I took a stroll to the opposite end of the newspaper office recently to stretch my legs and rest my eyes.
As I was passing through the space allocated to the sales division, I chanced to encounter the Old Philosopher.
We talked about recent news events, and somehow, the conversational thread strayed onto the subject of houses.
When one talks to the Old Philosopher, one has to be prepared for a few stray threads.
More specifically, we talked about the yards surrounding houses, and how front yards can be very different from backyards.
Anyone who has ever traveled on a train or driven through an alley will know exactly what I am describing.
Sometimes, when I am walking or riding on a trail, I wonder what the houses I see from the back look like on the other side.
Front yards generally face the street.
If a homeowner makes any sort of effort to make his residence presentable, that is likely where he will focus his attention.
The lawn is probably in better condition in the front yard than in the back.
Front doors are often more decorative, while back doors are frequently more utilitarian in nature.
Generally, front yards are less cluttered, better maintained, and cleaner than backyards.
The Old Philosopher observed that if a person has an accumulation of junk or debris, the backyard is probably where he will pile it, as far away from the street as possible.
Of course, while this strategy may place the mess out of view of the prying eyes of some neighbors, it may place it directly in the view of others, who may not appreciate it.
Part of the reason for this is that, while front yards may be maintained for show, backyards are where people do most of their living.
They may have a patio or a deck back there. Perhaps there is a grill, and maybe even a swimming pool.
Backyards are places where people can let their hair down at least figuratively and relax.
They aren’t as polished as front yards, and they may have a more “lived in” appearance.
Some backyards may be downright seedy, especially in comparison to their forward-facing counterparts.
Some homeowners erect fences around their properties. In many cases, it is only the backyards that are so contained.
These fences may have the objective of forming a neat barrier between one property and another.
In other cases, they may provide a handy hiding place for a lot of junk.
Upon returning to my own office, I gave some thought to the subject of yards and houses.
It occurred to me that people are a lot like houses.
Thinking of people in this context may help us understand them better.
It might also help us feel better about ourselves.
Often, we are our own worst critics.
In some cases, this is because we are making unfair comparisons between ourselves and others.
When we look at people, we might wish we were as well-dressed, or organized, or efficient as they are.
The problem, of course, is that we are well aware of our own shortcomings. We know all our secrets and failures, and we take these into account when we compare ourselves to the image we perceive in others.
We shouldn’t be so hard on ourselves.
We should remember people are like houses.
With people at least with those we don’t know well we see the neat and polished facade, just like we see only the front yard of a house from the street.
That doesn’t give us the whole picture, though. There is more to people than the face they show to strangers or acquaintances.
Everyone has their own baggage. Some have more than others, but everyone has something.
If a person seems too perfect, we should remember that if we were to sidle around and take a peek over the back fence, we might get a very different picture.
Instead of comparing a realistic picture of ourselves to an idealized image of others, we should remember we are more alike than we are different.
This doesn’t mean there’s anything wrong with imperfection.
I often think that when people let their guard down and share more of their true selves, quirks and all, they are far more interesting than the sanitized facade they present to strangers.
This is really no surprise, though. I am also much more comfortable hanging around in a casual, relaxing backyard than I am spending time in a beautiful, but formal front yard.