Dandelions and Domination

In a worship-sharing group at a Quaker Earthcare Witness (QEW) committee meeting, one set of queries included the following: How does the human impulse to dominate frame our relationships with Earth and other human beings? What role does domination play in my life? How will releasing this sense of domination change how I live? My mind turned immediately to dandelions.

My mother, as a housewife of the 1950s, didn’t have much scope for domination. My father had been well-trained in that role and did the dominating within the house. Though intelligent, creative, curious, and loving, my mother was also weighed down with self-doubt and wasn’t prepared to strike out and assert herself in a larger arena.

Within the house, her focus was on her children, and she paid more attention to the six of us than to housekeeping. But the lawn was a different story. Her standards there were high: no crabgrass, no weeds, and definitely no dandelions. She used to send us out in the summer with a long rope made into a circle about a yard in diameter. The task was to pull out every single living thing within that circle that wasn’t lawn grass. It was a pleasant and doable task (often followed by a little chocolate), and I came to know—deep in my bones—that dandelions and crabgrass were not welcome in a nice lawn.

Illustration by Dlyastokiv


Decades later, I find myself struggling with the dilemma of the dandelions. It’s hard to think of myself as a dominator. There are, of course, all the ways that groups I am a part of are in a dominant position in society. As a descendent of European settlers in this country, I am part of a history and culture of domination. In those roles I have peeled back many layers of ignorance, unquestioned assumptions, and painfully acknowledged unawareness. I’m committed to that process, and am sure that there are many more layers to go.

But it’s easier for me to see patterns of domination as they play out among men of the dominant culture. As a group, they, more than any other, have sowed the seeds of domination around the world and reaped its bitter rewards. Men, and White men in particular, are the ones in the last several centuries who have led the revolutions that upheld the genocide of Native peoples, branded African Americans as expendable, consigned increasing portions of the population to wage servitude, squandered the wealth of the soil in pursuit of profit-maximizing monocultures, and sanctioned the plundering of the planet. Throughout all these centuries, in all these arenas, they have claimed the right to subordinate and use women for their own ends.

Although a critique of patriarchy has deep roots, patriarchy itself is just beginning to be questioned and challenged by society as a whole. So as we struggle against the injuries of racism, the scourges of our economic system, grievous violation of Indigenous rights, the rape of the planet, the insidious and pervasive manifestations of sexism, we cannot ultimately find our way to right relationship until we have challenged the system and the mindset of domination.

We need to recognize the sound of it inside our heads: “I know better.” “My vision of progress is compelling enough to require sacrifice (of others).” “I’m confident that I am right.” “You—and everyone else—will be better off if you do as I say.” “My needs belong in the center of your life.” “I have the power to bend you to my will.”


It’s humbling and instructive to recognize that sound of domination. I believe we all need the courage to listen for it in our own lives. Only by listening can we come to better understand its roots and recognize and subdue the fears that lie underneath. 


I don’t notice voices like that inside me very much. In my daily life, I tend to not lead with my privilege, take over conversations, use my knowledge as a weapon, decide for others, or assume my right to a favored spot or to get what I want.

But then I think of my little plot in the community garden, and am stopped in my tracks. I have to admit that I pride myself on dominion in that sphere—and the more successful I am at dominating it, the better I feel. It’s not that I use pesticides or herbicides or cultivate monocultures, or insist upon regimented rows. But I do pride myself on deciding what will stay and what will go—and I do dig out every dandelion that finds its way into my bed.

It’s humbling and instructive to recognize that sound of domination. I believe we all need the courage to listen for it in our own lives. Only by listening can we come to better understand its roots and recognize and subdue the fears that lie underneath. We may hear it in our role as a parent, or as a teacher. It may echo in our treatment or opinion of others with less rank or status. I certainly hear it in my attitude toward the dandelions.

I believe we have to hold out a goal of giving up domination in all aspects of our personal lives, even as we challenge the patterns of domination that plague our world. I’m not sure what kind of working relationship I’ll end up having with the dandelions. I don’t believe I’ll have to give my tiny vegetable plot over entirely to them, and I think there will still be a precedent for the pulling of weeds. But together, we will come to the sharing of that space with more respect; more humility; and more certain knowledge that when one species comes to complete dominance, the results are bad for everyone.


 Photo by Eva Kali


I have my sights on a new weed to eradicate. It’s fast growing and deep rooted, with a showy flower, an alluring scent, and a tendency to squeeze out smaller or more tender plants. What if we all committed to a common project of pulling out the weed of domination wherever we find it growing? We could start the way my mother did when I was small. Make a circle in our environment and take on the project of digging out every manifestation of dominance that we find—in ourselves, in our families, in the communities around us.

At the end of our QEW worship-sharing session, one person had her own reflection on dandelions. “These are the plants that grow at the margins, that loosen up hard soil to make it more hospitable for others,” she said. I can add that they also are incredibly rich in vitamins and minerals; were once valued highly as the first greens of spring; and have a beautiful, bee-nourishing flower. When I relinquish my position of dominance in relationship to the dandelions, I get to experience more fully all that they have to offer. I think of George Fox’s promise that by answering that of God in everyone, “thereby you can be a blessing in them and make the witness of God in them bless you.” I think he might have been speaking of everyone we find hard to value—including the dandelions.

Pamela Haines

Pamela Haines, a member of Central Philadelphia (Pa.) Meeting, has worked for 20 years building leadership for change in the early childhood system. She is a writer with a passion for justice, and her latest book is Money and Soul: Quaker Faith and Practice and the Economy.

6 thoughts on “Dandelions and Domination

  1. Friend to Dandelions: Thanks Friend Patricia. That was beautiful. I feel like that dandelion and am honored that you would include me in your space and see in me nice attributes. I will be all the dandelion I am and bring nutrients from the deep earth for other plants, suckle the floaty bees, and give a leaf or two for the strengthening of your liver. When fall is done, and I faint into an oblivion, I will let the Big Light know that you saw the little light in me and did not pull me from the earth. I will tell the Big Light about your welcome waters and tasty earth. I will ask the Big Light to let me return to you and experience His grace through your kindnesses. Thank you for seeing me as I am and as I endeavor to remain in your eyes and in the eyes of the Lord.

  2. “We need to recognize the sound of it (domination) inside our heads: “I know better.” “My vision of progress is compelling enough to require sacrifice (of others).” “I’m confident that I am right.” “You—and everyone else—will be better off if you do as I say.” . . . ”
    . . .

    “I believe we have to hold out a goal of giving up domination in all aspects of our personal lives, . . . ”
    . . .
    “What if we all committed to a common project of pulling out the weed of domination . . . ”
    . . .
    Huh?

  3. After carefully (and quite enjoyably) reading this article several times, I cannot help but notice what is becoming a hidden Quaker theme in many of our attempts to stay away from being perceived as too dominant; either in our society, in our daily lives, in our families, or in our spiritual leadings.
    We must be careful to not equate the elimination of domination with the acceptance of its opposite, submissiveness. As Quakers, we may find it more palatable to sit quietly and internalize our desire to “challenge the patterns of domination that plague our world.” But without the impetus to do something with our silence, we cannot change anything. We need to work on ways to put our leadings into practice without dominating others. Simply put, I always try to remember that my leadings cease to be effective when they drown out the voice of another.
    It seems that domination comes forth throughout history when one (or many) thinks that their vision of the world (or the town, or the household) is the best way for everyone. We, as Quakers, know that this is not always the case.
    It has been rationalized too many times that if you are truly wise, if you have good intentions and if you have had careful consultation with yourself and with others, and you still feel that you can be an agent of change, then yes, some form of tempered dominance may be a good thing. But as we all know, most terrible chapters in human history have most likely begun with that mindset.
    That being said, we all may experience forms of tempered dominance in our daily lives. As stated in the article, we may each have the same misgivings as the author, whereas “all the ways that groups I am a part of are in a dominant position in society.” Listening to our own reflections is the first step “… to better understand its roots and recognize and subdue the fears that lie underneath.”
    We must all tread lightly on the lawns of our lives. Things may not always be as they appear on the surface. As Wayne Dyer beautifully stated, “The only difference between a flower and a weed is judgement.”

  4. I am pleased to read Pamela’s reflections and suggestion.
    In our small Western Australia Regional Meeting we have been ‘caring’ for the national (Australia Yearly Meeting) Earthcare Committee for nearly six years, and our discernment led us to ‘deep listening’ for long periods alongside our local river – the Swan/Avon River that stretches hundred of kilometres inland towards desert. We have been a changing and diverse bunch, learning so much from each other and our environment and the research we carried out along the way. And for all the things we had ‘to do’ we were enriched and buoyed by the experiences of ‘being’ – by the river for hours at a time in silence and reflection including artwork. Here dandelions are a rare culinary delight, but our training is similar to yours, Pamela, and so we also unlearn what is a ‘weed’ and then learn how we act to change the bigger environment of shared understanding so all is within the frame of ‘us’, nature and all.

  5. The dandelions are certainly dominant in the patch of land we call our lawn. When we lived in Indiana, the dandelions came up amid the thick grass, and were easy to isolate and remove. We took them out by wheel-barrow loads, even though their perky yellow flowers were far more enlivening than the monotonous, green blades of grass. Here in Montana removing all the dandelions would leave us with a desert, once the dry, late summer kicks in.
    We work hard in our garden – if we paid ourselves 1/4 of minimum wage a serving of chard would probably represent an investment of $5. We did learn this year that a meal of dandelion greens costs us no more than the effort of digging them up and washing them. They taste good, too, since they are so abundant we only need pick the best. Isn’t it odd that we are brought up with the irrational thought that dandelions, lamb’s quarters and other edible greens are lowly weeds, when in truth they are just the abundance of the earth, providing us sustenance without cost or penalty.

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