this woman enjoys making things difficult then it is critical not to fight back because it makes opposition in the game they are playing. That energy could be better used to redirect the situation.
I offered to R the possibility of accepting the Contentious Gardener as she was – plot and all. To make no attempt to change her at all. I asked about the height restriction and where it came from. R informed me that it mostly came from practicality. The fence on the exterior of the garden was a little more than 6 feet and most of the women were quite short. So it just seemed handy that the garden would pleasantly be in the same scale.
I wondered aloud if perhaps the time had come to change the height restrictions because events have changed the scale of the garden from what it once was. Gardens after all do grow… She liked that. If all the other gardeners could grow to 8 feet like the offending Contentious Gardener then the currently offending plants would’nt stick out as much and the garden would be filled by that much more beauty and bloom.
R was literally awestruck and sweetly fumbled
I don’t know why we never thought of that! That makes perfect sense.
Even more delightfully she went through the ramifications of this
Well I think that I could easily get the votes on this for the board if I put it to a vote. I don’t see why it wouldn’t pass. Perhaps Gerry wouldn’t vote for it but it would still be a clear majority…
R was giddy and hugged me and promised that she would talk with the other ladies about not reacting to Contentious Gardener and vote to change the height restrictions.
Just thinking about these lovely older ladies having a board meeting and talking about voting to raise the height limits for their flowers was too joyful for words.
What might you have offered to this little swirl of politics? Any thoughts on the seeds I planted? It seems to me that we often put arbitrary limits on our activities and then consider the field of play fixed and forget that we made the choice to put the limit on and can just as easily move the barriers. So for R it was garden height…but for you what is it that needs to be moved?
If you think a conversation or a creative approach like this could be of use to you where you are now…