Ideas, opinions, emotions: they’re like fruit. They grow – some more tediously and fussily than others – and, if harvested too soon, they’re bitter, sour, or hard; conversely, if left too long on the branch they turn mushy, mealy, or brown.
Some go from unripe to rotten without peaking; many get left behind, return to the soil, and regenerate as energy for roots to consume and feed future plants. Sometimes, every cherry, pear, or almond is delectably perfect; sometimes, the whole field yields nothing, for no discernible reason.
A bad harvest doesn’t mean your trees are bad; it means your farmer is.
(In the context of this metaphor, at least.)
Dan Gilbert, who went to Harvard to study the human brain and has a lot to say about it, did a TED Talk a couple of years ago where he succinctly described his research on humans’ perceptions of themselves. I’m including the talk below, but if 6 minutes is not succinct enough for you, the gist of Gilbert’s research concluded that, in his own words, “human beings are works in progress that mistakenly think we’re finished,” and that our beliefs and desires shift much more over time than we anticipate they will, in spite of most people recognizing that who we used to be is very different from who we are.
In the scope of Gilbert’s research, most people seem to think that who they are today is who they’ve been working to be, and that every opinion they have – whether about innocuous topics like preferred food or music, or consequential issues like political affiliation or desire to have children – is immovable and final.
Although the person I am right now is the person I’ve been working to be, and my ideas, opinions, and emotions are those that I’ve been processing for a while now, why should I then conclude that today, right now, is the permanent realization of who I am, what I believe, and how I feel?
What if farmer’s had that same attitude toward their fruit trees? Would any farmer ever walk out into an orchard and think, “Well, since I’ve been working at these apples for a few months, they must be ready!” then start picking indiscriminately? Of course not, just like a farmer would never say, “This year’s harvest will be just like next year’s, even though it was different from last year’s!”
Maybe this is because farmers are smarter than everyone else – and based on the farmers I know this could be true, because that shit takes a solid understanding of natural environment and landscape, chemistry, patience, and wearing long sleeves in the sun. And those are all things I don’t have a god damn idea about.
I am a farmer though, and so are you, and so is everyone. We’re brain farmers, cultivating fields of fruit and carefully tending to our emotional and intellectual crop. What’s growing in our orchards today, right now, might not be ready for picking, yet so often we rush out and gather as much fruit as we can, then send it in a basket to someone we love. Or hate.
But a basket of unripe (or rotten) fruit is not a good gift, and neither is a bouquet of unprocessed emotions or opinions.
Even more important than recognizing that patience and attention are the foundation of emotional and intellectual maturity is accepting that if you make the mistake of gifting a shitty basket (which we’ve all done), it’s not fair to yourself to assume that all your future baskets will be shitty. You didn’t harvest well this time; you waited to long to pick and your emotions got rotten, which caused a brutal argument. Or, you were impatient with your opinion and it turned out hard and indigestible, so no one consumed it.
This doesn’t mean all your emotions are rotten, or all your opinions are raw. But it does mean you need to be a more mindful farmer. So do I.
I might not know enough about growing things to carry this metaphor to fruition, but I haven’t yet killed the flowers I planted last week so I’m comfortable speaking from a position of mild authority here. Plus, I’m very experienced in gifting raw or rancid emotions and ideas and know the outcome is never good. At best you’re ignored; at worst, attacked.
It’s important to have a person, or a small collection of people, with whom you can analyze your unripe harvest or clean up a spoiled mess on the orchard floor. In fact, those confidantes are the consultants who can help you better tend your crop for future yields. But outside of that intimate sphere, we should act only – and always – when we’re confident our fruit is ready for picking, and never lose perspective that next year’s harvest could be sweeter still.
Unless you are harvesting pears, in which case you should burn the orchard to the ground because pears are trash fruit.
Honestly, fuck pears.