Some of you may be familiar with what is called the Pareto Principle, or more commonly known as the 80/20 rule. Very basically, it’s an assertion that 80% of output is based on only 20% of input; or 80% of effects or results come from only 20% of causes.
For example, 80% of all sales might come from only 20% of all customers. Or 80% of all work is done by only 20% of all people. Or 80% of all customer issues come from only 20% of all customers.
This principle doesn’t relate to just business. This also happens frequently at the personal level. Many of us wear 20% of our clothes 80% of the time. Or with regard to our food choices, we eat the same 20% we’ve ever tried 80% of the time. Or 20% of our workouts actually result in 80% of our gains. In the office, maybe only 20% of our time at work produces 80% of our achievements.
Many businesses have embraced this principle, which gives rise to loyalty programs, customer advocacy, mileage programs, punch cards at a local café, and Safeway cards, just to name a few. The goal of these programs are to transform existing customers from 80%ers into 20%ers; those who are more heavily invested in a company and sustain the bottom line.
This 80/20 principle is a modern nod to a more ancient practice; that of pruning; as in, 80% of a tree’s fruit come from only 20% of its branches, give or take some. Where in business, the 20% of superfans are cultivated through rewards programs; in agriculture, the 20% is cultivated through pruning.
Pruning is a process of cutting off certain parts of a plant, for the sake of the whole, ultimately so that the plant can flower and bear fruit. Cutting off dead or useless branches allows precious sap to flow to the branches that do bear fruit. Pruning allows sunlight to reach the leaves of fruit bearing branches. It allows for better air flow. It prevents certain insects and diseases form entering into the tree.
In our gospel today, Jesus tells us: “I am the true vine, and my Father is the vine grower. He takes away every branch in me that does not bear fruit, and every one that does, he prunes so that it bears more fruit”.
That’s the challenge before us: remaining open to being pruned by our heavenly Father. Cultivating on the 20% within each of us that produces 80% of our virtue; pruning away the 20% of our habits that result in 80% of our sins and vices. The Word of God that Jesus speaks to us is how we become pruned.
Through the Word of God, we’re called to discern the branches in our lives that are capable of bearing fruit, and those that aren’t. Our gospel invites us to examine our entire approach to life: our relationships, our activities, our thoughts.
Relationally, does only 20% of my relationships lead my closer to Jesus? Then I need to cultivate those 20%ers and devote more time to them, even if that means withdrawing a bit from the other 80% in some way; sacrificing a breadth of relationships, in order to reach a greater depth in others. Or does 20% of my personal interactions account for 80% of my headaches? Is the ratio even more extreme? Does 5% of my interactions give me 95% of my stress? It may be the case that I'm called to evangelize that 5%; but it also maybe that those relationships need to be pruned in some way. That requires discernment.
Regarding my activities, can I prune them? In childhood, it’s customary to discern different gifts and talents, by playing different sports or learning different skills like musical instruments or languages. But when I grow in age and discover my calling, can I sacrifice 80% of my activities, to specialize in the 20% that I’m actually passionate about?
Can I sell everything to purchase that pearl of great price—or that treasure buried in a field—to call to mind that other parable we’re all familiar with? Or do I remain a jack of many trades, and master of nothing? Does my talent remain unfocused, doomed to be scattered across countless other hobbies?
Can I prune my own thoughts? Can I remain focused on creative thinking or problem solving, or do I become easily bored when left alone? Can I devote time to actively engage with a good book, or is my time swallowed by countless YouTube videos or endless social media? In conversation, can I stay engaged with the person who’s in front of me, or am I more immersed in my phone or texts?
Where can I be more pruned? What areas of my life need to be more scrutinized and re-ordered? What am I missing out on, if I can’t say no to the unnecessary things? It’s a worthy meditation to reflect upon.
Just a final word: pruning allows the limited supply of sap to reach the fruit-bearing branches. That sap comes from the bark of the tree, or the central vine. Jesus tells us: “Remain in me, as I remain in you. Just as a branch cannot bear fruit on its own unless it remains on the vine, so neither can you unless you remain in me. I am the vine, you are the branches. Whoever remains in me and I in him will bear much fruit.”
We must be pruned and we must remain in Christ. That’s the only way we can bear fruit that is pleasing to God. And the fruit is this: that we believe in Jesus Christ whom the Father has sent, and to do the Father’s will of loving one another, as Jesus has loved each of us. It’s impossible to love others truly, apart from God who is love. Any so called “love” that is not of God is not real love. It’s an addiction that leads only to death, not to eternal life.
Through the grace of the Mass, let us ask our God to always keep us united to his Son, the true vine, and to prune us from addictions and bad habits. May God bless you.