The bucket

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During my training as a teacher, I was given an analogy that compared relationships to a bucketful of acorns.

The speaker held up an empty metal bucket. He said, “This is the person you’re in a relationship with.”

He placed acorns on the table in front of him. He said, “These are moments. They are kind words and insults. They are good deeds and trespasses.”

He handed the bucket to a woman sitting nearby. He told her she was doing a wonderful job at preparing for her career. Then he placed an acorn in the bucket.

Then he left the room and came back with a soda from the machine outside. He handed it to the woman and put another acorn in the bucket.

Then he kicked her.

Not hard. Just enough to catch her off guard and make her a tiny bit nervous.

He reached in the bucket and took out an acorn.

“Every interaction with people consists of deposits and withdrawals. You want to make sure you’re making as many deposits as possible, because eventually, even by accident, you’re going to end up making withdrawals,” he said.

I think about that demonstration all the time.


Now I’m not so great at banking, but I do know that if there’s $100 in my checking account and I write a check for $150, it’s gonna bounce.

And so I also know that with people in my life, if I care to have them around at all, if I care to make a positive impact on their life or want them to trust me, I need to invest in them.

I need to put acorns in the bucket.

But what happens when you’ve made several deposits in the other person’s bucket but they never make any in yours? What happens with they’ve given you no acorns and then they walk up and kick you?

Even if you’re a forgiving person (and I struggle with that) you’re going to feel that person is bankrupt after awhile. You’re going to take your empty bucket and go somewhere else.

You can’t ever get back the acorns you put in their bucket either. You gave time and thought and maybe even money to this person, but it’s an investment you can’t ever touch, because really what they’ve done is just dump out the bucket.

Today I realized that I made deposits in another’s bucket for no reason. I realized that every time I gave, and they took, that they never tried to reciprocate.

I looked down and not only was my bucket bereft of acorns, it had some IOUs in there. It was an account that was severely overdrawn.

So I’m closing that account. I’m taking my bucket elsewhere. And while I’m not ok with that, while I had hoped for better, I have to accept that some people are incapable of handing out acorns.

Are your buckets full? If not, how do you wish others would invest acorns in you?

48 thoughts on “The bucket

  1. Your bucket is too pretty and meaningful to waste on people who won’t share acorns!!

  2. Wow. I guess when one bucket closes another opens up? I wish you peace with that decision. That was a lovely thing to write. I don’t think I will forget it soon.

  3. I’m glad you’re taking your bucket elsewhere. You don’t deserve to be wasting your acorns on someone that never returns the favor. You gave the relationship a chance and that’s all you can do before you get sick of being kicked.

    I hope that I’m giving you as many acorns as you’ve given me (which is a lot…my bucket is overflowing).

  4. That is a great analogy. I am sorry your “investment” did not pay off – but in the end I think it’s better if you are around people like @gfunkified, who are just awesome. Just like you 😉

    1. You’re so right, Kerstin. And it helps to be free of the desire to check in on their blogs/Twitter/whatever to hope that they’ve had a change of heart. No more peeking. At all. Because I’m no longer invested. Good luck tomorrow…Eeeep.

    1. J…do you need some acorns? I’ve got lots of ’em. But they’re not Lego acorns. However, if I do find a Lego acorn, I am SO sending it your way.

  5. I did this with my Father. It wasn’t easy but it was what had to happen. He passed away suddenly a couple of years ago and I was afraid of feeling bad about my choices. But even then, in the time of his death I knew I had done the right thing for me. It’s hard but if necessary then you do it. And most importantly don’t let yourself second guess yourself. We’ve all got guts we just need to listen to them.

    1. It’s just so hard to walk away from a parental figure. Because your heart just doesn’t understand why they want to inflict harm on their child, but your brain knows you can’t let it touch another generation. And you’re right, we have to pay attention to instinct.

      I am sorry you had to make that choice. And I’m sorry I had to as well.

  6. You sound like this has left you drained. I love you and wish you and yours peace with this. You spend a lot of time, love and energy filling the buckets of others (thank you for mine) and you deserve buckets overflowing.

    1. I went to bed drained, Aunt Jan. But I woke up peaceful. Like I’m not waiting for the next snotty jibe or important boundary to be crossed just because they want to show me they can. I feel safe again, like there’s nothing they can steal from me. Mom was brilliant when she told me to stop even bothering to read their crap, to just go on like they didn’t exist. Here’s to day one of freedom!

  7. I never realized how empty my bucket was until I joined a different acorn tree cluster. Then the void was insanely apparent.

  8. I love the analogy!

    I like to think I’ve made some acorn deposits in some buckets and those people appreciate and know it. I also know that my bucket is full in the online world, because I’ve had so much kindness shown to me, and I’m trying to return the deposit, so to speak. Genuinely and sincerely of course.

    In real life however? I don’t know. I’ve stopped looking at the empty buckets, it hurts too much.

    1. Dude, online you are like, THE acorn master. (Mistress?) I’m sorry that your real life buckets aren’t full. I can’t imagine what that’s like – to have so many empty buckets. I hope the relationships you have here help to balance that out a bit.

      Thanks for being one of the first people to start filling my cyber bucket, by the way. Don’t think I don’t look back and see your face among the very first of my comments, ever. 🙂

  9. I loved this! It reminds me of the book, “How Full is Your Bucket?” I guess there is an adult and a child version because we have the version for kids. My 4 y/o loves, loves it. Instead of acorns, it’s water. Anyway, it’s a wonderful visual that we should all remember!

  10. I’m sure you’re having to STILL deal with this. I’ve seen you make an effort only to be swiped of acorns time and again. I know what it’s like and it really does hurt and yes, sometimes the best thing you can do is take your bucket elsewhere. Not in anger or revenge, but b/c it’s the healthiest and most sane thing to do.

  11. ARGH my comment got deleted. Let’s try again: I know you’ve tried to invest in people and I keep seeing you get hurt and having your acorns taken away bit by bit and I’m sorry. I know what it’s like to keep looking down at your empty bucket and hurting b/c you want to invest and love people but sometimes it’s just not reciprocated. Sometimes the best thing we can do is walk away–not out of anger or revenge, but b/c it’s the healthy and sane thing to do.

    1. You’re exactly right. When you read in that own person’s written word that they don’t want you, that they’re throwing your husband under the bus just to get rid of you, that all they care about is access to your child, well, that’s pretty much your exit cue. But when you pray and step out in faith and send your child over there one more time…one more time thinking they’ll make an effort, and they don’t, and then they steal from you, well, fool me once, right?

      Thanks for being around, Rach. And thanks for the acorns. 🙂

  12. This kills me because I have been making a lot of withdrawals today. And there’s nothing worse than taking money — or acorns — from your kids’ accounts.

    1. Leigh Ann, I also know you make lots of deposits. Everyone makes withdrawals, that’s the point of the analogy. So we have to be sure we’ve been putting in the funds all along. Which I’m sure you have!

  13. I have to share this. My daughter is at an age where she’s learning to be a good friend, and both of us are struggling with what to do when being a good friend just isn’t enough. I wonder if that struggle ever ends?

    1. I dont think it does, because we can’t predict the future of a relationship when it begins. Even with warning signs, we still try to make the best of things.

    1. It is hard, but definitely necessary. There are too many happy moments and great people in this world to waste time on those who really don’t want you in the first place.

  14. I think you and I need to chat more.

    I have a bucket in “real life” that I keep depositing into but it’s never reciprocated. I try and try but my hand just gets slapped away. It hurts. Immensely. But I’m realizing now that my bucket is better off somewhere else.

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