Gentle Nudges From Behind

Not Smart Enough for College (4)

Earl Cazier was born May 6, 1891, in Ogden, Utah and raised on his father’s ranch in Afton, Wyoming. Under his father’s tutelage he learned how to work, how to treat animals (and people) with kindness and respect, how to manage a ranch, and how to raise his family.


Earl stayed in Afton and eventually purchased his own farm where he raised sheep, dairy cows, horses, a pig or two, dogs, and some chickens. He learned to shear sheep and became proficient at this skill. In fact, every spring he and his brother would wave goodbye to their families and head to the warm weather of California to earn extra money shearing sheep. They worked their way east, shearing other ranchers’ sheep, and getting home in time to shear their own. They were gone from their families for five or six weeks, working hard six days a week.


My Grandfather loved his sheep and took good care of them, but he was not the type of shepherd whose sheep would follow as he led them to new and better pasture. Rather, Grandpa was the kind of shepherd described by Nelson Mandela (the first black president elected in South Africa). In Mandela’s world "a shepherd … stays behind the flock, letting the most nimble go out ahead, whereupon the others follow, not realizing that all along they are being directed from behind.” This is how Grandpa spent much of his summer with his sheep, up the canyon, loving and protecting them from behind.


Grandpa used gentle nudges to quietly guide his sheep. He knew if he gave the sheep some freedom, the natural leaders would go to front and lead the others to better grass. If any were to stray, Grandpa’s dog would run after them and gently nudge them back into the fold. His dog knew he was responsible for keeping the sheep together, and the sheep knew that if they strayed the dog would be there to bring them back. Grandpa’s dog didn’t have to nip the strays, he only had to be a presence and perhaps with a warning bark and a soft growl, they returned to the flock.


As I thought about Grandpa as a shepherd, I realized that he used the same approach in raising his children. He didn’t have to yell or use threats to teach his children what they needed to learn about life. He taught them life’s lessons, but he was always there to direct them with gentle nudges when they needed some help and guidance. Each of his eight children responded well to this method and learned that their father loved them and wanted them to succeed, that he knew what were the best pastures for his children (figuratively speaking), that he was always there to guide them, knowing the day would come when they would be on their own, ready and prepared to choose their own way.


From my father’s stories about his dad, I learned that we don’t have to use anger or intimidation or threats to teach our children how to be responsible and make good choices. The example of the shepherd leading from behind with gentle nudges is a great metaphor for raising our children and showing them that we truly love them, believe in them, and want them to succeed.


Anne and I have been thinking about the value of kindness and setting a positive example. Using this approach to teaching and guiding our children can help us create the type of relationship in which children know that when they make mistakes their parents will gently nudge them towards healthy choices.


We share some personal thoughts about leading from behind. First and foremost, it’s not easy! It takes a lot of work and persistence and patience. It takes mindfulness to be aware in the moment when we may be tempted to use inappropriate disciplinary measures that may be ingrained in our parental skill set. When we work at change, we can become better, more effective parents and a blessing in our children’s lives. Obviously, none of us are perfect and we are going to make mistakes along the way. That is to be expected, but for the sake of our family, the effort is worth it.


Today, we are facing an especially difficult challenge with the COVID-19 virus pandemic that requires us to quarantine ourselves in the house or yard 24/7 with our children, who are understandably restless and anxious to play with their friends. Our patience may be tried more now than ever before, but we also have an opportunity to work hard to develop a special bond with those we love more than anyone else. We can succeed in helping our family to ‘fail forward’ during this most challenging time in our lives.


All the best,


Calvert and Anne

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