How Can the Bible Relate to Us Today?

Guiding Concepts 1: Turf Awareness – How It Affects Your Relationships

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This subject has nothing to do with the condition of your lawn. However, it has everything to do with relationships.

If you’ve ever seen the musical or the movie “Westside Story,” you are aware of how two gangs, the Jets and the Sharks, fought with each other over claiming a neighborhood of the city as their own territory.  Indeed, it still goes on today in our cities and towns that are troubled by the existence of gangs. They are fighting over their “turf,” meaning a portion of land under their control.

“Turf” is a concept that I had come up with some years ago in observing human nature. “Turf” is when one person or party has some measure of real or perceived control over another person or party.  It is performed each week, if not each day, in our interactions with people, whether it be in our place of employment, a business we own, our encounters at the store or restaurant, at our house of worship – and even our own families.  Understand that what follows is from my perspective as an extrovert who loves being home alone and who is highly empathic.

Do you have a detached desk at work? Where is it in your office? Is it located with your chair and your back to the wall? The front of your desk is facing the door and there are the obligatory two chairs in front for any visitors who may come to see you? If you have personal pictures, which direction are they facing? Are they facing outward from you toward the visitor? Overall, what is the message you are giving to those who seek to do business with you? “This is my turf – my area of control. I am in power here (at least until the boss or my spouse walks in). What do you want?”

In that scenario, the visitor is made fully aware that they are not in control and are subject to you based on the barrier of the desk. And the family pictures the visitor sees? They exude the appearance of well-being, family unity, and if the pictures are taken at a vacation spot, the ability to travel and take vacations. The person visiting you may have none of those as they may be in poor health and unable to go to a doctor or buy medicine. The person’s family may be broken up or full of strife. And they certainly can’t take a vacation to a nice location.

If you have a desk and can control its positioning in a room, I offer the following suggestion to you to help the visitor be more comfortable as the person “intrudes” on your turf. Instead of the front of the desk facing the door, what if you faced the front of your desk against a side wall such that the end of your desk faces the door? Have a chair at the end of your desk with a chair off to the side in the room to be able to pull over in case there is more than one visitor. You can invite the visitor to have a seat in the chair, then pull your chair around to face them – with the desk not being between you. An alternative to this, if you have room, is to have a small conference table with chairs in the room. This could serve as a great meeting place to conduct business with a group of people at work. However, it can also be a neutral place to have a discussion with a visitor as long as the two of you are sitting on the same side of the table and facing each other.

The pictures? I suggest one or two neutral pictures of scenes you like: the lake, the ocean, the mountains – whatever you find pleasing but is not personal with family in the picture. Again, in conducting your business, you want to keep a neutral approach to visitors without barriers.

Why is this important? When a visitor walks into your office, they know they are not on equal ground. They are on your turf. Perhaps the visitor is approaching you with a delicate or personal concern. Perhaps there is an issue with another employee, or the visitor has an idea to help your company or unit be more productive. As the person who occupies your office space, do you want to accomplish goals and outcomes as a result of your meeting?

This concept of turf isn’t just for those in authority in a company. What about if you are a pastor, priest, imam, or rabbi? When a person walks into your office, they are already at a disadvantage. In fact, as soon as they walk into a church, temple, mosque or synagogue, they already feel inadequate and nervous, if not scared. If they are new to participating in your religious institution, all the trappings and “holiness” of your faith already is off-putting. The least you can do is help put them at ease as you counsel with them.

Turf. Where else does this concept apply? How about your family? Who are the turf holders in a family? You are as a parent. Who are the ones for whom the family is not their turf? Perhaps your children? Whenever a parent says, “Do what I say!”, isn’t that a turf issue? The parent who claims the family as their turf over the children end up trying to control their children and expecting obedience at all times instead of listening to their concerns about an issue.

As a parent of three children and a husband to one wife, my wife and I tended to be turf holders as the children were growing up – especially me. I was going to school for two masters’ degrees, or on church staff, or as a pastor, or working two jobs. I felt I needed to have resolution to problems quickly. That often entailed not listening to them or their concerns. As you know, children do not come with a directions book. You just do the best you can. However, now that I’m retired and can take a longer look at life, I can at least listen to my grandchildren. Yes, our three children are doing fine, thank you.

“Fathers, do not embitter your children, or they will become discouraged.”  [Colossians 3: 21. NIV]

“Fathers, do not exasperate your children; instead, bring them up in the training and instruction of the Lord.”  [Ephesians 6: 4.  NIV]

When you are at the store or a restaurant, the person serving you is trying to give you a good experience in that place of business. Do what you can to make their day so much better. My wife and I were in a buffet restaurant the other day. We were next to two tables pushed together with about five young children and two women. The kids were well-behaved as children go, but they did generate a lot of dishes and a mess. Our server was also the same person serving those tables. As a result, I increased our usual tip and wrote a note to the effect that this is to honor her work with the tables with children. When she came by to take a couple of dishes, I pointed to the note, which she read. She seemed to brighten and said, “Thank you. You are so right.”  Look for those golden opportunities.

In summary, wherever we go in our day, we can be aware of the concept of turf and help others – and yourself – have a much better day.  In a business, it’s okay to be a “boss” person, but this isn’t to “lord” it over others.  A business or a work unit built on mutual respect, honor and common goals will be much more productive.

“Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others.”  [Philippians 2: 3-4. NIV (2011)]

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