These past six months, my wife and I have gone back and forth over the prospect of a major life change. Sometimes it’s looked like we were going to follow through quickly. Other times we agreed to wait. We’ve taken turns advocating for either side, trying on new arguments like hand-me-down clothing, to see whether changes in perspective push us any closer to a final decision. We both know that only time will tell what happens, but we certainly won’t let that spoil our speculation. After all, isn’t good speculation the real cornerstone of a healthy marriage?
We’ve let a few people into our conversation. Let me say plainly that this was a mistake. We all know what opinions are compared to, and despite their ubiquity, there are very few original ones. Every person who’s been introduced to our plans has offered us unsolicited opinions. On second glance, I could probably strike “unsolicited” from the previous sentence, as I’ve known no other kind of opinion. In my dealings with these people, I’ve discovered that an opinion pairs well with a worn-out platitude, and nothing gets this lifelong philosophy student going more than an overused phrase with a vague moral undertone.
One phrase that’s been thrown around when my wife and I discuss our plans is the age-old maxim: “the grass is always greener on the other side of the fence.” These are cautionary words, no doubt coming from a deep place of concern for our wellbeing. The person cautioning us almost always puts on a wizened look for delivery, as if they were giving us a diagnosis we neither wanted nor expected. Shoulders shrug, a sigh emerges, maybe a hand grasps an arm, and it’s all over. Twelve words and a dream is buried, no doubt on my side of the fence.
There are a few insults here. Not only does the saying imply that we won’t find the thing we’re searching for, but folded into it is the implication that we were too stupid to realize it. We were obviously taken in by a misleading optimism about life possibly assuming a better form. So, thanks to our good Samaritan of a friend – or, more typically, relative – we know that our grand design will come to nothing. Plus, it’s all because my pie-in-the-sky thinking rendered me incompetent to see things as they really are. “Gee, thanks for the help. We almost screwed ourselves there, didn’t we? Can I call you for advice again?”
After all, isn’t greener grass something we all want in one form or another?
I reject this thinking on a number of grounds. To start, how do these people know the grass isn’t actually greener over there? I mean measurably, demonstrably greener? Because if it is, then I’m going. After all, isn’t greener grass something we all want in one form or another? Or, maybe they were there and saw the grass was less good and now they’re back to prevent us from making a terrible mistake. This is a problem twice over. One, I should be allowed to make my own mistakes and develop the wisdom that is obviously obtainable over that fence. I like wisdom just as much as green grass, if not more. And two, what is this fence-jumper doing back here? Did they backpedal after gaining some ground in life? Should I take advice from a back-peddler?
Most likely, the person is just giving advice they’re borrowing and that they don’t actually possess. This is just human nature. Pretended knowledge is just as valuable as real knowledge for conversation’s sake, and conversation is the only thing most people know how to give.
It would irk me if “the grass is always greener” discouraged a person from advancing. I suppose I never believed that people should stop pushing forward, even if the greener grass might be a trick of the light. If the grass looks greener, it’s because a dreamer sees it that way, and this, if nothing else, is the essence of taking a risk. And if a life-changing decision involves no risk, then I can’t imagine it was going to be all that life-changing after all.
Next time a person suggests to me that the grass of my dreams might be no different than my current lawn, I’ll politely tell them that I’ll let them know as soon as I get to the other side. And if it ends up being a trick of the light, I guess it’s time to find a new fence to look beyond. I know I won’t be coming back here, because if there’s better light somewhere else, that’s where I plan to set my gaze.
And, with my imagination, it’ll be hard to find a neighbor’s yard that doesn’t shine bright with the hope of better tomorrows.