Tyler Perry—the often lauded, often critiqued director—provided a perfect parable to his Facebook followers recently concerning the power of acceptance in our relationships. He spoke of a friend who was visiting his home and complaining, endlessly, about how her friends and family were mistreating her. We’re all familiar with these kinds of venting sessions. We find a confidante willing to listen to our woes and we, even if only for a few minutes, play victim. After all, we often give what we wish to receive in relationships, whether platonic, familial or romantic, and when we don’t feel that our efforts are reciprocated, it burns.
Perry offered the following example to his friend to help her understand that we cannot (no matter how much it benefits us or how much it could potentially benefit the other person involved) change the people we love. He asked his friend to walk with him and admire the beautiful landscape of his backyard on an extremely hot day.
As she was still complaining about people, I asked her what she thought of my grass… She said, “Wow, I love your grass. It’s beautiful, but it’s hot right here. Let’s cool off under that oak tree over there.” So, as she started to walk to the tree, I said, “No, no, let’s stay here in the grass and cool off.” She turned to me quickly and said, “We can’t cool off on this grass.” Right then, I said to her, “But you just said the grass was beautiful.” “I did,” she replied. Then I asked her, “Why won’t you stay here?” She said, because she was hot and the grass couldn’t cool her off. So, we walked over to the oak tree and sat there.
Perry’s friend thought the grass was stunning, but in that moment she realized that what she really needed was the shade of the tree, not the beauty of the grass. He asked her why she didn’t get mad at the grass for not being able to cool her off the way the tree did, and went on to explain the significance of his backyard journey with her and how it relates to the peace we achieve in our relationships (and lives) when we allow people to be who they are instead of expecting them to be more.
The next time you get upset with someone because they can’t do, or can’t be what you want them to be, remember the grass. Never get mad at a blade of grass because it’s not a tree. Appreciate the grass for what it is. Let it provide to you what it can, but don’t expect more. Your life will get so much easier when you start letting people be who they are and stop expecting them to give you what they don’t have or don’t know how to give.
Listen. Tyler Perry delivered a word that day to 12 million Facebook followers and the rest of us who were able to read his conversation via endless shares. We cannot change anyone but ourselves, and a person will only change if they desire to. And, let’s be honest and realize that change is difficult and sometimes almost impossible.
How does Perry’s parable apply to our romantic relationships? We often have unrealistic expectations of our partners and want them to be people they are not. Sometimes those expectations increase over time, sometimes we enter relationships hoping to “upgrade” the people we claim to want and love. This behavior is a huge mistake that will most likely ruin (and cost you) your relationship. It’s very simple: if you cannot accept a person at face value—with the looks, career, personal ideas and character, spiritual beliefs and bad habits you meet him or her with—it is up to you to walk away.
People deserve the opportunity to be, fully and beautifully and terribly, who they are. You have the opportunity to make room for them in your life as whole people, or not at all. When you claim to love someone but refuse to accept them, you are practicing “thin love,” and as Toni Morrison reminds us in Beloved, “thin love ain’t love at all.”
We must also remember to not be the other kind of gold digger that we rarely address. The ones who makes decisions about the people they want and have in their lives based on potential. The ones who believe the person they love would be perfect if they could just clean up a bit, go back to school or see a therapist. In some ways, hope is dangerous in the space of loving.
Thankfully the Divine gives us choice. We get to choose who stays and who goes. And as Perry said at the end of his tale, “You wouldn’t be so frustrated with people who are like the grass if you had more people who are like trees in your life.”
Josie Pickens is an educator, culture critic and soldier of love. Send her your love + relationship questions here. Also, follow her on Twitter @jonubian.