Many of you know that I live in a suburb of Philadelphia, not far from the beautiful Longwood Gardens. (You may remember Paul Redman, CEO of Longwood Gardens, who was my guest on Episode 6 of the Speaking to Influence Podcast. Definitely check out our conversation here.)
Well, Longwood Gardens is in a town called Kennett Square, PA, which has an arguably dubious honor: It is the mushroom capital of the world! Kennett Square produces 50% of all mushrooms consumed in the US, and a large proportion of those enjoyed by the rest of the world, from the most basic to the most exotic (and expensive!)
But why is the honor “dubious”?
Because in order to grow the most exquisite mushrooms in the world, and in such huge quantities, there's something else they need in vast quantities: MANURE.
Manure – along with similarly organic but icky ingredients like compost – is the ideal environment for mushrooms to multiply and flourish.
This irony has become a go-to metaphor for me when dealing with catastrophe. Forget the nonsense about “when life gives you lemons…” Way beyond lemons, what happens when life gives you acres upon acres of manure?
Kennett Square's answer is simple: You use it to grow world-class mushrooms.
I remind myself of this today, in the wake of the 20th anniversary of the atrocities of September 11, 2001.
Lest you think I'm being too cavalier about the date, that was the day my cousin, Matthew Douglas Horning, and a high school classmate, Christopher Noble Ingrassia, both died in the Twin Towers. I don't take the date lightly.
The destruction and carnage of that day left a seemingly insurmountable metaphorical mountain of manure on our families, our country and the world. And yet, the aftermath brought out some of the absolute best in humanity in the weeks and even months that followed.
We were less concerned with political, religious, or cultural differences, and people came out of the woodwork, traveling to New York or DC to donate food, water, blood, clothing, supplies and more to anyone who needed it. We were more civilized to each other, and were united by a common love for our country and desire for safety and security.
Somehow, over the last 20 years, the remnants of that brotherly and sisterly civility and caring seem to have faded away. Discourse has devolved into “us/them” rhetoric and gross overgeneralizations that are just begging for a fight. Everyone seems to assume “the other guy” is purely self-interested and inherently evil in motivation.
And the conversations in the news and on social media… well, 'nuff said.
I truly hope people take stock of where we are – hip-deep in an acre of manure. So what are we going to do with it?
If we're smart, we'll realize it's an opportunity to step out and work with everyone to cultivate a new species of world-class mushrooms. We'll learn from the state of the world and take active steps to make it better, one conversation at a time.
If we don't, that means we may need something as catastrophic as 9/11 to wake us up again. And I pray that this is NOT necessary.
So that's exactly what I set out to do this week on the Speaking to Influence podcast: I wanted to look at discourse habits both 1:1 in real time as well as when firing off he-said/she-said missives on Facebook or an equivalent platform post, and give real-world tips and strategies to turn things around.
Tune in for simple but crucial ways to speak with people in a way that makes the current “manure” perfect fodder to rediscover our own best, most collaborative, most forgiving, most verbally charitable selves.
Is it easy to flip that kind of switch? No. But all it takes is a moment-to-moment check in on things like:
- asking questions instead of making assumptions
- not stereotyping people because of their political affiliation, mask preferences, religion, or ethnic background
- watching your tone of voice
- or even asking yourself, “would I want my kids to know I said this to someone?” before hitting SEND.
Don't shovel more manure onto the heap. Cultivate – and SHARE – the mushrooms instead.
In the spirit of honoring each other and celebrating our diversity, September 15th kicks off Hispanic Heritage month.
In case you missed it, check out the Speaking to Influence conversation with Carolina DiGiorgio, CEO – Congreso de Latinos Unidos. Congreso de Latinos Unidos is a not-for-profit serving Philadelphia's Latino communities so that they not only survive, but thrive, with education, workforce development, family and housing services and more.
She shared how she connects with various audiences on multiple levels in order to empower them to take action.
If you missed that podcast episode, you can check it out here for some inspiration!
In the interim, take stock of your environment. There is ALWAYS plenty of visible manure, whether on television, at work, around the dinner table, or elsewhere. But my question to you remains: what are you going to DO with it?
Don't just complain and keep reiterating that it stinks. As Mother/Blessed/Saint Teresa and Ghandi are both accredited to have said, “Be the change you wish to see in the world.”
What kind of gourmet, world-class mushroom are YOU going to cultivate from it all?