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I’m Vanilla 33

I’m Vanilla

I’m a vanilla kind of guy.

Now, I’m not referring to the pasty color of my skin nor am I suggesting that I am a groupie for the rapper known for “Ice, Ice, Baby.” Instead, I call myself vanilla because my approach can sometimes fade into the background. 

Let me explain.

When I was a kid, the extent of the ice cream diversity in our freezer was vanilla, chocolate, and occasionally, butter pecan. That was it. No cherry lewis, no mocha almond fudge, and definitely no pistachio. The way I understood it, pistachio was the flavor of the upper class. Anytime someone ordered pistachio ice cream on television, they always seemed sophisticated. I never once heard anyone in rural Virginia order pistachio.

Now that I’m an adult, I’ve eaten many different flavors of ice cream. And yet, I still don’t feel worthy of pistachio. “Nuttin” personal, I just haven’t gone that route.

When it comes to my career as a speaker and writer, I’m believe I’m quite solidly grounded in a vanilla existence. In other words, I don’t particularly lean towards the strong flavors of edginess and controversy. Some might call this approach bland. Some may say it’s boring. And others may say that I’ll never stand out with a vanilla approach. Yet, I wonder if it might just be more universal. Vanilla, for instance, is the most popular ice cream according to frozen dessert aficionados. And when it comes to accompaniments, I think vanilla ice cream compliments most cakes and pies better than anything.

So, maybe vanilla can be just as a powerful as pistachio or even basil jalapeño.

For me, the choice of vanilla has to do with the flavor of the world these days. It’s a bit overwhelming. I’m not particularly interested in adding seasoning to an already spicy atmosphere. Instead, my taste is for a milder approach. But this is not what gets the most attention.

Consider the world of talk shows, for example. Most successful hosts achieved fame because of flavorful comments. Howard Stern, Rush Limbaugh, and Dr. Laura Schlessinger rose to the top of their profession because the things they said were controversial. The controversy got attention. The attention attracted listeners. And the more listeners they got, the more successful they became. But, their comments also alienated people who found the approach distasteful.

I once heard a speaker say that you can’t make an impact on people unless you make them uncomfortable. Similarly, one of my graduate school professors said that people won’t change their behavior unless the stress in their lives is so high that it forces them to change. 

I understand this perspective and appreciate the intent. But then I think of Martin Luther King, Jr. who embraced a philosophy of love and non-violent resistance. His approach suggests that we can influence people by caring, and perhaps the very act of caring will move them towards change. That’s quite a different paradigm.

Several years ago, I wrote a column for a well-known online news site. One day, a seemingly innocuous article sent one reader into a rage. The man made assumptions about my perspective that were just not true. He criticized my article and judged me as a person. His comments were so intense, some of them were removed for violating the site’s etiquette policies. The experience left me quite rattled.

After that, I began using a more vanilla approach to my writing and speaking. I did not purposely seek to be bland but instead sought to avoid being the person who created ill will or brought out the anger in others. I wanted to put out positive ideas even if it was not as flavorful as the ideas of people who are more controversial. My assumption was that if my positive vibes spread among both my audiences and readers, perhaps I could counter the negativity that seems to be so pervasive in the world today.

Will I be famous if I’m vanilla? Most certainly not. But my goal has never been fame or fortune. It has always been to simply to do what I love and to spread a little good will along the way. 

Maybe we don’t need to be famous to have an impact. Maybe we don’t need to be noticed to serve others. Maybe we don’t need to be the national leader of a radical group to influence the world. Maybe, instead, we can make a radical difference for our families, our colleagues, and our community through daily acts of vanilla. 

There is a quote by Confucius that says, “The man who moves a mountain begins by carrying away small stones.”

Some people seek to move mountains all at once. Others, stone by stone. 

As I sit here eating a bowl of vanilla ice cream, I realize that it’s quite delicious. And, it compliments so many other foods. So, if the most neutral ice cream ever made is also the most popular, then maybe we vanilla types really can make an impact on the world. We may not wake up everybody’s taste buds like a big dish of chocolate caramel cookie dough crunch, but we just might make a bigger impact than we realize.

And that’s the scoop.


  • Suzanne says:

    Why yes,vanilla is the foundation of all ice creams! And it too, can be quite fancy with it components consisting of “real vanilla bean”, cane sugar, cream and so on. God bless vanilla lovers!

  • Lesley Chambless says:

    Love this. In a world not currently wired for humility, gentleness is its own form of leadership.

  • Dottie Bowen says:

    I once heard it said that when going into a new ice cream shop, ask for a sample of their ‘vanilla’ ice cream…..if it’s really good, then it’s pretty certain that the other flavors will be good also….’vanilla’ is the base of all those ‘other flavors’! Yup, there’s definitely something to be said for ‘vanilla’!!

  • Pam Martin says:

    I certainly hope you’re right. We could all use a little more vanilla right now.
    Thanks for your insight!

  • Jonathan Lowenberg says:

    I love the column because it reminds me that even those of us who, for the most part, lead ordinary and uneventful lives effect others in ways we don’t realize. My only bone to pick with you is that I’m pretty sure MLK, Jr.’s speeches made a lot of people uncomfortable, as well they should have. Love and non-violence may prevail in the long run, but there’s going to be controversy and pain along the way.

  • Gale Hankins says:

    Vanilla is my favorite flavor of ice cream, because it is good alone and complimentary to other flavors. The same can be said for a “vanilla” approach in life – vanilla is not controversial, no screaming and shouting, turning people away in distaste. Over the course of time, people will listen more attentively to a “vanilla” whisper than to a screaming flavor-of-the-month.

  • shirley daniels says:

    Thanks, Ron, for the honest-to-goodness facts about being vanilla. So many people think they won’t be noticed if they don’t do something radical, but being vanilla is not so bad.

  • Frankie King says:

    Thank you for this wonder article. So many of us need to practice our “vanilla “ personalities and make a positive impact for others and for ourselves.

  • Judy says:

    Well said Ron. Will look at vanilla ice cream much different

  • Julia Armstrong says:

    This is great! I really like the thought of mountain moving. I have tried to move the entire mountain and became frustrated and tired.Once I stepped back and realized I was getting no where fast, I started over, one stone at a time, and often even enlisted some help. One stone at a time and the mountains will be removed! Thanks for sharing this!

  • Marlette Riley says:

    So true, love it!

  • Lori says:

    For years I struggled with being vanilla in a business world that wanted exotic flavors. It took a long time for me to realize my vanilla value, but once I did… the peace I found was priceless. Give me vanilla over pistachio any day. Thank you for highlighting the importance that we “vanillas” play in the world.

  • Darlene Neff says:

    Ron, I agree with you because the world around me seems to be very agree and just waiting for a fight. At times I am afraid to say anything that it will upset someone else or be interpreted the wrong way (at least not at all the way I was thinking at the time I said it). And one time “I” all by myself almost started what was a great thing, turned into a really bad thing. I had traveled for hours and hours out of my way to see & hear my favorite country music singer before heading to see a family member. My husband wanted to leave and said he was going to leave without me if Don didn’t come out now! The Country music legion (Don Williams) was suppose to start singing at 5 pm and it was going on 7 pm. and I wanted to know if he was okay or if something was very wrong. I shouted out “I want Don to come out and sing”. The next thing I knew the whole crowd was yelling “we want Don” and it got ugly within minutes. I left with my husband and in the cool of that I heard Don singing in the echos of the mountains as we were leaving. I never did find out why he was so late – but knowing him as I do it was a good reason (I am sure).

  • Anthony Generous,MSSW,ACSW,LICSW says:


  • Lilli says:

    Enjoyed your words of wisdom. I have always loved vanilla especially when we made home made by turning the crank. How rich & pure. Then we could put fresh strawberries or lots of gooie chocolate sauce on it or even some of mom’s homemade jams, What an amazing treat! As I age it is the smaller portions that I can savor as it melts on the tongue . Simple, sweet, delicious, & not over the top. Happy Holy Daze! Lilli

  • Susan says:

    Amen! It is so good to know I am not the only vanilla person out there!

  • MK says:

    Most words are relatable to someone, which is why I enjoy your blog and writing style. Just because a person perceives something to be vanilla, doesn’t mean that ‘all’ things in their life are the same. Thanks for sharing.

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