Right or Righteous?
By Audrey Stallsmith
"He’s shooting the heifer!” I was typing peacefully away at a garden article one afternoon when I heard my father burst into the house with those words. “There’s a cop up there shooting that heifer!”
Scurrying out to the kitchen, I found Dad already searching frantically for a sharp knife. Those of you who know anything about farming or hunting will probably realize that he wasn’t intending to go after the policeman with that knife. An animal must be bled soon after it is killed for its meat to be good, which usually means cutting its throat.
I knew which heifer it must be, since one of my brother’s smallest beef cattle was always escaping under the pasture’s barbed wire. This usually didn’t matter much since she seldom wandered far, and there is little traffic on our dead-end road, which is cut off by Interstate 79. But she had apparently found her way through the highway fence too.
While Mom called my brother, who lives just down the road, Dad ran to get the ATV. I followed him outdoors with the binoculars. I was worried about my father, who is in his mid-80’s, having to climb that highway fence--and about what the policeman would do if suddenly confronted by an elderly farmer with a large knife.
Fortunately, the patrol car had gone. I continued to keep an eye on the ATV with the binoculars, so I was able to point my brother in the right direction when he turned up a few minutes later with a wagon.
Even my usually easy-going sibling looked angry, as well he might, at this abrupt slaughter of a valuable animal. But there wasn’t time for that at the moment, as the men had to get the heifer bled and to a butcher as soon as possible, and it took them a while to find her in the tall weeds.
When I relate this story, many people think the state policeman was in the right because he was just protecting the lives of those on the highway. We don’t see it that clearly since it was the state who originally made a break in their fence when they were working on a nearby rest area--and never repaired it. Although my brother did his best to cover that hole, we suspect that is where the heifer probably wriggled through. Then there is the much older question of whether the state ever had the right to seize our land to construct that highway in the first place!
Also, although we hadn’t experienced this situation ourselves before, other policemen have helped other farmers chase their cows off the interstate rather than shooting those animals. With the modern technology available to him, this particular patrolman could have at least identified who lived at our farm and called to let us know he was going to shoot the heifer. If my father hadn’t seen what was happening, all that beef would have gone to waste.
I was reminded of this by a question posed in Gail Blanke’s book, Throw Out 50 Things. She wasn’t just talking about eliminating the physical clutter from our lives, though that was included.
She also advocated throwing out some of the attitudes that make our lives more difficult too, such as the need to always be right. “Is it more important to you,” she asked, “for you to be right or for you to maintain good relations with the people around you?”
The policemen who helped chase cows, even when some of them were afraid of the animals, obviously had some concern for the farmers as well as the people on the highway. They may have had the right to shoot the animals, though I haven’t been able to find any definitive answer to that question, but they didn’t take advantage of it.
We all like to be right in whatever squabbles we have with our loved ones and acquaintances too. But, before we shoot off our mouths about how right we are, maybe we had better stop and consider whether that sort of thing is going to help or harm those relationships.
After all, the question of who is really in the right is often as complicated as our heifer situation was. I did ask my father whether he wanted me to enter a complaint with the policeman’s superior, provided that I could discover whom that superior was. There are advantages to being a writer in such situations, after all, as one can paint a pretty pathetic picture! But, once the heifer had been safely butchered, everybody had cooled down enough to realize that being on bad terms with the police is probably not a good idea.
Speaking of beef, Paul felt that he was righter than rain too when he said there was nothing wrong with eating meat that had been offered to idols--a tricky question if ever there was one. But he realized that maintaining good relationships with his fellow Christians was more essential than his being right. “Although being a know-it-all makes us feel important,” he writes in I Corinthians 8:1 (TLB), “what is really needed to build the church is love.”
Of course, there is a limit to how far this can be stretched. Refraining from unnecessary argument is not the same thing as going along with everything my fellow Christians believe.
If I carried that to extremes, I would probably be wearing a bonnet and driving a horse and buggy. And that would, no doubt, offend many liberal Christians! On many of these questionable issues, we aren’t going to know who’s right until we get to heaven, and we probably aren’t going to consider it all that important then.
As regarding the skirmishes we sometimes have with loved ones, we should remember to ask ourselves Blanke’s question. “How important is it for me to be right about this?” There are matters of principle, of course, that we should take a stand on. But most of our daily squabbles aren’t over matters of principle! Does it really matter, after all, who left the cap off the toothpaste?
We should take a lesson from those marriages that have degenerated into a constant battle of who’s right and who’s wrong, in which bystanders are often called on to take sides. Even a spinster like me can see that enlisting other people against your husband or wife is no way to be loyal to that spouse. We need to build up our loved ones, after all, not tear them down.
For that reason, I’ve found that it’s occasionally wise to keep my mouth shut instead of saying, “I told you so.” If we truly care for the person with whom we’ve had the disagreement, after all, we aren’t going to find his or her “defeat” satisfying.
In fact, I seem to recall someone saying once that, if we have a truly Christian attitude, we will be happy to be proved wrong when it means that the other person is right. Our emphasis, in both our families and our Family in Christ, should be on the things that unite us rather than the ones that divide us.
As bad luck would have it, we were visiting a museum about an hour away just a couple days ago, when the police called my brother to tell him there had been a report of a cow on the interstate again. He was puzzled because he couldn’t see any way one of his cows could be loose this time. But, although we had intended to go out to lunch too, we all headed home instead. My brother called some friends on the way, and they promised to check it out.
Neither the friends nor the police were able to find the cow in question. The police phoned again later to say that they’d had additional reports of it being on the far side of the interstate from our farm. By that time, my brother had counted all his animals and determined that none were missing, so he knew it wasn’t his.
We eventually heard that the cow belonged to another neighbor further up the interstate. I don’t know what ultimately happened it, but there was much less anger all around this time, since there was much more communication.
As long as we have a sense of humor about our differences with family or Family members, the lines of communication should remain open there too. However, if we constantly feel compelled to prove ourselves right, no matter what the cost, we need to toss that need! Being right isn’t much consolation, after all, if you are also alone.