The right to be right

by +CrystalThieringer    @cdthieringer

My husband Martin is an engineer. This makes him detail oriented, and because he works in aviation, he focuses on complex systems with several back-up plans. He understands how things should work but in case they don’t, he knows there has to be a fail-safe. Sometimes two.

Our very good friend Dave is equally brilliant, but in a different way. Dave also worked in aviation, originally as an aircraft mechanic. Dave can fix everything. He understands how things fit together, how they work together and how changing one thing could affect another.

I think in relatively linear steps. I often know what I want at the end, though I’m not always successful getting it.  This is true of my writing, my cooking and my living space. Theory bores me. Steps to get somewhere often bore me. How it should feel when we are ‘there’, however, is important to me.

One understands systems and theory.

One understands application and process.

One understands emotional impact of the end result.

Together, we’ve launched the Great Pergola Project.

So far, we’re on the second year.

pergola baseIt started with an idea. Let’s get rid of the grass-that-won’t-grow-nicely, and build paths with gardens and an outdoor room (hey, how about a pergola?).  Dave agreed to help.  We decided to design our own, since we couldn’t find a plan that perfectly fit the space. Last year, we built the basic structure.

My husband is a tall man, and when he is doing things–hanging pictures, for example–he does it for his height. He will walk by the picture and look directly at it. I will walk by and crane my neck to see it. Dave is a wee bit shorter than I am, so that same picture would be right over his head. I’m exaggerating, but only slightly.

This became a factor in the Great Pergola Project. Martin already sees over the heads of everyone else (it makes him easy to spot in a crowd). For him, setting the base high made perfect sense; he already saw everything, and he was thinking about it like a deck that extended from the house. But for me, I felt as though I was ascending a throne room in the middle of the yard to be on display for all of our neighbours. This hardly suited my introverted self. I complained early enough in the process, and they guys took the base structure down a good foot or so.


We all took part–Martin and Dave worked out the practicality of the design together, making adjustments along the way. Dave shared his experience, and Martin and I were happy to let him have the lead. I screwed in deck boards, and I was the one with enough patience to use the jigsaw for the ten-minute-long cuts to make the curved pieces.

Phase I was complete. We had the basic structure, and this spring we purchased furniture. It’s a fantastic spot.

Phase II began on Friday. The men are adding a cedar railing and black iron spindles on two sides. There will be a wrap-around step on the other two sides. They measured the railing height in the rain, then spent their time in the garage drilling bolt holes and assembling pieces. They put one section up while it was raining, and I looked at it, but it was cold and wet and so I didn’t really pay much attention.

Yesterday in the sunshine however, I said, “Don’t you think that’s a little bit tall?”

“No,” they said. “That’s what it has to be.”

I said more unhelpful things like, “Who are we trying to keep in here?” and “I didn’t know we were building a federal penitentiary.”

pergola phase oneThe railing height was perfect for Martin to lean against. But for me, it was nearly chest height, and when I looked at it from the back yard, it seemed as though I would be staring at a prison. Our beautiful space had started to feel closed in. I complained again.

They love me. They redid it, and it’s gorgeous. Now my husband says I was right–which doesn’t necessarily make me feel any better about my attitude. He extends grace to me every single day.

This on-going adventure (did I mention there will be a phase three and four?) has made me think about perspective. None of us were wrong–Martin’s physical view of the world is different from mine because that’s how we’re made. Dave’s ideas about the project differed sometimes from Martin’s because one is an engineer and one is a mechanic. Mine was all about the aesthetics, how I thought the place should feel.

It meant listening to each other (something I still have to work on). It meant compromising. It meant walking away and taking a deep breath and coming back at it. We needed to appreciate and respect each other’s opinions. We needed to try to see things from their point of view.

From the beginning, we determined that the project would be successful. No one has been hurt or killed, thus far. The space was beautiful last year, and is becoming even more beautiful this year. Hopefully, for many years to come, the three of us will have opportunity to sit in that space and appreciate the work that went into making it a peaceful environment. It was never about the right to be right.

I know the problems in the world today are much bigger than the Great Pergola Project. It seems to me, however, that the same principles could apply. Consider other people’s perspective. Listen to the way things need to be to function, and the way they should feel at the end. Give up the right to be right.

It sounds so simple, doesn’t it?




7 thoughts on “The right to be right

  1. I rubbed my hands with delight as I started to read this, thinking of the many ways such a project could go south. More amazing was that, with three such diverse personalities, you managed to get the project done and it looks GORGEOUS! A real lesson in how to listen and when to walk away. May need to keep this one handy for our next family project around here : )

    1. Thanks Tonia. We’re not done yet (did I mention there was a phase III and IV?). But, the yard is coming together. Phase III will be to remove the rest of the grass and add a circular patio ringed with rudbeckia, as well as a place to walk so we can actually reach the garden part. Phase IV is to built a raised bbq nook and herb garden. OOH hope that happens soon!

      1. Aha, a BBQ nook. Dear to the heart of just about every guy on the planet.

        Since I live with men (a husband and two post-college working sons), I am impressed with the trouble Martin and Dave went through for you. I’m betting the BBQ is their favorite part. 🙂

        Can an outdoor TV, a firepit, and a hot tub be far behind?

        1. Hi Laura. Ironically, that BBQ nook is going to be dear to me–and so will the herb garden that I hope to incorporate. My husband is fond of the eating part. I enjoy the grilling part, but that was perhaps also to my advantage, and possibly part of the reason the guys DID go to so much trouble. As for the others? Yeah, I don’t think they’ll even make the list. Thanks for stopping in!

  2. I loved this Crystal. I work a lot in human resources and it seems a lot of conflict arises from not being able to see something from another’s perspective. I loved how you used the metaphor to put across your point.

    1. I’m afraid I’ve often been guilty of not being able to see it, though I continue to try. Thanks for stopping by, Angela!

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