Are You Sharing Your African Violets or Hiding in Despair?

Dr. Milton H. Erickson (1901-1980) — my hero and role model.

Dr. Erickson, a psychiatrist specializing in medical hypnosis, unreservedly considered the unconscious mind to be a source of either help or hindrance in one’s journey toward wellness.

The beautiful African Violet, Saintpaulia ionantha, which means "with violet flowers," native to Tanzania.

Dr. Erickson believed that because every individual is unique, therapy must be formulated to meet each person’s needs, and NOT treated with cookie cutter psychological theory expounded in textbooks!

A True Story About Erickson and The African Violet Queen of Milwaukee.

The ailing 52-year-old spinster lived in a rambling Victorian house with the heavy draperies drawn and dust gathering on faded upholstered furniture. Now wheelchair bound due to illness, the woman rarely went to church, an activity which had been her only social and spiritual sustenance for many years. She’d become isolated and depressed — even suicidal.

The woman’s nephew was a client of Erickson’s, and knowing the doctor would soon be traveling to Milwaukee for a speaking engagement, asked him if he’d be willing to call on his beloved aunt who lived there. Dr. Erickson agreed.

When Erickson arrived, the aunt invited him in and showed him around her gloomy house, but the last thing she shared with her visitor was outdoors in her sunny greenhouse where she’d cultivated African violets for years. Knowing the violets are touchy to grow, Erickson was impressed.

Erickson told his client’s aunt to immediately buy a hundred more pots and start cuttings, and then to obtain a membership list of her church congregation. Erickson instructed her that whenever a church member married, had a baby, became ill, died or had an auspicious moment of any kind, the aunt should take him or her an African violet.

That woman did not pass away for twenty more years!

Dr. Erickson kept in his scrapbook a yellowed newspaper clipping of an obituary that read:

         African Violet Queen of Milwaukee, Mourned by Thousands.

Erickson was not a particularly religious person himself, but he observed that through the aunt’s eyes, she was no longer being a “good Christian.” Growing violets to give away would be the best medicine! Erickson knew it was much easier for the aunt to grow and give away flowers than for him to weed through her depression.

What are your African violets? You might not have a green thumb, but you do have many gifts to offer. What talents are you not sharing with others that in doing so would lift your spirits and make you and others feel better?


  1. Greg Dunkel says:

    A smile comes to mind or a kind word whenever possible!

  2. Barbara Talbert says:

    Such a beautiful story.

  3. what a great story, a hug comes to mind….we can all do THAT !

  4. For me~~I can pass on a smile and usually get one back. I also am a great story teller and can help relate it to the person for an LOL! But, I could not grow an African violet to save my life~~~~

  5. Smile at a stranger! Makes BOTH your days.

    • Right, Reed! I’ve been working on this — getting out of my bubble when around town and saying hello to strangers!

  6. Recently a family with 2 little girls were trying to cross the street at a crosswalk. I stopped my car & let them cross. The littlest girl, about 8, turned around & smiled at me & gave me a “thumbs up”. It made me smile & I remember how that made me feel & encouraged me to do it again; & I try to Pay it forward, whenever I can.

    • Geri, you had such a big African violet moment recently when you befriended the boy and his dog and made sure they were ok!

  7. I guess so; I was looking at the littler African violet moments.

    • Those “moments” are all the same, big or little.

      • Beckie Hynds says:

        I read about the violets this morning and it brought tears to my eyes. How heart-warming that all I have to do is share who I am and what I have to give!!!! I passed it on to other friends of mine who I am sure will be uplifted too just reading this!!! Thanks for sharing it with all of us!!

        • Beckie! Thank you for letting me know Erickson’s story about the Milwaukee African Violet Queen was meaningful for you, and enough so, that you shared it with friends. Love.

  8. Pat Kriso says:

    Heather, I would like to think that my violets represent an elementary library; that which I love and can grow. I was walking by the school that I volunteer at the other day and students were on the playing field in an after school program. One of the girls yelled, “Hi Mrs. Kriso” and waved. To be acknowledged that you are a part of a childs live is wonderful.

  9. Pat! Your volunteer work at the elementary school library and the many hours you put in each week is a perfect example of giving away your African Violets! No telling how many young lives you change with your efforts, and you benefit as well! Perfect. Thank you.

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