Notes from Windward: #62

The Windfall Rule

I hope that my wandering through the web of customs, guidelines and rules that have evolved at Windward over the years has helped to give something of an understanding of how we function. I also hope that it's clear that we believe that our survival as an organization depends on our clinging to the essence of what we're trying to do rather than a blind conformance to a rigid set of rules.

Still, there are times when one reaches a fork in the road and choices have to be made. The windfall rule is intended to help clarify that choice, and to strike a balance between the needs of the community and the personal desires of the individuals who make up that community.

We define a windfall as unearned income received by either a member or has declared their intention to become a member by entering the apprentice program. The windfall rule does not apply to those who are here as part of a recovery or educational program.

Examples of income that would fall under the windfall rule would be lottery proceeds, an inheritance or a legal settlement. Examples of income that would not be considered a windfall would include the proceeds from the sale of real estate, the advance from the sale of a book or a gift.

The Roman philosopher Seneca observed that money never made anyone rich. What money does do is present a range of choices; the intent of the Windfall rule is to focus those choices within a context that protects both the individual and the community.

If you've ever looked into what happens to folks who score big winnings in the various state lotteries, you know that the result is usually ugly. Folks who win big time usually lose big time too as the web of their social relationships is ripped apart by greed.

Money is a form of power, and any time one's power exceeds one's understanding the result is chaos and destruction. Folks who have big money because they've earned it aren't as likely to be harmed by it because they were able to exercise the discipline and restraint needed in order to accumulate big money in the first place. They're prone to other problems, but that's a subject for another day.

It's when big money falls into one's lap that the real train wreck is most likely to occur, and the windfall rule evolved as a way to limit the adverse impact on innocent bystanders, and to protect the windfall recipient's position in the organization.

Anyone who receives a windfall will find no shortage of advice as to what they should do with their new found wealth. Everyone they know will have an opinion as to what they should do, and it's unlikely that any two opinions will agree. It's a classic "lose/lose" situation in which no matter what you do, there's the strong likelihood that you'll alienate kith and kin.

When a member of Windward receives a windfall, it's their money. They can pack their bags, head to the beach and never look back. We'd be sad to see a valued member of the organization abruptly take another path, but life's uncertain at best and stuff like that happens.

The problem comes when someone wants to commingle that money and with what we're working to accomplish here. While there's definitely a monetary component to Windward, we have a long standing commitment to finding sustainable ways to do things for ourselves rather than to rely on the money driven consumer world to meet our needs. A windfall, by definition, isn't sustainable income, and it brings the real risk of substantially disrupting the "steady as she goes" rhythm that sustains what we do here.

Windward isn't a commune. The group doesn't own the assets of the members, windfall or not. However, when a member receives a windfall, they come to a fork in their personal road. They can take the money and head for the beach, or they can decide to stay here and use the money in a way that enhances their life and the community as a whole.

Sustainable development doesn't come cheap. An enterprise such as Windward requires a steady investment of capital into land, buildings and life support systems in order to grow and evolve towards the fulfillment of the principles we're trying to embody and demonstrate.

For the most part, capital comes from under consumption, i.e. from spending less than you make. Windward have assets because we've made the choice to invest a portion of our cash flow into land, buildings, tools, etc. instead of consuming everything we can get our hands on.

Success requires sacrifice, and over the years we've done without many of the things that most people value in order to have the things that we value.

We have no complaints, and no apologies, but we do have opinions.

Lots of opinions :-)

Windward is real because we've invested our resources, our hopes and dreams, into making it real. New people are attracted to Windward because of our success at actually accomplishing something in a field in which few projects actually get off the ground, and most of the ones that do, crash fairly quickly.

Windward is an egalitarian community in the sense that each person's standing is based on merit, not on gender, religion, intimate relationships, age, and so on. Status here flows from a person's ability to participate productively and reliably in the life of the community, on their ability and their willingness to carry their portion of the load, and to help others carry theirs.

The ship metaphor is woven into the fabric of our community as we sail through time together, but we're also mindful of the "ship" component in concepts such as relationship, companionship and friendship.

Cicero, another Roman philosopher, observed that the greatest ornament of friendship is respect. From a community perspective, a key question posed by a windfall is how the money should be handled in such a way that respect, both for and within the community, isn't lost, but rather is enhanced.

Lots of people say that they'd do lot of good things if only they had the money; when a windfall happens, they suddenly have funds that they can do good things with.

The question is "Will they?"

And it's inevitable that their future standing in the community will depend on how they answer that question.

It could be argued that it is in the community's best interest for the recipient to donate the entire amount to the community, but I'd counter that this is short-sighted. Those who choose to live here long term do so because they value what we're doing and want to be a part of it. That's good. But if they lose sight of their individual dreams and goals, or surrender them to "The Greater Good," - well, that road leads to great mischief.

Windward is a dynamic dance in which we strive to maintain the balance between the needs of the community and the needs of the individual. The windfall rule is an example of our effort to strike a sustainable balance between the two.

When a committed member of the community receives a windfall, they have two options. The first option is to take every dime and head for the beach. We'll wish them well, and write them off.

If they wish to continue on with their membership in the community, then they're welcome to take half the windfall and do anything that pleases them with it. They can take a cruise around the world, buy a first-rate off-road bike, take a year and hike the Pacific Crest Trail, whatever.

That part doesn't seem to raise much concern; it's the second part that seems to strike a sharp reaction in some people. If the recipient of a windfall wants to continue to pursue a sustainable life here at Windward, then we expect them to invest at least half in some capital project which will enhance Windward in some way relevant to them.

For example, someone seriously interested in pottery might invest in the construction of a pottery studio and kiln. Another might invest in a wood-fired hot tub, or they might ear mark the funds for the construction of a cabin built to suit their personal tastes. If I received a big check tomorrow, I'd present a plan to our board involving the construction of a building to house our foundry equipment.

The intent, on the one hand, is to insure that at least half the funds are used to make Windward the ideal place for them to live and work long term, and on the other hand, to insure that they're free to do with the rest as they please without criticism or complaint.

Again, when someone comes into a sizeable amount of money unexpectedly, there's no shortage of folks who will believe that they know how the funds should best be utilized. The windfall rule is our way of setting reasonable expectations before the fact, since once a windfall happens, personality issues and self-interest inevitably come into play and any hope of consensus is lost.

It would be best for us as a group if windfalls didn't happen at all since our community is not founded on money or on the use of money to control people. The only endowment we have is the land, tools and materials that the members have purchased with their dues; it's not enough to make it all happen tomorrow, but it is enough to keep us on the path and heading in the right direction.

When people come to Windward, they're saying in effect that they want to take advantage of the sacrifices made by those who've gone before them. That's fine, but we feel that it's only fair that if they should happen to find themselves in a position to help capitalize the organization further, that they should either step up to the plate and do their fair share, or find another game to play.

The goal of the windfall rule is to draw a line ahead of time so there's no room for argument or criticism later on.

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