Raising Orchids
We need that rugged dandelion aspect to dig in, root ourselves and keep going no matter what. We need the orchid expression to flourish.
May 26, 2021
(reading time: 3 min.)
Photo by John Wiesenfeld on Unsplash

There's a lovely metaphor for human temperament. Most of that genetic expression is dandelion-ish. A bit (I think it's around 20%) is orchid-like.

If you click through and read the article I linked to above, you'll get a sense for the nuance in the metaphor and its limitations.

I've got to preface this article with the fact that I have a level 1 certification in a modern form of Japanese flower arranging. Also, flowers are something my mom and I bond over. Also, I love flowers.

I also have a serious amateur interest in brain plasticity. And if, in 2021, you think that my flower-love negates my ability to understand bran plasticity, you can stop reading now. I'll see you to the door.

Come On In — Settle In

Okay — Glad you are here. Welcome.

The idea is this: we all contain multitudes. We humans are complex. We are not sea cucumbers. We are gorgeous, complex, highly evolved creatures. Some (myself included) would say we are created in the image of God.

We have identified around 5 to 15 genes that influence temperament. Each of these genes might be seen as having an ability to express with a rugged, weed-like countenance or a refined capability of great plasticity (beauty, depth, intense fragrance, etc). That means, if you follow the metaphor, each of us contains the possibility of both dandelion and orchid expression for each of these genes.

For example, perhaps you have an "orchid" serotonin transporter gene, or SERT gene. You might be susceptible to both great joy and great sorrow. It might be more difficult for you to regulate this aspect of your behaviour, and, under the right conditions, you might be capable of great insight into deep feeling. You might be a poet. Under other circumstances, you might end up struggling, misunderstood, homeless and hungry.

Obviously, a flower metaphor can only take us so far. But since 2004, when Marian Bakermans-Kranenburg first showed the promise of early intervention with highly "externalizing" behaviours in young kids, a lot of research has been done and there is quite a lot of good stuff to be learned from this simple metaphor. I encourage you to learn more about it.

Flower Children, Unite

One important and unifying thing to understand is that this is not black or white. None of us is 100% orchid. None of us is 100% dandelion. Thank God.

Each of us has some orchid-like expression. Each of us has quite a bit of rugged dandelion-ness. The orchidity needs certain conditions to thrive but when those conditions are present, the orchid in us thrives. Flourishes. Blooms spectacularly.

The dandelion parts continue to do just fine, thank you very much. No matter what, really.

It's important to remember that this metaphor, this theory, only speaks to our temperament, our behaviour. It says nothing about our cognitive ability, our cognitive plasticity.

A person exhibiting orchid-like tendancies in their DRD4 gene might have the attention span of a gnat but be very capable of learning how to moderate their behaviour. They simply need the right conditions to thrive.

What To Do When You See An Orchid

So. Who cares?

Listen: Think about it. Have there not been times where you felt misunderstood? Felt like you knew you needed something: less fluorescent lighting, more nutritious food, less concrete, more hugs?

I submit that that may well be your orchid instinct calling to you. I submit that both are crucial to our survival as a species.  

We need that rugged aspect to dig in, root ourselves and keep going no matter what. I think that perseverance, grit, discipline, patience, self-control piece is undeniable.

However. Hold on. I love dandelions as much as the next person. I remember fondly learning how to make dandelion salad as a young au pair in Geneva, carefully chopping the weeks from the garden into a salad and then mixing the dressing and adding in a hard boiled egg to counter the bitterness.

But what would our world be like if no one helped orchids bloom? (Put a pin in the fact that they do, in fact, grow like weeds in certain climates. They do need very very specific conditions for that to happen). Where would we be without orchids? Without the ability to feel deep sorrow? Deep joy? Affect deep kindness? Deep gentleness? Deep love?

Canary in a Coalmine

I think our society, our world, is at a crossroads of sorts. Those of us with a bit more orchid-like tendencies in our genetic countenance are starting to wither a bit.

Because I do love mixing metaphors, lets switch to birds for a moment. Orchid-laden people are like canaries in a coalmine. The coalmine is our planet.

It's time to create a society that will allow us to flourish as well as persevere.

Just Start —

Let's Do This!