No wonder Donkeys like thistles! A Victorian postcard shows the value of looking for the good in all things

I found this lovely old postcard of Carline Thistle (Carlina vulgaris). It turned out to hold a lesson in looking for the good in things.

Sent from Dorset to the Isle of Man in 1942 – obsentibly from Grandmother to grand-daughter – the writer observes how pretty they are (“no wonder Donkeys like thistles!”). A surprising observation, and subject for a postcard, especially considering this particular plant is known for looking dead when in flower, and has incredibly sharp spines!

I’m sure we can all think of people who have sharp edges, or who might contradict our rules of attractiveness. But what if we look for the good in everyone, believing that everyone has talents to treasure? How can we create a more shared identity? What more could we discover about them, and about ourselves?

The Greater Good Science Centre provides a simple practice in creating commonality. It points to research that demonstrates the benefits…and offers reasons why the practice works. One factor is enabling people to see ‘us’ not ‘them’ – bridging social groups and encouraging our naturally altruistic behaviour.

Carline Thistle has a lot more to offer than even Ga Ga realised. It provides nectar for a range of insects including the rare large blue butterfly. The plant also contains a polyacetylene, Carlina oxide, which is a powerful anti-microbial in use to combat MRSA and other infections. Unfortunately, it has declined across the UK since this postcard was printed – mostly as the thin, chalky soils they love have been lost to development or lack of grazing – and needs our help.

Turns out donkeys are right.

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