Wonderful weeds

What can weeds tell us about community?

My Nan was a wonderful gardener.  She would spend her days bent over picking,
thinning, admiring and chatting away to her flowers, shrubs and veg.  She would curse the weeds.  Ripping them out of the ground or later when
arthritis had taken over her hips whack them back with her “sticks”.

She never used weed killers. 
Frowned on them.  I never remember
asking her why, so I don’t know if she had concerns about damaging the earth,
its water sources, or bugs and such.  As
a child I was just aware that she just didn’t appear to like them.  Much later when I took over her garden, I
discovered I had much to learn from her practice and from books.  The notion of a weed being a flower in the
wrong place.  The importance to
butterflies of having nettles around. The role that dandelions played in herbal
medicine.  The fun of learning their
names and their uses. 

Why was it that I could find this information relevant and
worthwhile, when others merrily sprayed and poured poisons with a gay and wilful
abandon?  What creates the openness in
some and blocks another.   How does this
translate into living communities of people?

Who in community are the weeds and pests we want rid
of.  In this country we have a proud
tradition of sending away – Magdalene laundries, industrial schools, mental
hospitals.  We send people to prison
rather than try to understand their issues. 
That the largest prison in the state is peopled with men from a handful
of working class neighbourhoods in Dublin is so obviously an indicator of a
social/housing issue as to be practically obvious.  But we prefer to look for other reasons?  Or do we think this deeply at all?

Recently I had the occasion to speak with a child
psychologist about a particular child. 
She has been troubled, going through a difficult time.  He listened more than spoke.  Exceptional ability kept coming up as a
potential area of exploration.  I was
confused for isn’t this rare.  Not to
him, of the hundreds of children he sees most are just that – exceptional,
gifted, and bright.  So bright that they
can process a situation and react in the time that their parents/guardians/key
workers  take to get the opening lines of
their thinking out of their mouths.

These children are powerless however.  They live in an adult controlled world.  Their giftedness therefore becomes a curse.
Because even though they need adult support, the assistance they most regularly
receive is to be told, ordered, and quietened. 
They get labelled as difficult or troubled.  They get medicated.  I know these techniques in other areas of my
life.  Paulo Freire called it the banking
method of education.  Kathleen Lynch of
UCD’s equality Studies dept calls it the deficit model of education.  In community work we call it
disempowerment.  In gardening terms, I
guess we call it control!

Nils Christie, a Norwegian academic, has opined that to be
part of any community is a privilege. 
Now that’s a very different perspective. 
An example from his writing, which spoke to me on many levels, was that
even a criminal in a community, is more than just a criminal, he has a history,
a past, present and hopefully a future. 
Community suggests caring, suggests interest in, suggests guidance.  A person may do wrong, may go wayward, may
slip, may just be plain fed up with us all, but they are still part of us. 

It is perhaps easier to dismiss and to label such a person
when they are not from among us.  A
criminal is to be mistrusted, shunned, not given a chance.  But when we know a criminal, when we know the
story, when we remember him as a boy, remember what he has endured, he becomes
more than just an action.  He has an
identity, a name and a place in our reality, a context.

Being in the midst of those who make us uncomfortable, who
we disagree with, who we mistrust, and who perhaps we don’t think we want or
need, is part of living in a community. 
They don’t have to be criminals; they can be the person next door, the
priest, teacher, and our family.  We are
forced on some level to come to terms with such people.  We cannot escape.  We pass them on the road, queue with them at
the shop, and maybe pray with them at church. 
This facing of, this coming to terms with, this acceptance at some level
is good for us.   

I f my garden can tell me anything about my community, it’s
that everyone needs to be respected and to have a voice.  Each person has a part of the solution in
them.  It’s only by creating the space
for this piece of solution to be offered, that a person can take a next step.

Just like our garden, maybe I need to try creating spaces
that are less controlled, managed or planned.