Notes from Windward: #62

The Windfall Rule.

Windward works. It has survived for more than twenty years in an undertaking which the record shows is rarely successful. Part of the reason is that we're smart enough to benefit from the experiences of others; life is short, and there just isn't time enough to make every mistake yourself.

Another part of the reason is that we've paid attention to the mistakes we've made along the way, and endeavored to come up with guidelines such that we don't have to bear the cost of repeating them. The legacy of that effort is a web of rules, guidelines, customs, call them what you will, that help us keep this program on track.

Many of these have to do with communication within the group, since we're a cooperative association and we can't cooperate any better than we can communicate. For example, we draw a notable distinction between "I feel" and "I think."

Say "I feel" and you'll get acceptance and support; say "I think" and you'll probably get at least a question, perhaps even an argument. One feels what one feels, and the authenticity of that experience isn't subject to consensus, but thinking is a logical process involving the integration of data in order to solve arrive at a conclusion. Feelings are personal and not subject to debate; logic is.

A common communication mistake is what we call "injudicious use of pronoun." When it happens, we use the signal they use in football to call a time out to stop the train of conversation to make sure we know who it is you're talking about. When you're talking about any one of a dozen people, you have to be specific; "he" or "she" isn't enough.

Those are examples of some fairly innocuous stuff, all part of the learning curve. There are other things that aren't innocuous, things that have weighty consequences for the people involved and for Windward as a group.

An example would be the principle of "don't mess with someone else's recovery." Folks come here for a wide range of reasons. For some, Windward is a context within which they can grapple with issues that were tearing their life apart "out there."

And even when they get a handle on those problems, they remain vulnerable to them for a very long time. We recently had a blow up over Person A asking Person B to drive them into town "to have a beer." What Person A didn't know was that Person B already had two arrests for driving under the influence, and had just recently gotten his driver's license re-instated.

We don't care if someone has a beer or two. We do care about irresponsible use of alcohol, and in our eyes there is no excuse for anyone who's been drinking to be behind the wheel of a vehicle, especially not someone who's already been arrested twice for driving under the influence.

Person A's defense was that he didn't know that Person B had a history of problems with alcohol, but in our eyes, that lack of knowledge wasn't relevant. The "I didn't know the gun was loaded" does't carry much weight around here.

Windward's board of directors has to know what's going on with each person living on site, but that "need to know" has to function within a context of confidentiality and respect for each person's privacy and dignity. So while the board has a "need to know," the rest of the community does not. It is the hope of all concerned that the problems of the past will remain in the past, and little good is served when others remind us of how we've failed in the past. People need a decent chance to put the problems of the past behind them, but they also need to not be cavalier about such things.

Here's how Person A should have handled the situation. Person B was an apprentice on a membership track; therefore, he had a sponsor, Person C. Person A should have conferred with Person C as to whether or not it would be a good thing to invite Person B to go out and have a beer in a local tavern.

Let me try to make it clear that it's not a matter of asking permission; both parties are adults and legally allowed to drink. The concern involves whether there's a substantial reason why doing so would put someone's recovery at risk.

A history of driving under the influence is one example, but there are other concerns as well. For example, some folks take medications which prohibit the use of alcohol, and sometimes a person on parole is prohibited from using alcohol. Over the years, we've worked with a lot of people trying to make a positive transition, and seen a lot of situations which would not be intuitively obvious to someone not intimately familiar with the circumstances.

The bottom line is that you're not going to know the full context of the personal challenges someone else is dealing with, and therefore it's necessary to keep in mind a due regard for the potentially adverse consequences of otherwise well intentioned acts.

Windward offers a lot of freedom and latitude to the people who live here; the rub is that along with freedom to act comes responsibility for one's actions. And while it's important to accept responsibility for what one may have done, however unintentionally, the true goal is to act responsibly beforehand so that bad things don't happen.

There's a saying that goes, "I'm an old man who's seen many problems, most of which didn't happen." It's the things we don't see coming that do the most damage, which is why I often say that the real price one has to pay to fit in at Windward is attention. Those who don't pay attention, don't last very long here.

Well, I see that I've rambled on to the point where this has grown from a two part article to one in at least four parts. I'll try again tomorrow morning to finally get around to talking about the Windfall rule.

The Windfall Rule

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