The Difference Between Bamboo and Violets

In my blog last week, I marveled at the creativity, innovation, and adaptability of the human brain.  This week, I am going to tackle another facet of the miracle of the mind.  It is true that our individual minds are capable of transforming to meet the needs of our individual environments.  It is also true that different brains work very differently right from the get-go. 

This thought came to me a couple of weeks ago when Max was trying to explain some fine point of Christian apologetics.  Now, I am not the brightest bulb in the chandelier, but I am by no means unintelligent.  I do like to think deep thoughts and consider meaningful questions.  Still, my brain’s tolerance for detail and abstract reasoning is quite limited when compared to his.  It can be overwhelming listening to Max follow a point of theology or scriptural history through a frenzied labyrinth of names, dates, and arguments.  When I try to keep up with the breakneck pace at which his synopses are firing, I crash against the wall at the first turn.  I try to slow him down, interrupt him to ask questions, and have him repeat his points in different words, but he still almost always leaves me in the dust by the second lap.  The good news is that I usually get something from the conversation.  The bad news is that what I get from it is a fraction of the information Max intends to impart.  I guess getting some knowledge beats getting nothing except annoyed (which I admit I often also get.)

I have to say that this mental pattern of Max’s is nothing new.  It is just the way his brain works.  He tends to get interested in a topic and just inundate his mind with it.  I have seen him go through periods when he has scavenged all the information to be had about The Titanic, William Desmond Taylor, East German military, cosmology, and Jack the Ripper… just to name a few of his mental renovation projects.  Some of these projects have been easier for me to grasp than others.  Now that he seems to be on the Christian apologetics kick, I seem to be particularly abysmal at keeping pace.

I was talking to our rector about the issue a few months back.  I really did feel badly that I was being such an incompetent conversation partner on such an important issue, but I also felt like there was no way I was ever going to have the energy, inclination, or nimbleness of brain to meet his need for theological conversation.  My rector was holding weekly “coffee and philosophy” sessions at a local café and I thought that it might be more satisfying for Max to have the opportunity to exchange ideas with people whose brains were more in line with his.  The rector told me that he and his wife have a similar experience.  He will be caught up with some theological point he is researching and will have to curb his enthusiasm… or at least the minutia… when sharing it with his wife.  My rector said he would be happy to have Max come to the sessions, but that I should know that it probably would not be an outlet for Max to burn off his theological energy.  He warned me that it would likely kindle Max’s desire to explore theological ideas even more. 

Max did decide to attend, but only if I went with him.  We have gone to about half a dozen of these sessions.  We both enjoy them.  My rector was right; it has done nothing to curtail the plethora of theological ideas being uttered in my household, but it has helped us both benefit a little more from the discussions. We have also had some rich conversations about how much apologetics is more than I can absorb.  We have also had some conversations about our different approaches to faith.  It is not that we disagree; it is simply a question of emphasis.  St. Anselm of Canterbury said, “I do not seek to understand in order that I may believe, but I believe in order to understand.”  Both of us think sturdy faith is faith that comes from both reason and spiritual experience.  I am just more on the “believe in order to understand” side and Max is more on the “seek to understand in order that I may believe” side. 

One day, when we were attending the “coffee and philosophy” session, Max alluded several times to an idea saying, “even Terri was seeing the holes in that statement.”  Other attendees kind of took him to task for making it sound like he thought I wasn’t that smart.  I did not take it that way because I knew he was referring more to brain orientation than brain power.  Max thinks I am very smart… far smarter than I am.  Max tried to explain this to the group and the rector said he knew what he meant… that my intelligence was more an intrinsic wisdom (rather than a scholarly approach.)

That got me thinking about how each person’s brain operates differently.  We all grow ideas and thoughts and solutions and relationships in the messy gray matter of our minds.  We all grow them differently and cultivate different crops, as a result.

This brings me to bamboo and violets.

Max grows bamboo in his brain…. Tall, towering, practical, sustainable ideas that are limitless and sometimes out of control.  You can watch a whole bamboo forest of ideas grow to the very stratosphere just by listening to him for five minutes.  You can literally see the bamboo of his thoughts grow before your very eyes. Bamboo will grow almost anywhere.  It has shallow roots, making it easy to harvest.  If one idea gets harvested, he is on to the next one.  He mulches and fertilizes and lets the momentum of growth carry him along. 

I, on the other hand, grow violets in my brain.  Violets are deep rooted.  They are a little delicate but are much stronger than they look.  They tend to grow out rather than up.  They need to be kept out of the direct sun and nurtured with some restful, contemplative shade.  They do not really have any practical purpose.  They are just there to be beautiful and interesting and colorful and joyful.  My brain is just as powerful, but the output is nothing big, noticeable, or intrinsically valuable.

Sometimes I wish I could have a bamboo brain.  On the other hand, the world needs violets, too.  No one who trades in beauty and joy is powerless.  I enjoy stretching my mind and finding the parts of it that could grow bamboo if necessary, but I also enjoy knowing that the best of me will always be the best of me.    

How would you characterize your brain? What kind of mental crop do you raise? What about the way you think makes you uniquely you? Please share your perspective by leaving a comment. In the alternative, you can email me at

Have a growth-filled day!

Terri/Dorry 🙂