When Love is the Answer

Yesterday, Tom and I toured the historic CelioRanch in Christmas Valley, just a few miles from the cabin. The Celiofamily came to America as Swiss Italian immigrants who homesteaded in the El Dorado area just outside of Sacramento, California. They built a lumber mill, dairy, and cattle business for which they procured summer grazing lands high up in the Sierras. This mountain ranch has been in their family since the 1840’s where two homes, several barns, a slaughterhouse, an outhouse, and horse stables are still standing, in good condition, and filled with amazing turn-of-the-century treasures.

The last leg of our tour yesterday was conducted by Tom Celio, the great, great grandson of the family patriarch, Carlo Guiseppi Celio. Tom and his wife, Chris, recently retired and inherited the ranch, though much of it had fallen into disrepair. They were faced with the prospect of selling it or spending their whole retirement restoring and caring for this gorgeous property with its deep family roots and historical significance… but also with a long list of expensive repairs and constant upkeep. They chose to keep and care for their family ranch and are grooming their children and grandchildren to step in behind them when the time comes.

So with all that passion, pride, blood, sweat, and tears as well as the money invested in their historic mountain ranch, you can imagine their horror when they discovered one day that neighborhood kids had broken off the boards to the back of one of their old ranch buildings, stolen some antique farm implements and damaged others. When Tom Celio retold this story, I was expecting to hear how this weathered, old cowboy had rounded them all up and taught them a lesson or two about messing with his family’s cherished property. But Tom surprised me.

Instead of pushing back against the cowardly crime, Tom embraced the situation and met the dastardly deeds head-on… with love, education, and relationship-building. He decided to pay a personal visit to all the neighbors who he knew had adolescent and teenage kids and offered them a private tour of his ranch along with an invitation to enjoy some Celio family hospitality with only one stipulation… they must bring along their children. Almost all of them accepted.

Some weeks after this gathering, Tom spotted a few pre-teen boys rambling around in a pasture near one of the old ranch buildings and he rode out to meet them. No doubt he must have proved an intimidating, if not menacing, figure as he pulled up beside them and spoke to them from high atop his horse. While the boys stammered around trying to find excuses as to why they were trespassing and what they were up to… Tom just smiled at them and offered a personal tour of the nearby building which just so happened to be the old slaughterhouse, along with the aging but functional cattle scale on which he could collectively weigh the entire group of young rascals. Inside, there were cattle shoots, skinning knifes, meat hooks, and deep vats where butchered hogs were scalded along with metal troughs were the blood from the animals was drained straight into the Truckee River.

As you would expect, these young, mischievous boys (who were likely up to no good that day) were mesmerized by the gruesome details of the slaughterhouse operation. Between their questions and Tom’s vivid storytelling, they were there for hours. By the end of the afternoon, Tom and the boys were friends and, more importantly, partners in the safekeeping of the precious ranch heritage. Tom said that since that day, they have not had a single trespasser and the boys are still friends of the ranch with much of the missing equipment returned.

This story reminds me of how often people’s bad behavior can come from feelings of disenfranchisement, disconnection, lack of understanding, and low self-esteem. When we respond to bad behavior with a concerted effort to rebuild connection, understanding, and relationship, we rebuild bridges instead of fortresses. We rebuild friends and advocates instead of enemies. We rebuild peace instead of more war.

I’ve seen many examples of bad behavior exhibited in business settings by clients, patients, team members, and bosses. Many were met with harsh consequences, or at least harsh words, in return. Tom’s example is a good one for us to recall when we are faced with actions and words we don’t like or of which we don’t approve. He did not condone or ignore the reality or severity of the situation but instead of meeting the conflict with more conflict, he chose to meet it (at least at first) with love, understanding, connection, and relationship. Tom knew that it would be harder for these youngsters to continue to steal and vandalize his property if they were in a relationship with him, liked him, and knew he liked them.

This week give some thought to the reaction and response you give to those who act out and those with whom you are in conflict. Is there a way to understand each other better? Is there value in building a stronger relationship that may serve to develop better solutions? Is there a way to forgive and love into the conflict just a little bit more?

“Anger begets more anger. And love and forgiveness beget more love and forgiveness.”

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