A few days ago I posted about my early experiences with organic lawn care and how that has helped me think differently about the difference between mercy and justice. However, it also has me thinking anew about the definition of a weed itself. As I see the results of baby rabbits in my vegetable patch, I sometimes think the definition of a weed is anything rabbits do NOT like to eat, because they sure like to eat those things I like to eat, too. But it is interesting to question why those things which grow most readily are often categorized as weeds and those things that need lots of care and pampering are the non-weed plant.
Defining weeds is a communal activity. Anyone who has tried to just let the weeds grow in their yard knows that while it may be possible to get away with certain things, the neighbors quickly put pressure on to confirm, if for no other reason than to keep the weeds from spreading into their own carefully manicured lawns.
I’ve had the wonderful fortune to travel regularly to different countries including Canada, Germany, and Sao Tome and Principe where I spent extended periods staying with friends and family. During those stays it has been interesting to see what they find to be a weed and what a flower or even a food. Some insights learned from that travel have been applied in our yard, but others don’t work well here in the US.
The communal categorization of weed or not weed reflects the diversity of where we come from. The yards in a community of first generation Americans will look different from that of a neighborhood whose families have been here for centuries. Preferences for styles of yards change, too.
We watched the movie Amazing Grace the other night. It was a wonderful look at how over a 17 year period William Wilberforce slowly changed a society’s concept of slavery. When abolition was first proposed, the idea seemed like a weed that threatened to choke out British society and economic well being. At the end of his campaign almost two decades later the weed was clearly seen to be slavery itself. Wilberforce and his colleagues dedicated a core of their lives to redefine what needed to be weeded out of their society and in so doing helped initiate a positive change in the lives of 10’s of millions who suffered severe injustice.
Sometimes fighting for justice begins with the work of reassessing what should be called weeds in our communities. The example of Wilberforce demonstrates that to make a difference 1) you need to have a strong foundation of principles upon which to build; 2) you need to stay where you are planted instead of moving on to find the ideal community; 3) you need to work persistently within the system to change the definitions of what is right and wrong; and 4) you can do this while still being likable — indeed it helps to be so.