Friday, February 8, 2008

The dog, the geese and why friends matter.

The dog, the geese and why friends matter.

I once worked for a company in Massachusetts that had a problem with Canada Geese. Now before you cry “typo” on me, please know that the correct way to pluralize our feathered friends from the North is to refer to them as “Canada Geese” not “Canadian Geese.” Odd, and if you ask me a little pretentious of the geese, but true.

Anyway, our campus at work was crawling with the birds and they were making a mess. I admit I like the honkity honk of a v-shaped formation flying over my head as a way to signal the beginning or end of winter. But constantly walking through their droppings and having them eat all the grass in your yard is just not cool.

But my company couldn’t kill them. They were protected by some sort of migratory bird law. You know the one. And whenever the janitor chased them away, they just came back a few hours later. It was quite a quagmire.

So, the company bought a trained goose chasing dog and gave it to the janitor. The single, all consuming purpose of this canine was to scare away geese and he had an interesting method.

While eating in the cafeteria you could watch him approach the business at hand. First he kind of just crawled forward a little and took in the size of the flock. After a little recon, he began to slowly round up the geese into a tight, loud bunch. Once they were crammed together in a knot of feathers and anxiety, he would walk away, turn and then with his full momentum, run as fast as he could right into the ball of geese.

They were terrified of what was essentially a dog catapult and would take off. They might come back later but eventually after realizing this dog was never, ever going to tire of chasing them away, they would migrate somewhere else.

That whole scene kind of reminds me of the importance and necessity of friends. See, the dog couldn’t win if the geese were spread out. But if he clumped them tightly together so that they were acting as one goose instead of a hundred individual geese, he could chase them away easily.

And so it is with friends. When we find ourselves in a difficult situation or with a problem on our hands, it’s often tempting to isolate. A friend of mine recently lost a bout with temptation and told me, “I thought about calling you Friday night but didn’t want to bother you.” So he didn’t call. Perhaps worse than not calling is the idea of getting advice from the people that you know will give you the advice you want to hear. If you can manipulate an accountability partner to side with you every time, then that’s not an accountability partner. That’s just one more goose standing closely to you.

The friends that help me the most are the ones that are on the outside of my orbit, the friends that don’t automatically see my point of view. My friend Dwayne is that way. I’m a writer, he’s an accountant. I’m roller coaster emotional, he’s stable and steady. I’m impulsive, he’s analytical. So when I come to him for advice, I can trust he won’t be shouldered up next to me, like two geese waiting for the dog. He’ll be on the other side of the issue, a few feet away, helping me objectively.

That’s not really a new concept. Malcolm Gladwell, author of The Tipping Point, says that the best job opportunities and new experiences come from people you are not that closely associated with. The reason is that your close friends travel in the same circle as you. They work similar jobs, go to the same church, shop at the same store. The friend of a friend however travels in a different circle and by nature knows about things you don’t regularly come in contact with.

The very idea of needing friends isn’t that unique. But hopefully the idea of having friends that are close enough to know your heart but far away enough to help you avoid the “ball o’ geese” approach to temptation will help you the next time you face something that seems bound and determined to chase you away.


Dianna said...

This analogy is completely accurate. In my life the times that I have grown the most seem to be when I've come into contact with those outside of my immediate friends and family. Now I treasure those friends for their differences.

Ben said...

John - as always...fabulous post man.