Would you rather be a flower or a weed?
If you’re a flower, you’re going to be recognised and admired for your beauty. And you may be snipped up, bunched with other beautiful flowers, sold and put on display.
As you’re slowly dying, you’re going to be admired. Then once you wither and have lost your beauty, you’ll be discarded and eventually replaced by younger, beautiful flowers.
If you’re a weed, the odds are stacked against you. You won’t be praised or admired. You’ll be hated and attacked, ripped out of your natural environment. But you’ll come back again because you have resilience and tenacity. You have a fighting spirit.
The tenacity of weeds
This perspective on weeds comes from Japanese culture. Japanese people can recognise the tenacity and fighting spirit of weeds.
The Japanese language has an expression for this virtue: zasso-damashii, written as 雑草魂 in kanji. Zasso means weed and damashii means spirit. The first character, 雑, zatsu, translates to ‘wild’, ‘rough’, ‘miscellaneous’, or ‘diverse’. Thus zatsu can also ‘represent the breadth and depth of things we encounter in life, and thus a celebration of diversity’. The second character, 草, can be read as kusa or sō, meaning ‘grass’. The final character, 魂, represents tamashii, meaning ‘soul’ or ‘spirit’.
Generally speaking, in Western contexts, weeds are perceived as something negative. To call someone a weed would not be a compliment, as it suggests that someone is unwanted, out-of-place, and even suffering from physical or character weakness (i.e., is ‘weedy’).
A symbol of resilience
In the Japanese context, however, weeds are a symbol of resilience. Weeds never get the same attention or care as flowers do, but they can be found flourishing in some of the most unlikely and harshest environments, growing along roadsides and emerging from the cracks of pavements. Try as we might to rid our gardens of weeds, they always come back. This is thanks to their ‘diehard spirit’, zassou-damashii.
In Japan, if you are called a weed, it means that you’re tough, you’re resilient, you thrive without any external kind of reward. While some weeds do have an external beauty that is widely appreciated, most don’t, highlighting that what matters most is not your looks, but your ability to survive and flourish regardless of how you appear to others — a great metaphor to apply in our own lives.
So what would you rather be? A beautiful flower or a tenacious weed?
An edited excerpt from the book IKIGAI-KAN: Feel a Life Worth Living.
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