Notes from Windward: #64

Harris' Law

     One the recurrent question we get is "How has Windward has been able to survive and prosper while so many other intentional communities have fallen by the way side?"

     Part of the answer is that we're committed (clearly, people who choose to do this sort of thing should be committed :-)

     Part of the answer is that we've been lucky.

     Part is that we found good advice and followed it, and

     Part is that we were willing to try new ways when we ran out of good advice.

     While all that's true, unfortunately it's not particularly helpful advice for those wanting to create their own communities, so I thought I'd take a moment to talk about a key principle behind Windward's way of creating sustainable community.

     Commitment is a major part of sustainability, that part is clear, but most groups focus on finding ways to increase their members' sense of commitment and to induce them to commit ever greater amounts of resources (time, money, work, etc.) to the enterprise. That makes great sense on paper, and can be remarkably productive for the short run, but in practice and over time, it will tear a community apart.

     One reason for that can be found in Harris' Law ---

     "The harder you push any system the more unstable it becomes, and the more management it requires."
                Paul Harris, Lecturer, Agricultural Engineering,
                The University of Adelaide, Australia

     When new folks arrive at Windward, there's a natural, almost universal, urge to want to plunge in with a great swirl of energy and enthusiasm. That's great, but it's usually more disruptive than productive. Over time, we've developed a sustainable rhythm to life here, and while we need new infusions of energy, the challenge is to find ways to integrate that enthusiasm into what we're doing without crashing the program.

     In order to work over the long haul, this has to feel like a walk in the park, not like a grueling marathon. There are some people strong enough and motivated enough that they can run a mile long race, but most people who try that will cramp up and fall behind long before they see the finish line. Conversely, a couple of friends can stroll along enjoying the beautiful scenery and pleasant conversation, and almost before they realize it, they've gone the mile and then some.

     The twin constraints of time and money place lots of pressure on a community, and many groups set themselves up for failure by committing to situations in which they have to push too hard too soon. On the other hand, life is a timed event; if a group doesn't show progress then it's members will lose heart and drift away.

     The key is to focus carefully on the essentials and then back off a bit, which is where Harris' Law comes in.

Notes From Windward - Index - Vol. 64