Conflict: Watch Out for the Goat Heads

Sep 14, 2010

“Watch out for the goat heads just past County Line Road!”

The frantic woman called out her warning as we passed each other on our respective bikes. Goat heads? Did I unknowingly enter a neighborhood known for late night chants and bloody rituals? I’m in the middle of bland suburbia. Surely not …

“What did you say???”

“Goat heads! Watch out for the goat heads!”

Like that she was gone. And, in the span of seconds, I went from enjoying a long Saturday bike ride to bizzaro creeped out.

With each rotation of my bike tires, I racked my brain trying to come up with an explanation. Goat heads … goat heads … What could she possibly be talking about? Although it seemed like hours, within minutes I passed a retirement and assisted living community. A-ha! Perhaps she was talking about the older people walking along our bike path. Is “goat head” the new slang for “white hairs?” Indignation churned in my gut. How could she talk about our esteemed elders with such disregard?!?! Unacceptable. The elderly of our community deserve our respect and admiration. I pedaled harder, faster, taking out my anger on the bike. I’m quite certain a stream of hot steam rose from my helmet.

Until my fury evaporated when I saw the long line of golf carts waiting for access to the golf green on my right.

“Ahhh …” I sighed with a combination of relief and embarrassment. She didn’t say “goat heads.” She said “Go carts.” With that revelation, I absolved the biker woman of the heap of undeserved shame and guilt I’d piled on her. And then I shook my head at my own foolishness. How quickly I rushed to judgment! How fast I convicted a stranger of guilt before finding out all the facts!

And how often we all do the very same with each other.

In looking back on the conflicts in my life, I’d say at least 70% of them are a result of some kind of misunderstanding. Words misinterpreted, body language misread. Somewhere in the course of relationship, something was said or done (or WASN’T said, done) that created a rift with a deep river of hurt flowing through. Without attention, days/months/years can pass without the relief of a restored relationship. Often because of a simple misunderstanding.

Relational goat heads.

As for the woman on the bike, turns out she did, in fact, say “goat heads.” After pedaling home, I told my dear husband my story. Committed to making sure my embarrassment reached its full potential, he informed me (with not a small amount of laughter) that “goat heads” are those sharp burrs often found along the bike path. I’d always called them by the more technical “spikey thorn thingies.” Turns out the official name is “goat heads,” and the woman on the bike wasn’t making fun of older people or showing irritation at the crazy golfers crossing our path. Instead, she’d gone out of her way to warn me of danger in the hopes that I’d make it all the way home without a flat.

Hmm. Watch out for the goat heads.

(pic courtesy of nholdstock, stock.xchng)


  1. Jerolyn

    Oh Michele. Your post is so painfully true! Thanks for being so transparent and allowing us to admit to the same in our own lives.

    • Michele Cushatt

      The whole experience convicted me! Such a great way to learn a valuable lesson. Thanks, Jerolyn.

  2. Susan

    So spot on! Goats and all.

    So many times an innocent comment is viewed through the filter of the stuff going in our lives, which innocent bystanders are unaware of. That tongue can be such an untameable beast. Best not let the beast out of its cage.

    • Michele Cushatt

      "…viewed through the filter of the stuff going on in our lives …" So true, Susan. I can't tell you how many times I've misinterpreted words that the deliverer meant in purity of heart and innocence. Often the root of the problem was tiredness or emotions on my part. Great reminder!


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