• Benjamin Miller

Words are Deeds (1/6): Don't Just Grow... Grow Like a Tree of Heaven

Updated: Nov 9, 2020

In this 6-part podcast entitled "Words are Deeds", I explore ideas in the 100-Year PR Plan in greater depth sometimes with the help of fascinating guests.

In this first episode, I speak with urban arborist Tamar Goldberg about what nonprofits can learn from Trees of Heaven and Siberian Elms about growing in hostile conditions.

Stay tuned in the weeks to come when we'll talk about issues as diverse as: video games, the printing press, useful fictions, and climate change!

Confession for Complex Tree

In the book and the podcast, I paint a pretty romantic picture of Trees of Heaven. But I have a confession. Tamar pointed out to me that Trees of Heaven have a darker side. They are "allelopathic" Basically, that means they emit a chemical that suppresses the growth of other species. This is part of why it takes decades for them to die and clear a path for other plants to grow in the soil that they have loosened. So they're not simply the collaborative hero plants I make them out to be. I could tell you there's a limit to every metaphor, but this is actually an important lesson in communications.

A tactic I discuss in the book is the use of names of historical figures as symbols for your cause. We know, though, that people can be complicated. A person can be a great leader but a horrible spouse or parent. They could do some great things and other terrible things, or be great for some people but not others. Notwithstanding my dishonesty about the Tree of Heaven, I do generally advise you to be honest about the faults and limitations of people you hold up as symbols. Failing to acknowledge these could either give your opposition more leverage than necessary or, even worse, push you to justify conduct you might really want to condemn. This can send your cause down a bad path pretty quickly.

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