Nature’s colors are beyond anything any artist is capable of reproducing. The color harmony of this morning’s sky, filled with peach, pink, purple, green, yellow, and gray-blue. The spring greens on the twisty oaks, and the thick carpet of blue flowers, this year the best I’ve ever seen them.

I feel blessed to stare out at the backyard, the distant view, the deep lavender mountain, during a moment of perfect peace. I look forward to my quiet time when others still sleep, when it’s just me, my thoughts, and my faithful dogs.

Trying Something New

Two weeks ago, I tried something new. I decided to celebrate spring by asking people worldwide to join a broadcast from my backyard. I called it a global “paint-out” — a gathering of artists to paint. I invited some friends and ended up with about 30 local artists painting in my backyard, while we saw people all over the world watching and painting together. Suddenly the art world is flooded with paintings of one scene. 

Chainsaws Galore

Doing a live event always has its challenges. Millions of tree branches were downed in the recent ice storms, and cleanup will be a yearlong process for many. And that means the quiet of this beautiful spot is interrupted by a symphony of chainsaws in all directions. For two days before the event, my neighbor, owner of a very large property, had a whole crew sawing away, so noisy I could not think.  

Out of the Blue

When my producer came out to do a practice setup, he mentioned that the sawing was going to be a problem and would be picked up on the mics, which of course I had anticipated. So I walked over to the tree guys, got the name of their boss, and made a phone call, putting me in touch with the owner of the property by text. In a series of texts I mentioned two concerns: the possible change of our view, which could result in us looking into his home (and him looking at ours) and the noise during the broadcast. 

My first text was not well received. He would do whatever he wanted to do, these are his trees. The tone, I thought, was overreacting and inappropriate.

My first reaction was to fight back, because bullies need to be challenged and not allowed to be bullies. But I took a deep breath and did not write what I first wanted to write. 

Instead, I paused and said a quick prayer for guidance. I did not want to have a reaction rooted in my ego. Instead, I prayed for the man. I heard “Love your neighbor.”

My dad used to say you never know what’s going on in someone’s world. If they are having a bad reaction to something, it may be because of other things going on in their life. 

In Another Man’s Shoes

I don’t know this man well, I’ve only met him one time, but I know he co-owns one of the world’s biggest companies, has tens of thousands of employees, and lives in a pressure cooker environment. He has to make tough decisions every day, and the last thing he needs is some neighbor blowing up his texts with another problem to solve, probably in the middle of a meeting. And who knows what else is going on with his family or his health?

So my response was firm, but in a nice way, not allowing him to bully but also loving and understanding. And the outcome was positive and unexpected. 

My ego wants to fight. I don’t want to be told what to do. I want to be right all the time. But had I gone down that path, I would be at war with a neighbor. Instead, the situation was defused.

Does this sound familiar in your life? 

Communication is one of the hardest things to learn. It’s always easier to just slam someone or be the bull in the china shop. But the breakage is high, and often irreparable. 

Bad Reactions

Looking back, I can see dozens of times when my reaction was too harsh, or I was too rushed to take proper time to respond. Usually I was not being mindful of what others were going through or how they might perceive what I said.

Too many times it’s been a harsh e-mail, other times an e-mail or text not intended to be harsh, but taken that way. And the breakage has, in some cases, never been repaired. 

“Take a deep breath,” I tell myself. Say a quick prayer and pray about the situation. And pray for the person you think is doing you wrong. Because when you do that, you are bound to see a perspective you had not considered. 

Vulgar and Hurtful

I was once communicating with someone by text when suddenly he laid into me, saying some horrible things. It was the worst encounter I can ever remember in my life. It was vulgar, hurtful, and shocking. I honestly did not know how to respond. And I don’t remember now how I responded or if I just went silent. But a few days passed, and an unsolicited apology came in, stating that the man was an alcoholic, had fallen off the wagon, and had anger issues when he drank. It took a big man to admit that, and to apologize. And I said a simple thank you and have had no contact since — because, I suppose, I assume it will happen again. (And this is why it’s dangerous and foolish to drink and then get on your phone.)

Ego Out of Control

We are imperfect humans who often have a high opinion of ourselves. “Don’t you know who I am?” has been uttered by many of us far too many times. “I need to speak to your manager now!” “I’ll own this place!” “I’ll never be back!” and other silly things we utter in anger like spoiled children, usually to powerless employees at the restaurant or store we’re visiting when things don’t go well. Or we lash out on Zoom calls or drop F-bombs in meetings. 

Stupid Management Tricks

I used to think, “My way or the highway.” I used to be the manager who had to have my way always, and I’d lash out when it did not happen. I’ve disrupted people’s lives by firing them on the spot when they were angry and stirring things up. But, thankfully, I grew out of that. Sometimes I want to do it, but I bite my tongue and try like crazy to be patient. And if appropriate, I’ll talk to them later, when I’m calm, to use it as a learning moment. 

What if instead of reacting, you pause? Rather than firing back with a scathing e-mail, you tell yourself to wait 12 hours? What if rather than getting back or getting even, you simply stop, say a quick prayer, and try to see their side? What might they be going through? 

The Biggest Loss You’ll Ever Know

One of the hardest things I’ve had to do is to lose myself, lose my ego. Ego can be good because it can push you to do great things, but it’s also one of the most destructive forces on earth. If we can lose ourselves, focus on the needs of others, look for ways to love the unlovable, we’ll see new things open up in our lives that we never imagined possible. We can either be impressed with ourselves and try to impress others, or put all that aside and just be loving to everyone. I’ve never said it’s easy, but it changes your heart, changes everything about your life, and makes life so much easier. 

Ultimately, my event still had the sound of chainsaws. For whatever reason, someone along the way decided to keep them going anyway. And another neighbor had a leaf blower going. It may have made the broadcast less pristine, but I wasn’t going to let it ruin an otherwise perfect day. 

If someone ruins my day, I can live with it. My goal is to not ruin someone else’s day. What about you?

Eric Rhoads

PS: The global paint-out was a big success. We had about 4,300 people sign up to watch or paint along, and we had people around the world taking part. It was fun, and different, and I learned a lot from it. I learned that I miss being around people; having local painters here at the house was wonderful. As a result, I can hardly wait to be at the Plein Air Convention, and a reunion of old friends and new.