Benign Neglect

An early snowstorm almost froze the plants that over-summered on our covered front porch, but the sudden blanket of white stirred my unreliable memory to bring the collection of philodendrons and Christmas Cacti to their winter home in our heated sun room. They joined the angel wing begonias who have enjoyed their Florida there for the past five years along with a Mandevilla that produces striking red flowers during the first winter month before deciding it needs to spend its energy on sending vines to entwine nearby books.

Given my unreliable memory, I tend to ignore the plants on the porch during the summer, letting them find moisture and sunlight for themselves and fend off marauding pests of many varieties. Only when they cry out in desperation do I squirt water in their direction. Nancy says I’m offering tough love. I prefer to think I’m following an approach favored by former New York Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan—benign neglect.

The proof of that approach’s benefit is the behavior of the Christmas Cacti once they have settled into their new surroundings. The nascent buds at the end of their segments quickly swell, turning into cascading flowers before Thanksgiving. Makes me wonder about the “Christmas” in their name. Probably originated well north of here.

Christmas Cactus

I look at the rose and white flowers decorating the sun room (they will last two weeks and return, in less abundance, twice more before spring) and enjoy the benefits of benign neglect. My thoughts turn to other natural incidents of benign neglect—beautiful stands of well-formed trees and fall foliage, for example.

Japanese Maple

I wondered if such neglect might apply to human behavior, and soon found an incident to ponder. 

Driving home from running errands, I followed a school bus dropping off children that looked to be about seven or eight years old. The road we were on had numerous side streets running up to homes on a hill. A large SUV waited at almost each stop. A child or two hopped off the bus, ran to the SUV, received a parent’s greeting, climbed aboard, and the SUV proceeded up the hill—for about 500 yards before turning into a driveway.

During my childhood in the middle ages, I recall that my friends and I walked the mile or so to school back and forth twice a day (once for lunch). We wore galoshes and scarves when it was cold and slickers when it rained. We felt sorry for kids who were cooped up in buses because they lived too far from school. Despite those privations, we grew up into reasonably well-functioning adults.

So, I’m wondering if a dose of benign neglect that required a child to walk home from the school bus stop would be harmful. I hear about helicopter parents who probably wouldn’t like that idea. But still, I wonder.

Your thoughts?

One thought on “Benign Neglect

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