(This piece was first published in the January 2014 issue of Country Wisdom News, in the monthly column “Bread and Roses.”)
“The worker must have bread, but she must have roses too.” This century-old labor slogan asserts that the roses of life (beauty and pleasure, celebration and rest) are not optional frills. This claim–that people are just as entitled to roses as they are to basic survival–can seem as radical today as it did one hundred years ago.
As we enter 2014, many people still don’t even have enough bread. Children grow up in environments devoid of natural beauty, attending schools that offer little if any art, music or even recess. Too many people end their lives in sterile nursing homes bereft of the warmth and color that feed the human heart. Where are the roses?
When something has changed so little in one hundred years, you can be sure it’s part of a paradigm that runs deep–in this case a massive, interconnected system of beliefs that includes the splitting of life into separate categories, judging some categories more valuable than others. It’s hard to find a part of life untouched by this splitting-apart habit of ours: we deem the feeding of bodies “essential” while neglecting the feeding of hearts; we label those who work outside the market “non-workers” and thus unworthy of either type of nourishment; our work ethic, on overdrive, leaves fun and rest in the dust.
When a system of beliefs is this interlocking and pervasive it exists inside all of us. Scratch the surface and you’ll find it. Half a year ago when I was first assigned the “Bread and Roses” column I felt totally aligned with the premise. Even so, in the midst of writing I would sometimes surprise myself by wondering, “‘The worker must have roses’? Is that really true?” I had to acknowledge that the paradigm that needs changing needs changing in me. And it’s happening; in thinking through the issues I feel the old habit of dividing bread from roses dissolving.
As I’ve focused each month on roses I’ve experienced their qualities asserting their presence–and their necessary-ness–in my life. Amazingly, this has even been literal. In June, after I wrote my first “Bread and Roses” column, I noticed a small volunteer rose bush in my back yard. By the time I wrote the October column all the vines had pushed through tiny openings in my enclosed porch and were flourishing, inside the porch, in a tangled riot of greenery. It seemed the more I paid attention to roses the more roses made their presence known–inside my living space.
Maybe this was just a fun coincidence but I do think there’s a lesson here. What we focus on expands. So how do we move to a new paradigm of plenty of bread and roses? By paying attention to any and all examples of the new. By pointing them out to each other. By involving ourselves with them in whatever ways call to us.
The old paradigm can seem hopelessly stuck, but so does the huge expanse of ice on a river in winter. When you’re watching for spring you don’t focus on how much ice is left and how solid it is. Instead you pay attention to every single sign that the ice is starting to thin, to every narrow channel of clear water. You know it’s inevitable that the whole massive block will give way. You give other watchers hope by pointing out every sign of the impending break-up.
Following mainstream news or even most alternative news is like focusing on the massive block of ice. But in truth the signs of spring are everywhere. Like all first indicators of change, signs of the old paradigm breaking up and the new one emerging are subtle so far. You have to know where to look. Country Wisdom News is an excellent place to start. And check out Great Transition Stories, a clearinghouse for narratives that can propel us into the new. What “new news” venues do you know? Feel free to share them below.
The more you look, the more you find stories of caring, connected, generous, balanced ways of interacting with each other and meeting everyone’s needs. How about making 2014 the year of new news. Let’s notice it, share it and keep creating more of it. As we keep our attention on roses may more and more roses show up–inside everyone’s living spaces.