When it Seems Trivial, Pay Close Attention

When you’re tempted to dismiss someone’s concerns as trivial, or roll your eyes at the things people find to fight over, it’s time to sit up straight and pay attention. Because you’re missing something…and it’s worth your while to figure out what.

Cindy June of Milton, New York, had a problem on her hands: Her rooster, Farnsworth, was waking the neighbors.

The town building inspector, who took readings of Farnsworth’s loud crows, said later, “This wasn’t one occurrence. Many neighbors complained.”

Unfortunately for Farnsworth, his crowing exceeded the town noise ordinance’s 55-decibel limit. And so the Milton Town Court ordered Farnsworth’s vocal cords be removed.

But bird specialists at Tufts and Cornell universities warned that such a procedure was too risky and recommended castration instead. Castration would lower Farnsworth’s testosterone and decrease his morning wake-up calls. June agreed to the castration in order to protect Farnsworth’s life.

This isn’t a story about the crazy things people find to argue about. It isn’t a story about wasting public funds or public officials’ time on ridiculous disputes. And it isn’t a story about how this conflict should never have gotten as far as court. Those are the typical stories we tell when we hear about something like this, but they miss the point.

It’s a story about understanding that when people fight about something, even when it seems ridiculous to us, there’s something in there that’s important to them.

Figuring out what that thing is, beneath what seems ridiculous to us, beneath the temptation to diagnose them as bananas, beneath the joke we want to aim in their direction, is worth our while.

Because when we do, we have the key to sorting it out.

You see, Farnsworth didn’t make it through the surgery, and that made the news. That’s how we know that Farnsworth was something more to Cindy June than just a rooster out in the yard.

In the faded Albany Times Union newspaper clipping I’ve read to countless mediation students over the years, June divulged that Farnsworth was a steady companion. He was house-trained and loved to watch television with her. She even kenneled him when she went away.

“He was my buddy,” she said. “It was just a stupid chicken but I’ve cried a river.”

                        author

Tammy Lenski

Dr. Tammy Lenski helps individuals, pairs, teams, and audiences navigate disagreement better, address friction, and build alignment. Her current work centers on creating the conditions for robust collaboration and sound decisions while fostering resilient personal and professional relationships. Her conflict resolution podcast and blog, Disagree Better, are available at https://tammylenski.com/archives/… MORE >

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