Notes from Windward: #66

Sustainability and the "Yuck!" Factor

     Embracing a sustainable lifestyle involves changing the way you look at the world, and especially those parts of the world that trigger the "Yuck!" reaction. For example, when most people encounter a pile of horse manure, their emotional reaction will be "Yuck!" and they'll move away.

     On the other hand, when a sustainable gardener sees a pile of horse manure, she'll immediately think of the wonderful compost it will make and the delicious vegetables it will grow. Her reaction is "Yum!"

     In the consumer world, folks are always looking for more resources to consume, and more places to dump their discards; the result being an going depletion of available resources and a progressive accumulation of trash. It's a linear process that goes from the mine to the factory, from the distributor to the store, and then from the home to the landfill.


     Sustainable systems aren't linear -- instead they're more like celtic knotwork in the way that they form a web of interlocking sub-systems in which the output of one process serves as the input for another. It's when we see this intertwined fabric in detail that we can start to appreciate the unrealized value that lies just beyond the "Yuck!" factor.

     Any time we are confronted with something which goes contrary to the many years of consumer conditioning we've all been steeped in, our immediate emotional reaction is "Yuck!" and we want to pass it by. But, the First Law of Ecology tells us that you can't change just one thing, that any material change in one part of a sustainable system will trigger changes in most of the other parts of the system, and in order to embrace those changes, we have to come to terms with "Yuck!"

     Much of the consumer world is structured around paying others to deal with the yucky parts. We want the yummy steak, but don't want to deal with the yucky offal produced when an animal is slaughtered. And so in order for us to achieve a significant degree of sustainability, we have to find ways to address the yucky parts of our life support systems so that we can use our understanding, our tools and our teamwork to perform the magic which transforms "Yuck!" into "Yum!"

Yucky Black Soldier Fly Larva ready to be
transformed into yummy free-range duck eggs

     Each of us carries a series of emotional templates that trigger the "Yuck!" reaction, and all too often we react that way solely because we been conditioned to react that way.

      Consequently, one important piece of personal work that a person has to do if they're really serious about embracing a sustainable lifestyle is to pay attention to those situations that trigger the "Yuck!" response. In that way they'll become able to use that reaction as a signal that some prejudice needs to be examined in order to make sure that some undeveloped resource isn't overlooked and wasted.

     At it's core, sustainability relies on the effecient use of all system resources. The old saying, "Waste not, want not." is as true today as ever since in a consumer society, the more people waste, the more they want.

     In order to achieve a significant degree of sustainability we have to make sure that we do not allow our preconditioned "Yuck!" reflexes to divert us away from resources or options that could help make our system viable. Windward is an intentional community, and as such is the embodiment of our deeply felt intention to do things differently. So, any time "Yuck!" pops up, we pay close attention since that reaction means that we've encountered an opportunity to reexamine what we're doing, reassess what our true goals are and ponder how best to accomplish them.

     Just as pain helps us maintain good health by warning us of dangerous conditions that are harming our bodies, the "Yuck!" reaction provides us with a warning that our conditioning is kicking in and trying to limit our options. If we truly want to be our own person, to be able to maintain our ability to choose for ourselves what is truly best for us, for our community and our world, then when the "Yuck!" factor kicks in, we need to carefully take the time needed to check and see what's really going on, and whether some positive change can be made that will allow us to gain a better result.

     It's not intuitively obvious, but within the context of sustainability, "Yuck!" is our friend.

Notes From Windward - Index - Vol. 65