So often in life, we build a fence, rather than a bridge. When faced with conflict, sometimes the easiest response is to close ourselves off — to put up a defensive barrier instead of a gesture of peace and reconciliation. When we do this, who does it hurt more?
The following short story is so simple in its message and the message certainly isn’t new, yet we continue to ignore it. As you read the story, think about a time when you may have built a fence, instead of a bridge.
Once upon a time two brothers, who lived on adjoining farms, fell into conflict. It was the first serious rift in 40 years of farming side-by-side, sharing machinery and trading labor and goods as needed, without a conflict.
Then the long collaboration fell apart. It began with a small misunderstanding and it grew into a major difference, and finally, it exploded into an exchange of bitter words followed by weeks of silence.
One morning there was a knock on the older brother’s door. He opened it to find a man with a carpenter’s tool box.
“I’m looking for a few days’ work, he said. “Perhaps you would have a few small jobs here and there I could help with?”
“Yes, said the older brother. “I do have a job for you. Look across the creek at that farm. That’s my neighbor — in fact, it’s my younger brother. Last week there was a meadow between us and he took his bulldozer to the river’s levee and now, there is a creek between us. Well, he may have done this to spite me, but I’ll do him one better.”
“See that pile of lumber by the barn? I want you to build me a fence — an 8-foot fence, so I won’t need to see his place or his face anymore.”
The carpenter said, “I think I understand the situation. Show me the nails and the post-hole digger and I’ll be able to do a job that pleases you.”
The older brother had to go to town, so he helped the carpenter get the materials ready and then he was off for the day.
The carpenter worked hard all that day measuring, sawing, nailing. About sunset, when the farmer returned, the carpenter had just finished his job.
The farmer’s eyes opened wide and his jaw dropped. There was no fence there at all — it was a bridge…a bridge that stretched from one side of the creek to the other! It was a fine piece of work, handrails and all — suddenly, the neighbor, his younger brother, was coming toward them with his arms outstretched — “You are quite a fellow to build this bridge after all I’ve said and done!” he exclaimed.
The two brothers stood at each end of the bridge, and then came to meet in the middle, taking each other’s hand. They turned to see the carpenter hoist his toolbox onto his shoulder.
“No, wait! Stay a few days. I’ve a lot of other projects for you,” said the older brother.
“I’d love to stay on,” the carpenter said, “but I have many more bridges to build.
– Author Unknown
“A bridge can still be built, while the bitter waters are flowing beneath.” – Anthony Liccione
Rather than tearing down and destroying, we need to build and repair. When we harbor anger or resentment, we do more harm to ourselves than we do to the person we’re angry with. Having a heart filled with love leads to true happiness —forgiveness, peace and understanding are the direct result of that personal happiness.
“Our lack of forgiveness makes us hate, and our lack of compassion makes us hard-hearted. Pride in our hearts makes us resentful and keeps our memory in a constant whirlwind of passion and self-pity.” – Mother Angelica