A misty rain persisted while I wandered, nearly alone, on the grounds surrounding Blarney Castle, in County Cork, Ireland. Not far away was a tower remnant where the famous Blarney Stone is kissed by 400,000 visitors a year. My husband opted for stone-kissing; I was drawn to the gardens surrounding it.
It was The Poison Garden near the ruined castle walls that peaked my curiosity. A welcome sign stated the garden’s purpose was to educate visitors about the positive and negative aspects of poisonous plants; those “found both in the wild and in our own gardens.”
That morning, I learned that just a handful of people die each year from eating a poisonous plant in its natural state, but millions die from products made from those plants. The sign explained: “The plants aren’t ‘bad.’ We make them harmful by the ways in which we use them.”
Now weeks later, that statement’s lingering truth has been on my mind as political healthcare headlines dominate, and growing differences continue to divide this country and escalate its rhetoric. Most of us aren’t concocting harmful potions from our “castle” gardens to feed to our adversaries, but we’d be naïve to think we aren’t growing poison gardens of our own.
Our poison gardens aren’t filled with plants; they’re populated with words. We poison hopes, motivations, self-esteem, and love with toxic lies and targeted words; we poison compassion and understanding with absolutist, I’m-right-you’re-wrong, locked-in thinking. We poison connection and community with labels, stereotypes and fear of differences. And we destroy aspirations and optimism with cynicism and negativity.
When served with anger or unfiltered by common sense, poisonous words can sting, humiliate, hurt, and derail. While most people won’t die from the effect of poison-words, there is a bitterness that lingers, sometimes for years, on the lives, relationships, and ideas they touch. The digital era makes it oh-so-easy to insure our poison is mixed with other toxic plants from similarly aligned word-gardens to reach its mark with greater strength.
I don’t know about you, but I’m alarmed by these growing, hate-filled messages that permeate our lives. The 24-hour news cycle, peppered with social media frenzies, suggests our poison word-gardens are thriving, and I’m sure many are.
But in the big scheme of things, I still believe love will conquer hate; goodness will prevail; and people of goodwill will eventually come together to heal the divide. In earlier centuries, the power of a poison garden wasn’t in its potential to make poison, but in its ability to heal. The plants in The Poison Garden at Blarney Castle, like similar gardens of those times, were grown for their medicinal benefits. The ingredients were carefully mixed to help, not hurt people; to enhance lives and reduce suffering.
Today, people of goodwill have that same healing power with their word-gardens. How we use words and express thoughts, and the intentions we have when we do, determine if we water hate and spread poison, or cultivate love and heal lives. We choose what thoughts and ideas we grow and share. While we don’t control all that comes our way, we do control if we show up and bring our light and hope to a troubled world.