“Now I see the secret of the making of the best persons. It is to grow in the open air and to eat and sleep with the earth.” – Walt Whitman, Song of the Open Road
Helping People to Grow
This being the season of Growth, many analogies between the way in which plants and people grow come to mind. We say that someone is ‘blossoming.’ A child may be described as ‘growing like a weed.’ Perhaps the analogies are more than just metaphoric. The skills and qualities needed for growing plants seem to transfer to growing people. Most central of all is the need for patience.
Plants need the sun the way people need love. Some can live with less, some need more, but that’s their nature. There is no point in telling them to ‘toughen up.’ If they need it in order to thrive, then they need it. Plants thrive in the light; people thrive in the knowledge that they matter. To know that their actions have some effect, that they have some significance to someone, somewhere is food that everyone needs. Both need to be able to grow and expand. One constituent of fertilizer is nitrogen, essential for growth. This can be seen as the knowledge and skills with which people’s minds and abilities need to be nourished.
Both need to establish themselves and know where they are. Another part of fertilizer is phosphorus, which helps the plants to develop roots, flowers, and seeds. Just as nitrogen is useless to plants unless they have the roots that enable them to remain grounded and stable, so knowledge and ability are of little use to people unless they can develop the self-confidence needed to use them.
Plants need moisture if they are to stand upright. People need encouragement. Without moisture, plants cannot lift the nutrients into their cells. They become weak and cannot even stand upright, or they become brittle and break easily. Similarly, people need encouragement, affirmation. Even the most self-confident people eventually lose heart if there is nobody who believes in them. Without that they weaken and cannot hold up their heads in the world, or else they become bitter, cynical, and brittle.
Both need room to grow. Plants can be smothered by weeds and other growth that crowds in on them. People can be smothered by negativity, pressures, and boundary invaders. The early days are the most fragile. When plants are new, having not yet established roots and strength, they need a great deal of tending and protection. People, particularly children, who have not yet learned to set boundaries and to deal with pressure and negativity for themselves also need to be tended to and protected by those around them.
Less tending is needed as time goes by. Stronger, tougher plants, well established, can withstand more so that the gardener can safely give them less time and protection. The same goes for people. Self-sufficiency comes with time. These better-established plants can even find their own nutrients and moisture, for they have learned to put their roots down deep into their environment, and their branches high to the sun, to seek them. People can also learn to find their own nutriments, to take responsibility for getting their own needs satisfied, create their own affirmations of worth.
It takes time for both plants and people to reach their potential. Plants take time to grow in beauty, to fulfill the potential given them by their genetic heritage and enabled by their environment. Given the right care and environment, and time, a stringy little sliver of a plant can become a strong, healthy, and even useful contributor, a joy to behold. It’s the same way with caring for people!