Notes from Windward: #65

Two Hours a day

wherein Walt elaborates on expectations

     One of the things that Windward expects from the people staying here is that they put in at least two hours a day helping to keep this place running. Recently, one of our month-long visitors took me aside and asked about that since it was evident to her that most of the folks here put in a lot more than just two hours a day. Moreover, it was also obvious to her that we would only achieve a significant portion of our goals if people put in considerably more than two hours a day. It was a fair question, and so I thought I'd take a few minutes to elaborate.

     Long-term readers of these Notes know that I think of our organization as a ship sailing through time - sort of like those barefoot windjammer cruises which describe themselves as "a way of life - a vacation for some and a lifestyle for others." Some of the folks here are dedicated crew, and yes they do invest considerably more than two hours a day into keeping Windward on course and moving towards the fulfillment of our goals. Others here are apprentices going through the process of learning what they need to know in order to become competent members of the crew - a process that takes a considerable portion of their time and attention, and the remainder of the folk on site fall into the category of passengers.

     Visitors - passengers if you will - are expected to help keep Windward shipshape by putting in time in the kitchen or lending a hand with some project, but we know that they need to put the majority of their time into addressing the needs that brought them to Windward. If someone has a notable health problem - be it physical or mental - then Job One for them is to focus on becoming whole.

     Most of the folks who seek us out are in transition, and that's all to the good since Windward is a safe, quiet place where folks can calm down, reflect and arrive at some idea of what they want to do with the rest of their lives. For others, it's a chance to back-fill - a chance to master skills they missed out on back when. For example, some of the men who've come to Windward had lived in the city most of their lives and never learned to drive a car. Lacking that skill, they were pretty much stuck living in big cities - and so, in order to take their life in another direction, one of the requisite skills they need to acquire is the ability to drive and maintain a vehicle.

     When someone undertakes to become an apprentice, they're committing themselves to a body of work designed to accomplish specific things such as the development of an income stream so that they can be financially independent within the context of the organization. No one at Windward draws an income from the organization - each member either arrived with or has since developed an income stream that covers their share of the common expenses (the dues) and pays for their personal interests and desires.

     Because Windward functions as an expense sharing cooperative, we are able to achieve personal financial independence at a level of income which is significantly below what it takes to maintain the same quality of life "out there;" but while meeting that goal is readily "do-able," it's not a trivial undertaking. It takes considerable time, effort and a bit of luck to put together an income stream that is compatible with one's focus in life - and that's important because sustainable living implies the development of a right livelihood that one would be happy doing indefinitely.

     It takes time to research, develop and fulfill some commercial niche - and that's a part of the apprenticeship period. No marketing plan survives contact with the marketplace - it will have to evolve as one interacts with customers and venues, a process which takes time over and above the amount of time needed to refine designs and build inventory.

     The apprenticeship phase is also a time to undertake to educate oneself about the limits and potentials inherent in the context of intentional community. Any specific community is the result of a thousand decisions; some communities handle the human condition one way, others go with other ways. Which is right? Which is best? Which was just the best choice possible at the time? And, are we now able to make a better choice?

     The apprenticeship period is also a time in which people can increase their understanding of how intentional community works, how people react within such a community and how the world reacts to an intentional community. Any community that fails to learn from the successes and failures of the communities that came before it is unlikely to accomplish much more than just adding another example to the dustbin of failed communities - and who needs that? Any person who fails to educate themselves as to the basics of community is going to lessen our ability to function effectively, and we don't need that.

     Clearly, Windward works since it has survived for a long time, a time in which legions of intentional communities have come and gone. Why? How did it survive? How can it evolve to better fulfill its potential? Lots of questions to ponder and discuss.

     As with so much of the human condition, the parameters of an intentional community's future are spelled out in the past. While it's true that the technologies we have available to us are different from those that earlier communities had to work with, it's also true that we - as human beings - are not all that different from those who walked this ground before us. If we don't learn from their experiences, then we will have no one to blame but ourselves if we fall into the same traps that snared them. When we make mistakes - as any organization will when it diligently works to achieve something new - then at least we'll have the satisfaction of having found some new problem which lies just beyond the boundary line that marks the known hazards.

     It's only natural that people want to be listened to - to have their hopes and fears taken seriously - and on social occasions, that's fine, but when the welfare of the community is concerned, ill-considered suggestions and uninformed positions - if given undue weight - can do real damage. We're willing to listen to what folks have to say, but they need to repay that courtesy by taking the time and making the effort needed to inform themselves about the history and social dynamics of secular communities. Anything less is a failure to pay respect, an offense which nature is quick to punish as seen by what happens to people who fail to pay due respect to loaded guns, high-voltage electricity and rattlesnakes.

     It would be fair to say that apprenticeship - at least on the intellectual level - is a never-ending process. There's so much to learn, especially now that the internet has opened up a world of information at our beck and call, and every day can bring new information and new options. On the other hand, we already know the basics, the essential qualities which go into keeping Windward viable; once a person has got a good grip on that body of knowledge - a process which experience has shown us takes at least a couple of years - then it's time for them and us to address the question of whether they should be recognized as a member; i.e. permanent crew/steward/full-member.

     Becoming a productive member of our crew is a demanding undertaking, but the old truism - that what you get out of something is directly related to what you're willing to put into it - stands. The closer one gets to nature, the more clear the reality that there's no such thing as a free lunch.

     To recap, new arrivals are thought of as passengers - here to get a taste of the intentional life which may or may not suit them better than life in the mainstream. If they decide that this might be a lifestyle which does suit them better than their other options, then they're welcome to consider a more significant level of involvement.

      We've already established that we can maintain this operation on two hours of work a day per person - the core crew puts in considerably more time than that because we want to see this operation grow to fulfill its vast potential, something which won't happen if everyone just makes a half-vast effort. Indeed, one of the ways that we distinguish between passengers and potential crew comes from the choices they make during their visit; it soon becomes clear whether this is what they want to do.

     There's a question asked in Christian communities which goes, "If it were a crime to be a Christian, would there be enough evidence to convict you?" That's sort of how it works here as well. If someone is right and ready for cooperative community, a month is enough time to accumulate a body of evidence to that effect.

      In order to be considered as a candidate for our apprenticeship program a person has to explicitly state their intent to join that program, but by the time that verbal statement is made a person's actions have already spoken loudly. If what we're doing here is what they truly want to do, then it's not a matter of working X hours a day; rather it's a matter of living one's values as fully as one can.

Notes From Windward - Index - Vol. 65