I was driving down the street one day with a woman who suddenly and very vehemently declared, “I can’t stand that woman’s lavender fence. If she doesn’t paint it, I’m going to get some white paint and come do it myself.” The remark and the intensity of the remark startled me. Her blood pressure must have risen ten points! And why? Because she thought someone else’s fence should be a different color than it was.
I’ve thought about that experience a lot since that day. The fence was an unusual color, but the yard was very tidy and well cared for with lots of flowers in many different colors and varieties. It was obvious the owner liked whimsical decorations and lots of color and would have been very unhappy in an earth-tone, Pottery Barn home like she had. So why was this woman causing herself so much distress? Why did it matter what color this fence was? It was blocks from her own home. She didn’t even have to look at it very often. As a matter of fact, if she looked the other way when she went down the street, she wouldn’t see it at all.
I don’t know what caused the extreme negative emotion. It could have been that she felt her standard of decorating was the only acceptable one—that’s called pride. Or maybe she just didn’t like lavender—that’s called intolerance. Or maybe she felt like everyone should be and like what she was and liked—that’s called selfishness. But the net result of any of this is that it causes pain—unnecessary pain. Instead of stressing over what other people should or should not be doing, life is so much easier if we just enjoy. While I’ll probably never paint a fence around my own home lavender, I can delight in the splash of color and obvious enjoyment the owner of the lavender fence takes in making her yard colorful.
While we are free to choose our own style and surround ourselves with what we like best, I think one of our tasks in life is to learn to enjoy, at least in the moment we behold it, what others enjoy.