When I bought my primulas this year, the old mali at the nursery gave me some advice: “Pinch back the first flowers.” he said. “They grow fuller and more beautifully that way. You’ll see.”
Old malis know what they are talking about. But when the first flowers appeared on my primulas, I had misgivings about pinching them. For one thing, they were the only things in flower right then. In the dark days of January, when everything around is cold and grey, pinching (oh, what a scrawny, nasty word!) a bright flowery blossom of color and promise seems just plain wrong.
And second, what if the old mali was mistaken? What if I were removing the only flower I was going to get? Was there a GUARANTEE?
In the end, I hedged my bets.
I had ten pots. I pinched some and not others.
And this, I’m not kidding, was the result.
The ones I pinched – just as the old mali had promised – grew glorious and full. The ones I left alone were stunted and deprived.
What’s the lesson?
I’m not sure.
Is it that we should head that individualist off at the pass? Discourage the one who wants to go it alone?
Are we to conclude that we should pour all our best efforts into collective action? Should we instruct our children that their hope and our salvation lies in the community?
Sometimes – no doubt – we will be saved by unity and sacrifice; by each individual forsaking her/his own preferences and passions for the sake of the greater good.
But sometimes – and oh! I am quite sure this is true – we cannot afford to pinch the flowers. Mahatma Gandhi. Martin Luther King. And – Maybe? Perhaps? – Arvind Kejriwal.
Today, more than ever, we need strong flowers.