Notes from Windward: #62

More Windward than Windward

We're often asked the question, "What are you looking for in new members?" My admittedly somewhat cryptic response is, "Folks who are more Windward than Windward."

Windward's primary function is to serve as a context within which people can make positive transitions in their lives. That's clear enough, but what isn't so easy to spot is the deeper reality that Windward is in transition too.

Each person who engages in the process, changes the process, and over time, changes Windward as well. And because Windward is a dynamically balanced system, each new person has the potential to create a substantial shift in that balance.

In order to survive as an organization, we had to learn early on to identify and cope with the adverse aspects of that effect, but what's been more of a challenge is to fully capitalize on those situations in which a new person's vision and enthusiasm shifts us in some a positive direction.

It's partially the old principle of "accentuate the positive and deaccentuate the negative," but it's more than that too. A new spirit helps us look at the future anew, and to take heart in how much we've accomplished, instead of losing heart in the face of how far we still have to go.

Windward works because we've found ways to make steady, sustainable progress towards our goals, both as individuals and as an organization. No big magic involved; just the accumulative process of taking small, comfortable steps towards our goals, day after day.

We're not interested in the usual routine of taking three steps forward, only to have to take two steps back. We'd rather just take that one step forward, and then take a nap. To use Aesop's metaphor of the tortoise and the hare, in the world of intentional community, we're tortoise folk who've seen a lot of hares fall by the wayside.

Still, while that commitment to proceeding at a gentle pace is a core community characteristic that stabilizes us and isn't likely to change, it's also way too easy to get in a rut and let things slide. On the one hand, there's always tomorrow, but on the other, life's a timed event with no reset button.

New people bring new life to that process, and in their desire to see the fulfillment of the dream of a sustainable, cooperative community, they rekindle our passion as well. In cooperative community, leadership is where you find it, and new folk with new eyes play a significant role in determining what path the community undertakes at any given time.

Sometimes the situation reminds me of someone who desperately wants children talking about the joy of parenthood to someone who's struggling with managing a teenager. They're on the same page, but the perspectives can be hard to reconcile.

An example would be the concept of recycling, which on the surface would seem to have a lot to do with building a sustainable community. In actual practice, it isn't very relevant to what we do at all. We're currently going through one of the recurring cycles of interest in recycling that happens when we get a cluster of new people. It doesn't hurt anything, so we just sort of let it run its course.

Everyone living on site is expected to do some of the chores that keep Windward working. Over time, certain tasks have gravitated to certain folk given their experience levels, equipment resources, etc. For example, Joyce handles our corporate paperwork, Gina cleans the ovens, Heather manages the food inventory and I haul our garage to the dump. So, I'm very familiar with how much and what kind of waste we generate.

What isn't obvious to new folk is that recycling is primarily about packaging; stop buying packaging, and you stop needing to recycle packaging materials. The ironic reality is that in many cases, the cost of the packaging exceeds the raw material costs of the products. Windward has a strong interest in eliminating the purchasing of packaging all together, and since there's no need to recycle what you don't buy, the whole issue just goes away in time. Sort of like teenagers.

In the world "out there," folks are conditioned to purchase things from the store on a daily basis. One of the forms of withdrawal, and I don't use that word loosely, that people go through when they come here involves that compulsion to go to the store every day. It's a conditioning that lies at the heart and soul of the consumer society. Break that core addiction, and a host of problems that plague society just fall away.

There's a key principle that states that systems which function in accordance with motivational vectors sometimes work. Systems which function contrary to motivational vectors, work poorly if at all. As a system, recycling works poorly if at all; better to switch to a system which functions in accordance with more basic motivational values such as better products at lower cost.

Purchasing things in small amounts invariably involves a lot of packaging, whereas buying in bulk doesn't. And making it yourself, involves no packaging at all.

This ain't rocket science - it's mostly just getting the time and space to back up and look at what we're doing as individuals, and as a society, and then taking the better path.

Newcomers have to face the challenge of adapting to new ways, but that's also true for those of us who've been here for years. As Windward evolves, things that were merely the best we could manage at the time, need to be replaced with things that more fully embody what we're trying to become.

We'll continue to work with most anyone who needs the haven and respite that Windward has to offer for those in transition, but at the same time, we keep an eye out for those who are already motivated to take the steps that lie ahead of us, and who are ready to help us move in that direction.