Effective Boundaries have Consequences

He looked magnificent racing around the pasture with his head held high, his mane wild and untamed, his tail up like a patriotic flag held steadily against the wind. The sun was shining, the birds were chirping, the wind was blowing, and the other two horses were watching the new black gelding race around his pasture. He whinnied; they snorted. He raced; they pranced a little.

As much as he raced around his new home, this unfamiliar pasture, he never tried to run through the fence. Reading this, you might think that the fence consisted of a very visible three-rail wooden fence, something sturdy and heavy to keep this powerful animal from escaping. Not so. The one strand of wire was barely visible, yet that horse never so much as touched it. He raced around the pasture, but he only came within inches of the fence.

Earlier I had walked him toward the fence where it was separating his field from the other horses. He did touch the wire then. Once! The electricity running through it gave enough of a quick jolt on his soft nose that he didn’t need to touch it twice to understand the consequences. It was a quick stab to the nose. It hurt and he wasn’t going to test it again. From that moment on, he understood the fence. He minded it, and even in the first few frantic minutes of running around the new pasture, he never touched any other part of the fence again.

His boundaries were set by consequences. Boundaries are meant for protection, for setting standards, for guiding, and for adjusting a course. If we did a better job of setting boundaries, their enforcement would be easier, and unfulfilled expectations would dwindle.

How often do we forget to set boundaries? If you are working for someone, you hope they have a handbook that will set boundaries for you. If there is no handbook, you will ask questions until you think you know where the boundaries are. It is unfortunate if boundaries are not set or they keep moving; or worse yet, they apply to some people but not to others.

Some boundaries are set but have no consequences. I see a lot of pastures with fences that are knocked down because they were not strong enough to hold a horse. They looked strong; three rails of heavy timber. You would think horses would mind them. But the grass is always greener on the other side. Those fences are easy to push through because they have no consequence. Push hard and the wood will break.

Boundaries keep getting moved, and we are programmed to dismiss consequences, because, most of the time, they don’t happen. Imagine the surprise and emotional turmoil when, all of a sudden, boundaries have consequences.

If boundaries had consequences it would be tough, but it would also instill a sense of trust. You would know what you could and couldn’t do. No more guessing. No more testing your boundaries. You do that and the consequence will be this. Life would be easier!

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