How I kicked my Negativity Bias & let myself love gladioli
Gladiolus lets it all hang out this Father's Day - I guess it always does, though.
THERE ARE AT LEAST 3 WAYS TO LOOK AT A GLADIOLUS, AND I’VE BEEN DOING IT WRONG. I’ve been getting in my own way, and preventing myself from enjoying these vivid spears of life & color, which are so, so, so easy to grow (this won’t really turn out to be about growing flowers).
I grew up in the American south and that inevitably informs my perspective. Class distinctions are more recognizable in the south than elsewhere, at least to me, and with those recognitions come bunches of judgements, prejudices, envies.
It’s hard to untangle reality from this grab-bag of perspective and folklore and outright lies, and these days I seem to find little bits of this kind of mental junk everywhere, unexpectedly, unnoticed for years and years and years until — Oh there that’s that awful thing from Aunt Lizzie! — they pop up like old dusty mints in the bottom of my handbag.
And that’s why one of the ways I’ve looked at gladiolus (“Whatever you do, don’t call them glads,” my designer-brother said, shuddering) is as a kind of churched-up funeral flower. This makes sense in some ways — gladiolus is from the Latin and means ‘sword lily’ which is all kinds of beautiful, isn’t it? most pleasing! — and it is sturdy and strong and determined. If this flower can keep it together, you can too! gladiolus shouts. Gladiolus are a very bracing kind of flower, aren’t they? Like a Woodhousian aunt.
But of course the types of churches and funerals etc. at which they made an appearance were not the types my family went to — so they were vaguely shameful, somehow. Not really what one would choose for one’s own garden. A little embarrassing? It seems crazy, doesn’t it, to attach all this shame and judgement and petty social snobbery to a gladiolus? It’s a FLOWER.
Of course another way is as an English cottage garden flower, which they indisputably are.
And as that’s very much in my design wheelhouse, garden-wise, it does seem as if I should’ve permitted myself to enjoy it, at least a little, on that basis. But I didn’t. The power of that single, partial, tangential, crazy negative association was too heavy — of too long a duration, I suppose — to be dislodged. Even by Monet.
I have negativity bias. Negativity bias is hard-wired into our neurology as a species — it’s why Sammy Synapse tells you, after one accidental burn, that all fires are hot, and that’s a fact that’s important to get right 100% of the time. But it also tells you, similarly, that maybe if one dog bit you, they all will. And that’s not useful — it’s not even true.
Negativity bias reinforces lots of ideas, opinions, and fears that simply aren’t true. They are not real. They have no reality, and no meaning in your reality.
But negativity bias can make it harder to supplant wrong — especially fear-based — ideas and opinions with other ideas and opinions that are more in line with reality. Some researchers have suggested it can take 7 positive corrections to eliminate 1 negative input.
Anyhow, my negativity bias was getting in the way of my enjoyment of these flowers. But last year I let my son choose the bulbs and guess what he picked?
It was a real Jack and the Beanstalk situation. They just started coming up. So many! So strong! So robust!
“Did I accidentally sow dragon’s teeth?” I asked my son. He shrugged (he likes mythology, but no one’s in the mood for it all the time).
But it was when they began to bloom like singing in rounds, color by color, that I was won over, and my negativity bias — in this battle — subdued.
“I can’t believe,” I said to my son, “that I let these idiotic snobberies (which are really just bigotry, anyway!) keep me from enjoying these beautiful things!”
That’s the right way. Just seeing what’s really there.
Thanks for reading Tulip! Subscribe for free.