Ditch Digging and Dining Room Tables

Something beautiful happens in ditches and dining rooms. More specifically, it happens when we dig a ditch with another laborer and share our table with another diner.

Chip Gains introduced me to that concept. Chip and his wife Joanna are the stars of the hit HGTV show, Fixer Upper. Chip is the real estate guy and contractor. Joanna is the designer and decorator. They are entrepreneurs who somehow run real estate, contracting, and retail businesses. On top of that, they also have their own hit TV show, their own magazine, bestselling books, a B&B, and a restaurant. Somehow, they manage to keep all of these balls in the air while raising four children. Joanna has a remarkable eye for redesigning homes. Chip likes physical work and seems to be able to do about anything in the construction field.

In his book, Capital Gains: Smart Things I Learned by Doing Stupid Stuff, Chip tells a parable about digging a ditch with a co-worker who is very different from him and has different views on the issues and politics of the day.

As the day of hard work wears on, the two have many opportunities for conversation. They each learn a few simple things about the other, where they’re from, how many kids they have, and what they like to eat for lunch. They begin to feel comfortable and share a few laughs together as the relationship grows deeper. There are things they really like about each other, somethings they don’t understand, and some things that are just plain different.

While the job continues through coming days, the one ditch digger decides to invite his coworker to his home for dinner. Many topics come up as he learns more about his new friend. He is intrigued by him and grows increasing fond of him, though he was introduced to some new perspectives that he had never thought much about before.

There are considerable lessons to mine from this parable.

Two people who were very different from each other were in close proximity. Both were out of their comfort zone. It is much easier to hang out with our own tribe. These days that especially applies to people who share our political beliefs. But how can we possibly grow if we never hear a new perspective and if our views are never challenged? One way of living life is safe and affirming, the other is challenging and enlightening, and we get to choose which it is.

They were involved in a common task which gave them a point of connection. There is nothing like working together to accomplish a central objective to draw people into relationships. You have the same goal and you are working side-by-side to accomplish it.

Someone took the initiative to reach out. We have a choice there in the ditch, our workplace, or our neighborhood. We can keep our head down and our mouth shut. We can further our belief that we have little in common with our coworker, neighbor, or whomever. We can continue to harbor stereotypes. Or we can reach out.

The co-workers took baby steps in deepening their relationship. Nobody forced it. They just let it naturally develop with a desire to get to know each other and be enriched by what the other person adds to their life. The motivation? They simply treated each other with a common respect. They were curious and open-minded. They believed in the worth and dignity of another human being, no matter what their views or ethnic origins.

They were tolerant of and even embraced their differences. Sometimes a strange new idea would be revealed, but they didn’t let the differences become the focus of the relationship. Instead it became something they tried to understand, though perhaps, they would never fully understand or agree on the matter. That’s okay, because the relationship wasn’t defined by their few differences, but by their many commonalities.

Like all good parables, this one is simple, but terribly challenging. It describes two very different people working together to achieve a common objective. In the process, they began to understand each other.

This post is from my January column in the Kenosha News.

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