Recently, I wrote an article for a local periodical discussing whether native plants were inherently better than non-native ones, concluding that certain undesirable native plants probably didn’t belong in our gardens. Now understand that in the horticultural world this is a hot-button topic with adherents on both sides. When I chanced upon a garden blog written by a dedicated gardener I knew slightly, I was stunned to see that the blogger had vociferously criticized me personally along with my gardening knowledge. Something I rarely let happen occurred: I became very angry and defensive.
I enlisted the opinions of several major gardeners in our area — and their agreement with my assessment only made me angrier because this proved I was right and the blogger was wrong, wrong, wrong. And then two things happened: I saw Chris Matthews interviewing Ted Cruz — yes, that Ted Cruz – on “Hardball,” and I read Atticus Finch’s famous quote from “To Kill a Mockingbird” — “You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view.”
We’re all aware that our political discourse in this country is awful. Those that watch Fox News wouldn’t consider watching a program on MSNBC — and vice versa. Certain caricatures of political figures become fixed in our minds. Consequently, I thought of Ted Cruz as a bizarre opportunist who read “Green Eggs and Ham” out loud while he was busy trying to shut down our government.
The Ted Cruz I saw was charming — and Chris Matthews treated him accordingly. The two managed to have a conversation, a real conversation, with Ted Cruz rising in my estimation. Now, I cannot imagine that I could ever vote for Ted Cruz because our political views are simply too far apart, but I will tell you that I enjoyed the civil discourse of these two men. Both listened rather than trying to yell the other down first. In addition, Ted Cruz exhibited a sense of humor. Quite simply, it was refreshing.
As for Atticus Finch’s wonderful words, they helped calm me down. The blogger has five acres in a rural section of the Piedmont, whereas I have one acre in the historic district of Chapel Hill. We garden for different reasons: I garden for aesthetic reasons, while the blogger creates a habitat for wildlife. I have a fence for the purposes of keeping out wildlife, including deer, rabbits, and copperheads, while the blogger takes delight in these creatures because the blogger has land enough that co-existence is possible. I view poison ivy as a plant that causes distress; the blogger sees a plant that birds love and turns a delightful color in autumn.
You may ask who was right in this horticultural argument. The answer is we both were.
In a five-acre garden the seediness of our native redbud, Cercis canadensis, and of the tulip poplar, Liriodendron tulipfera, probably works itself out with nature; yet these seeds can overwhelm a one-acre garden. I cannot afford to let Virginia creeper grow in my garden — there simply isn’t enough room — but perhaps I could occasionally ignore it if I had five acres.
The point I’m trying to make is that we all tend to look at contentious topics — and questioning the value of some native plants is a prickly subject — through our own binoculars. If all the binoculars resembled mine, orange would be an outlaw color on the color wheel, everyone would have terriers, and we’d all like jalapeño peppers. However, we all have different lenses, so some enjoy bland food, relish the color orange, and would rather have Labradors than terriers.
In this polarized world, I think we need to do what Ted Cruz and Chris Matthews did: They listened, they treated each other with respect, and while these two will seldom agree on anything, at least they learned what the other thought about Obama’s opening up diplomatic relations with Cuba. They were for that brief shining moment looking through a new pair of binoculars.
I would like to think that the Atticus Finch of “To Kill a Mockingbird” would have understood both sides of the argument on the removal of the Confederate battle flag. On the one side, he surely would have agreed with Governor Haley that, “It’s time for the flag to come down.” On the other side, he would have seen that perhaps to some people the flag really did stand for more than the issue of slavery, that it also stood for a lost heritage, and perhaps he would have sympathized with their loss.
So my call is this: Let’s heed the words of the Atticus Finch — in the garden and around the globe. Let’s put on another’s binoculars — we can at least try. If for no other reason, doing this helped dissipate my anger, and as Martha would say: That’s a good thing.