Digging deep to get to the root of a problem


Sometimes it pays to take language back to its roots. Metaphors are powerful in all sorts of ways, but sometimes we use them without noticing the remarkable, grounded truth they contain.

A creeping thistle with most, probably not all, of the root. Had to dig well into the subsoil to get his much out.

A creeping thistle with most, probably not all, of the root. Had to dig well into the subsoil to get his much out.

I was reminded of this fact while weeding my vegetable plot and trying to rid of an infestation of creeping thistle.

No matter how deep you dig, it seems you always need to go just a little bit further. Leave even a fragment of the root behind, and it will be back. Persistence is essential. It might take years to eradicate the problem or even get it under control.

These lessons are true for fiction, too. A character can’t transform themselves overnight. Even huge events in their life won’t be enough to root out deep seated issues. All too often in stories, we accept major character change as happening almost instantly. Or too easily. A flash of insight, a bit of self-recognition and BOOM – the person is changed. A new day dawns. Head towards the resolution with flags flying.

Real life isn’t like that. Real people have to keep working at their issues day after day, year after year. Just as you think you’re making progress, the thistles reappear and you realise you have even more digging to do. Even more work is needed. It might never be over. You always have to keep an eye out for thistles, even if you got all the roots, the wind might still bring seeds.

2 comments… add one
  • Ack! Thistles! You certainly picked the right metaphor: I spend many hours each year removing thistles. I’m good at it, but I didn’t realize that the roots were causing the problem. I thought that I had let one or two escape each year, and that they went to seed, and that ONE thistle plant can easily reseed an entire garden.

    Interestingly enough (to me), I use my weeding time to also weed my soul, which needs the same kind of periodic attention.

    With souls, as with gardens, you are never sure the weeds won’t reappear.

    • Simon Link Reply

      A lot depends on the kinds of thistles you have in your weedpatch. I have ‘creeping thistle’ which spreads by the roots, though it produces plenty of seeds as well. It keeps me busy :)

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