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That Really Frosts Me

TworoadsI've always been a fan of Robert Frost's poem, The Road Not Taken.  The idea of personal choice and breaking away from the crowd always are strong themes with me.  Then my wife, the high school English teacher, told me a story she had read (from multiple sources) about the origin of this poem.  It seems that Frost had a friend who loved to take walks with him and would constantly distract them from their intended path with "Oh, hey, I saw this bush down here the other day that you've just got to see" or "I wonder what's down that trail... let's go!"  This poem wasn't so much one of personal choice, but rather a sarcastic jab about his friend's eccentricities.  My wife commented that if this story about the poem were true, how much Frost would be laughing at us all from beyond the grave about the meaning we tend to put on things.

I remember a recent post by Steve Farber. in which he shared that a reader got upset that he quoted HP-helm alum, Carly Fiorina.  Steve leads a great discussion on his blog about the relationship between the words and the source of the words.  If the person isn't living up to the words that he or she says, does it make the words any less true?  At a church that my wife and I attended when we were first married, a woman in the church used to berate the preacher almost every Sunday if he quoted or referenced anybody who did not fall chapter-and-verse into our church's doctrine.  (Boy, will she be surprised about who gets into heaven.)

One of the things we fail to do in Office Politics situations is assessing context.  Do words and actions sync up with the people creating them?  If something is out of context, it should be a red flag for us.  Often, though, we look only at the person (through halo effect) or the words/actions and we miss the entire context.  Because we don't see the whole big picture, we go down paths that do not lead to effective political conclusions.

Because we find out that Frost's poem wasn't an eloquent waxing about personal choice, does that mean the words can no longer be interpreted as such?  Does that mean we can only use Frost's words as a jab against focus-impaired acquaintances?  I sure hope not.  That would make all the difference.


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Tom Haskins

Great post Tim. In my experience, people who are insecure or power hungry feel compelled to provide their own context to other's words. They do this to make themselves right, defend their conceited identity, feel like a big somebody and avoid getting wronged. They jump to conclusions like: "that was said to hurt my feelings", "that means they are out to make me look bad" or "that shows they are clueless and incompetent". They assume people need to be held in contempt regardless of the context in which things were said.

People with more confidence and humility can seek the context of the words when they were said. They can handle other viewpoints and phases of development. They don't feel compelled to overpower others or feel victimized by others' actions. They assume others can be respected in some context once it's discovered. Switching to this "receptivity to other's context" requires "letting go of being right" and other threats to the fragile ego.

Timothy Johnson

Tom - you're definitely onto something. Those who have a stronger sense of self (in a good way) tend to keep the context on an objective level. Insecurity of any sort tends to skew reality and put things in a new light. I've seen even the most innocuous act get turned into a declaration of war because of the insecurity of those involved.

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