One of the great traditions that I enjoyed while growing up in Britain was the tradition of teatime.
I am certain it was the bain of all of my employers that when it was 10:30 a.m. everything would stop for fifteen minutes while we had tea (or coffee). Later in the afternoon it would happen again: sometime around 4 p.m. everything might stop for ten minutes so we could all have a cup of tea.
I am certain there were economic implications of this ritual for the companies involved. However, for the employees this tea ritual served an important purpose. The most obvious was that it gave you a welcome break from what could be construed as monotonous work. It marked the day and the passing of time. But, to me the most important aspects were the ones that remained unspoken.
Tea time allowed one to reset, be reminded that there is more to life than one’s labor, and it provided an opportunity to be in relationship with one’s fellow employees.
Having space to reset is so essential to the human spirit. To have those occasions, those rituals, those habits that allow us a moment to step out of routine and reconnect with either our larger context or our inner self is so necessary.
In them we are reminded that we are more than our function. Much more. For example, one could consider the fundamental tenant of Islam to pray five times a day. In that cycle of prayer one is allowed to reset one’s day and be reminded that there is a larger reality than the mundane and that one has connection to that larger reality. It allows for the individual to claim “self” as worthy.
In the case of the factory in which I worked outside of London, these breaks allowed people to remember that they were…people. The danger of repetitive labour is the association of self with the machine. With regards to the case in point it might be hanging car parts on a conveyor belt, or polishing pieces of metal that were destined to be included in a missile, or pouring chemicals into large vats so pieces of pens could be chrome plated. All very repetitive work and in some cases mind numbing.
A break pushed not only a “reset button” but also allowed for restoring one’s sense of being – a physical being – and not a computer screen or a spreadsheet.
Hot tea and lardy cakes, food and drink, bread and wine reminded one that one was a biological being. More than a cog in the machine.
That this reset and reminder of one’s humanity happened in a collective invites us to consider a third function of the simple British tea break. It allowed time for friendship and community. I suppose of occasion one drank one’s tea and smoked your cigarette on one’s own. But, it was rare. The factory that was so loud would be quieter for ten minutes and the hum of machinery would be replaced by voices and laughter and conversation. This tea ritual allowed for community and the reminder that we are never in this alone, but there are those around us who give us belonging and place.
I have to say I never thought I would dissect the tea break in such a way. But, that they were important to the men and women who worked in Britain back in the day could be seen by the fact that these breaks were always a part of contract negotiations and labour disputes. An anathema to the market place, as they were inefficient – but essential to those working so that they could find some meaning in their daily routine.
I dissect tea breaks this way this week, as I sit sipping a cup of tea, because I am reminded that Braid provides a tea-break of sorts for our youth every week.
Our mentors’ creating of safe space and the importance of that safe space allows our youth an opportunity to take a break and to reset, to be reminded they are more than a kid who is a part of a system, and allows them to find relationship and community.
The importance of this mentoring work can not be overstated. We were reminded of this again this week, as we are every week.