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The Great Plant Rant

Do you ever see something completely ordinary that just absolutely infuriates you? Something that annoys you so deeply, to the point where you have the urge to rant about it to everyone, including the hapless person beside you in a grocery store lineup, a pet who can’t run away in time, or just to yourself when no one else is around? No? Okay, maybe it’s just me, but let me explain.

The other day while heading to work, I took a shortcut through one of the parks on my workplace grounds. It was a beautiful sunny day, and I was enjoying the peace and quiet of the park as I headed to my station for the day. I rounded a bend in the path to find a man standing in front of a small gurgling waterfall and some bushes. He was staring at a delicate purple flower, a large camera poised in one hand, the strap draping around his neck, with the other hand swatting wildly at some branches. He grunted in annoyance as he began ripping at the foliage surrounding the flower, pulling out the tall grass and branches that apparently took away from the flower’s natural beauty. When he had finished clearing the area, he repositioned his camera in both hands and began snapping pictures of the purple flower and the waterfall backdrop, clearly pleased with himself.

Now, to any normal human, this seems like it’s not a big deal, but to me, he may as well have just kicked a puppy. I was weirdly outraged. Who the heck was he to decide that the grass and bushes weren’t good enough to be in a picture? What did they ever do to him? I mean really, I thought the wild greenery around the flower made it more subtle and natural, but apparently it just wasn’t nice enough for this man. This completely irrational annoyance towards the flower-man led to another, even bigger annoyance towards the injustice and inequality of flora in today’s world.

Flowers are the role model plants. They are on dresses, in magazines, on wall decor, in paintings. People douse themselves in perfume to smell like flowers, wear flowers in their hair, and carry flowers down the aisle at weddings. People love flowers, and they love to be like flowers.

This flower-obsessed mentality is out of control. If you think about it, we see it every day. You hear it in Disney movies and poetry and Shakespeare; beautiful people in particular are always compared to flowers. It’s like the highest form of beauty, the pinnacle of prettiness. To be called a flower is always thought to be such high praise, and while the notion is getting a bit archaic, we still hear it all the time.

Maybe it’s just me, but I don’t think being compared to a flower is a very high compliment at all. I mean, you are being compared to something whose sole job is to sit there and look pretty and smell nice, and I personally am not super excellent at any of those things.

To make matters worse, when you actually sit and think about it, there are a lot of things that come along with being a flower that aren’t the most flattering. Sure, when you call someone a flower you are calling them beautiful, pleasantly fragrant, and desirable. But you are also technically calling them high maintenance, expensive to buy, overly sensitive and delicate, fleeting, and unlikely to make it past the season.

Okay, I realize that this is not the intention of most people when they give this kind of compliment, and I get that this idea may be incredibly far-fetched and slightly offensive to very pretty people, but bear with me here. I tend to over-analyze metaphors until I completely deteriorate what was once a good-intentioned idea; It’s kind of my thing, and I do have a point to make (eventually).

Now back to the flower thing. Why is it that we place such high value on standardized beauty? Don’t get me wrong, I absolutely love flowers, (particularly daisies, if anyone cares), but I do think that extending the metaphorical value of them to become this all encompassing image of what beauty is isn’t the greatest idea. There are so many other, more dynamic plants and vegetation than flowers that we should use for compliments.

I myself would like to be compared to a dandelion. Sure, they are technically a weed, but do you think they care about that? They pop up wherever they darn well please and add some bright and happy colour to the place. Children love them and admire them, and they choose to be flowers even when no one else thinks they are. Plus, they are super useful (often being used for tea and salads), and they are persistent in survival when everyone wants to get rid of them. Their roots are deep and strong. You can quite literally rip off the head of a dandelion, thinking you win, and guess what? It’s coming back next year with a vengeance. Dandelions are seriously super hardcore and an inspiration to us all. What a better thing to be compared to?

Or what about a cactus? Being compared to a cactus is also a compliment. Cacti are resilient; they can be ignored and left alone in the heat and they still manage to thrive in whatever conditions are thrown at them. They literally sustain their own life for extended periods of time, they are tough enough to protect themselves, and they are also super adorable, (though it might just be me who thinks that last one is a thing).

Okay, and for real, can we talk about trees? Trees outlive people, and they are in absolutely no rush to fill out your garden or give you fruit right away or provide shade by your patio. They are going to take their own sweet time, thank you very much. They stand tall and grow their own way and will even grow around things that stand in their way. Trees are dependable. Animals and people alike rely on them and boy do they always deliver. They are massive, strong, incredibly useful, and the foundation of most things we build and use. And can we talk about the whole turning-CO2-into-Oxygen thing? Trees give us life just by existing and being their marvellous selves. If you compare someone to a tree you are basically just proposing marriage right there, or at least kissing their feet and saying “I’m not worthy.” It’s that level of a compliment.

And yet we aspire to be flowers.

Don’t get me wrong here, I don’t mean to flower shame; they definitely add something to society, and of course they are beautiful and often useful as well. I simply want to extend our horizons as a society of plant-metaphor-creating humans. There are so many other plants out there who are working their butts off to be their amazing selves and receive very little credit. Plus there is so much more appreciation that can be paid to people by using more complicated and thoughtful comparisons in our complimenting. I feel like we owe it to ourselves and the diverse plant species of the world to shake it up a bit.

Now, of course, I don’t expect you to run out and start telling your mother she reminds you of a weed or a spiky succulent just because you read it in this blog post (I can tell you she most likely didn’t read this so it may be an offensive comparison). All I’m asking is that you try to bear it in mind as you go about your daily life.

We so often default to just complimenting someone’s looks or outfit, we often forget to give validation and credit to the many other wonderful things they have about them. Sure, this is largely because we have developed a collective obsession and insecurity about appearances that needs to be validated, but by solely feeding that part of our egos, we are continuing to neglect the other parts that matter too, and preventing a change in mindset at the same time. We are perpetuating the very thing we want to abolish through giving compliments, and we continue attaching people’s worth to the things we see on the surface, the parts that bloom openly and obviously.

I’m not saying to stop complimenting or appreciating beauty on the outside, and I’m also not here to say the same old message about recognizing beauty on the inside either. I think by now it’s safe to say we aren’t that shallow anymore (I hope). What I’m saying is, while we acknowledge that people have many wonderful qualities, we rarely compliment more than the ones we see on the outside, often because anything internal seems too intimate. Nonsense I say!

(Here is the part where I stand extra tall on my soapbox and wave around my fist and a bundle of vegetation and turn this whole thing even more into preaching than it already is).

The point is, the world is full of diversity, just like people. It’s great to be appreciated and to appreciate others, but I challenge you as the wonderfully polite and charming person you are to kick your complimenting up a notch, or at least be sure to tell the people you admire that you truly admire them and why.

After all, it’s easy to narrow in on the obvious, but to appreciate something truly beautiful, you need to see the whole picture.

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