Notes from Windward: #63

Tweaking the Visitor Policy

     Windward welcomes folks who want to visit and participate for a month, a policy which arose from the belief that an afternoon or overnight visit wasn't long enough for folks to get a realistic idea of what we're about. We still want folks to participate for a month before making up their minds about whether this is what they want to do, but we also recognize that in certain situations, greater flexibility is needed.

     Year in and year out, there's a steady stream of folks interested in learning more about intentional communities and alternative lifestyles. That baseline level of interest dramatically increases in times of economic uncertainty and international conflict, and this year is no exception. The challenge for us is to remain open both to folks who are serious about wanting to learn about how communities like Windward function, as well as the folks who are in need of serious help in a time of personal crisis.

     Windward remains open to folks of good will who wish to learn about the practical aspects of living in community, just as it also remains open to folks in crisis. This "tweak" of the visitor policy is focused on the folks who fall somewhere in the middle.

     It's said that two of the most important questions in life are "What is it you truly want to do?" and "What are you truly good at doing?," and that it's only after one works out the answer to these two questions that one can get on with living life to the fullest extent possible. If someone is truly blessed, both questions might have the same answer, but that doesn't happen often, and even when it does, people and circumstances change over time. Since for most people and most times those two things aren't going to be one and the same, the goal becomes one of finding a way to marry the two together.

     What's true for people can also be true for organizations. In Windward's case, what we wanted to do was to create a sustainable, self-reliant community, and what it turned out that we were good at was providing haven and respite to folks in crisis transition. As a result, we've come to think of folks interested in Windward as either seekers, refugees or tourists.

     "Seekers" are folks who are seriously interested in expanding their understanding of the community experience. No one community has all the answers, or the resources needed to engage the full range of options, or time enough to repeat all the old mistakes. Windward's accomplishments are a direct result of learning from the efforts of those who've gone before, and we feel an obligation in turn to pass along what we've learned.

     Now and then, a seeker will decide that Windward is a good enough example of what they're looking for in an intentional community and settle in, but most will decide to press on in hopes of finding that elusive dream of the perfect, ready-made community, a quest as unlikely of success as the search for the perfect mate or the perfect job.

     At the very least, there's lots to learn and experience here at Windward, whether one's initial intention is to stay, to visit a string of communities, or to undertake to build a new community from scratch.

     We're happy to welcome seekers regardless of which of those three tracks they're on; all we ask is that they set aside a month for their visit, and that they participate on the same terms as everyone else. While a month isn't really all that much time, it does allow one to get an understanding for the scope of what's involved, a fair start on a journey of discovery.

     This "tweak" has to do with seekers who don't have the time right now to come for a month.

     We appreciate the reality that most folks have commitments which make it difficult to just take off for a month, and the last thing we want someone to do is to just chuck it all and run away to Windward. But on the other hand, we don't want to get caught up in dealing with an endless stream of folks out looking for an afternoon's diversion, or those who want to use Windward as a sort of cheap "bed and breakfast."

     What we are willing to do is to note that the month's visit doesn't have to be thirty consecutive days. If someone were in a situation such that they had to continue on where they were for a few more years before they would be in a position to make a fundamental change in their life direction because, for example, they had a child who was a junior in high school, or they were two years away from becoming vested in their pension. In situations like those, we wouldn't want to say, in effect, that if you're not ready to make a commitment right now, then we're not interested.

     To the contrary, we have a lot of respect for those who can start well in advance to do the homework and research needed in order to undertake a radical lifestyle change in a manner which creates a realistic hope of success. Windward is in this for the long haul, and we respect those who are also able to taking the long view.

     While most people make radical changes in their lives for essentially emotional reasons, the ones who are successful are usually those who are able to channel those emotions in reasonable directions. An ability to temper strong feelings with effective planning often makes the difference between success and failure.

     It would be okay with us. for example, if someone were only able to spend a week's vacation with us each summer for four years. We would expect them to pay the month's dues up front, but they'd be welcome to consider the unused time to be "on the books."

     If their three year plan works out the way they expected, then we'd see them each summer as their life moves forward; and if their "dot com" employer folded unexpectedly, then they'd have a fall back position already in place. These are uncertain times, and having a place where you know you're welcome on a rainy day is no small comfort.

     It's the person who says they're a seeker, but can't afford to kick in a month's dues, that presents the more complex problem. Any seeker who's more than thirty years old, of sound mind and body, and can't afford to contribute a month's dues in order to experience an alternative lifestyle isn't really a seeker; they're a refugee in denial.

     There are many aspects to modern life that we can't change, but all in all we have a greater range of choices available to us now than folks have ever had before. The quality of the choices we make creates the context within which we function; over time, good situations come about when we consistently make good choices, just as lousy situations flow from poor choices.

     We're not going to look down on someone because they made poor choices in the past; we've all been there ourselves. On the other hand, we're not very patient with those who are only too ready to rush right back into the meat grinder in the hope that this time things will magically somehow turn out differently.

     It's said that insanity involves doing the same thing over and over while expecting a different outcome. Well, we're committed to creating a different outcome, which means that we have to commit to creating a different input. In other words, we have to be willing to materially change what we're doing if we're going to have a realistic hope of getting a meaningfully different result.

     In community, the strengths and weakness of each member affect the viability of the whole. If someone is in sufficient control of their lives that they're able to fund their participation in what we're doing, then that's good enough for us. If they're not, then we're going to have some questions about the choices they've made so far, and the lessons they've learned along the way.