A trellis isn’t just used on the sides of houses to give vegetation something to hold on to as it grows in all kinds of directions. Nor are they intended for covert lovers to climb and show off their Romeo-like abilities for their Juliets. A trellis in the vineyard business is serious stuff. A trellis controls the spacing between grape trees as well as the depth and density of growth. It serves as a framework around which the best possible grapes are able to flourish which, in turn, are used to make great wine.
Without the structure, haphazard results transpire. Left to its own devices, nature will spread seeds which result in trees growing all over, one fighting for the space and sunlight from another. Even within a single tree, when left to grow without a trellis, only the top layers will produce fruit from sufficient sunlight. These layers will grow rich and deep which will block sun from travelling and nourishing deeper levels. The amount of growth becomes limited.
Expert horticulturists study intensively the type of trellis that gives the best opportunity for optimal growth and fruit production. Professors from Cornell wrote in a research paper of the benefits of using a proper trellis in vineyards, “The result will be a more open canopy, less leaf layers, better fruit exposure, and hopefully more intense flavors and fewer ‘unripe’ flavors in your wines.”
John Mark Comer writes in The Ruthless Elimination of Hurry, “The point of a trellis isn’t to make the vines stand up straight in neat rows, but rather to attain a rich, deep glass of wine. It’s to create space for the vine to grow and bear fruit.” The trellis may make things look pretty and organized, but its real purpose is to achieve optimal outcomes. A trellis provides a place around which purposeful and productive growth occurs. A trellis is a great metaphor for a personal code. What is the trellis in your life?
Can you tell us about your trellis? What structure are you providing for your self in order to develop? Have you taken the time to cultivate a code of conduct for yourself? Do you have rules by which you live?
Harry Browne, author of How I Found Freedom in an Unfree World, writes of the importance of developing a personal code of conduct. Browne notes, “Because you can’t foresee all the specific consequences of what you do, there’s a need to have some generalized rules available that can help keep you out of situations that could be troublesome. These rules can be valuable if they do two things: (1) steer you away from potential disasters; and (2) remind you of the things you must do to satisfy your most important long-term desires.”
Our code of conduct revolves around supporting long-term decisions. The purpose of our personal code, Browne writes, “is to keep us aimed in the direction you most want to go.” “Your code of conduct has to be consistent with your goals so that you don’t do anything that would make those goals unattainable.” Our code can follow identifying what our desired outcome or goals are. Or, our code can be crafted first and then our goals can be developed in order to be a consistent and likely result of adhering to our personal code.
If we don’t develop our own code, our long term interests are easily ignored in the moment. How we feel right now becomes the decision driver. Like our vines without a trellis we’re pulled where the sun tells us. Without our own code, our ability to determine what to do is much less. We are either faced with indecision over multiple options or easily swayed by whatever is in front of us. We say yes to the first option presented that makes us feel good right now instead of considering whether the option presented will move us toward or away from our true goal. Our futures and our present become less under our influence, direction, and control. We become passive passengers on someone else’s ride.
Separately, we should be careful to avoid copying someone else’s code. They developed their goals for their reasons. Their goals may not be your goals. We may not even know what their goals are. A code someone else has crafted in order to help them achieve goals that are meaningful to them has no connection, let alone correlation, to helping us determine ours or achieve ours. To pigeon hole ourselves into rules which were built for someone else may prevent us from achieving the very things that are meaningful to us. Moreover, trying to live by someone else’s code or standards may be confusing. We may have admired the person whose code we’re adopting. They may seem objectively successful and content. If we follow their code and don’t feel happy, we are faced with confusion. We may try to make ourselves feel something that we don’t in order to stay loyal to their code. Putting on a false face while doubling down our efforts in pursuit of another’s code will do nothing but create misery and dissatisfaction for ourselves.
Our trellis metaphor can come in handy again. Trellises in the world of wine can get complicated quickly. An abundance of options exist. There are layouts like quadrilateral canes, bilateral cordons with spurs, and quadrilateral cordons with spurs. Whichever layout is selected implies a separate decision related to wiring configurations. Some options include the top wire cordon, the Geneva Double Curtain, the Vertical Shoot Positioning, and more. Complexity can burst out faster than do our grapes. Cultivating our personal code is similar to picking a trellis. It needs to suit our circumstances and goals not someone else’s. There’s no single, perfect approach.
We can select our trellis by trial just like our code. Try something, put something in the ground, see how things go. Do they grow? If so, then you’re on the right track. If not, it’s time to try something else. It is less important what is in our code, and more important that we’ve taken the time to be intentional and craft something. A code reflects both our awareness and interest in our development. Vineyards use trellises with intention to give themselves the best chance of growing productive crops. We, too, should take the time to cultivate a code such that we can give ourselves a chance to flourish in a desired direction.
One way to consider cultivating a code is to keep your eyes open and ears to the ground looking and listening for sentences, phrases, or quotes that may resonate with you. When you find something that piques your attention, write it down or take a picture of it. Once captured, spend some time reflecting on the statement asking yourself questions like: What is it about this I find engaging? What is the underlying value behind this expression? What does this mean to me? As you flush out why the quote you’ve recorded is meaningful, you’ll likely uncover a value that is important to you. Do you have favorite quotes that you have come across? Have you written them down somewhere?
For example, I came across the following two quotes.
“The Man who goes alone can start today; but he who travels with another must wait till that other is ready.” -Henry David Thoreau
“Down to Gehenna or up to the Throne, He travels the fastest who travels alone.” -Rudyard Kipling-
I wrote them down on two separate index cards. Spending a minute or two thinking about each quote, it seems that both speak to the value of doing something alone. The message isn’t about being a lone wolf or intentionally avoiding other people. I interpret these as valuing self-reliance. Being reliant on ourselves allows us to act immediately. I settled on independence as the value being celebrated in these two quotes. Developing independence allows us to move quickly to get going. We can accomplish more by having this bias to action. These two quotes seem to reinforce the idea that “if it is to be, it is up to me.” This is a message I value and these quotes help me clarify this value. Moreover, reviewing these kinds of quotes help refresh my attention to this value.
Do you have favorite quotes that you have come across? Have you written them down somewhere? Consider reviewing quotes you have collected over the years and occasionally (once a year, or once a quarter, for example) make time to try to organize these quotes into categories. Then review the categories you have created for quotes collected. Is there a category that is collecting a larger number of contributions? Do these categories represent a list of values you hold dear? This practice is one that can help you get started in creating your own code. From here take time to write about what these quotes mean to you. If you’ve determined a value that meaningful quotes seem to represent, detail why this value matters for you. As you sort and review, take note if there’s a category that is collecting a larger number of contributions. Do these categories that are growing represent your trellis? Are they a list of values you hold most dear?
In The Upside of Stress, Kelly McGonigal offers several reasons why this type of exercise may be useful for us writing, “It turns out that writing about your values is one of the most effective psychological interventions ever studied. In the short term, writing about personal values makes people feel more powerful, in control, proud, and strong. It also makes them feel more loving, connected, and empathetic toward others. It increases pain tolerance, enhances self-control, and reduces unhelpful rumination after a stressful experience.” If this isn’t good enough, consider Carl Jung’s wisdom, “The world will ask you who you are, and if you do not know, the world will tell you.” Spending time figuring out who you are and what kind of person you would like to become is important because, as Jung suggests, if you don’t, someone else will be happy to. Just like a trellis helps a vine become something that makes good wine, cultivating a code stiffens our spine.
Doing this personally benefits more than just yourself. You can lift the spirits of your peers by living the example of a principled person. Will Bowen writes of a Latin phrase, Uva Uvam Videndo Varia Fit in his book A Complaint Free World. The phrase translates roughly to “one grape changes color when it sees another.” Our trellis is designed not just to make one grape better but those around as well. Bowen writes, “One grape ripens another. In a vineyard, one grape will begin to ripen, and in so doing it will send out a vibration, an enzyme, a fragrance, or an energy field of some kind, which is picked up by the other grapes. This one grape signals the other grapes that it is time to change; it is time to ripen. As you become a person who speaks only the highest for yourself and others, simply by being who you are you will signal everyone that it is time for a change. Without even trying, you will raise the consciousness of those around you.”
Hopefully, we are beginning to see the power of principles. What we need in ourselves and in those that lead are clear-minds focused on what matters to them. Our goal is to be able to easily answer a favorite question posed by the character Aunt Emily from Walker Percy’s novel, The Moviegoer. The aunt would ask almost everyone she met, “What do you live by?” When you can tell us about your trellis, you’ll be able to have a conversation with Aunt Emily and others. Your stature will rise in the eyes of others as they’ll be able to recognize both that you stand for something and for what that is.