A Strangely Moving Story About Potatoes
Carl Rogers, the founder of Person Centered Therapy believed that all humans have an innate tendency to strive for growth.
In 244 words, he explains this through a strangely moving story about potatoes.
“I remember that in my boyhood, the bin in which we stored our winter's supply of potatoes was in the basement, several feet below a small window. The conditions were unfavourable, but the potatoes would begin to sprout—pale white sprouts, so unlike the healthy green shoots they sent up when planted in the soil in the spring. But these sad, spindly sprouts would grow 2 or 3 feet in length as they reached toward the distant light of the window. The sprouts were, in their bizarre, futile growth, a sort of desperate expression of the directional tendency I have been describing. They would never become plants, never mature, never fulfil their real potential. But under the most adverse circumstances, they were striving to become. Life would not give up, even if it could not flourish. In dealing with clients whose lives have been terribly warped, in working with men and women on the back wards of state hospitals, I often think of those potato sprouts. So unfavorable have been the conditions in which these people have developed that their lives often seem abnormal, twisted, scarcely human. Yet, the directional tendency in them can be trusted. The clue to understanding their behavior is that they are striving, in the only ways that they perceive as available to them, to move toward growth, toward becoming. To healthy persons, the results may seem bizarre and futile, but they are life's desperate attempt to become itself. ”
This growth tendency can be seen in flowers growing through the cracks in concrete, a tree growing in the stump of another tree, or a person choosing who they want to be despite being repeatedly told by others who they ‘should’ be.
Rogers believed every living being has this natural tendency to lean towards growth, and moves towards this despite the environmental challenges they face. Humans are no different.
Sometimes it is this desire and struggle that makes a person seek out therapy.
Therapy provides a psychological environment that supports your innate growth tendency. It's like providing some nourishment, sunlight, or fresh air to the sack of potatoes in the basement. They were already striving to grow, and these added conditions help that process.