The Power of Small Moments

I have often blogged on the importance of making a difference by thinking small, or rather, local.  Meaning, if you want to change the world, start by changing yourself.  Gandhi’s “BE the change you want to see” is the universal starting point.  Failing to do so has delivered to us a shallow culture of hypocrisy and deeply ingrained corruption from the highest levels of boardrooms to the shop floor, from congress and the presidency to the local planning commission or school board.  Epidemic corruption makes for profound distrust, breeding systemic, deeply ingrained cynicism.

The longing for Values and Integrity is why many Friends of Sewanee Creek have told me they are drawn to the dream of living in a community of people who genuinely care for one another, hard-working people of strong, traditional core values, people who are civil and respectful to each other even, or especially, when they don’t agree or have conflicting interests.  That dream can only be realized when each of us commits to be the shining example of the community we want to be in.

That starts with me.  As the obviously imperfect founder of the Village, the self-imposed burden of self-examination can be daunting.  The worst kind of cynicism can be the loss of trust or self-respect that comes from failing to meet one’s own standards to perfection.  And . . . nobody wants to hang out with cynics.

While each of us does our best to live to high standards and values, it is important to think SMALL as well as local.  We need to recognize that it is often the small acts of kindness or civility that can make the biggest difference.

This morning, I ran across an article titled, “The Power of Small Moments”. It got me thinking of the huge task I have set for myself of building a culture of goodness in the Village, let alone the daunting task of being a shining example of what I want to see.  I found it oddly comforting.  I hope you enjoy this article as much as I did.

Low Cost Ownership @ the Village on Sewanee Creek

The jewel of the Village has always been what we called phase II.  Pristine, forested, rolling land, with the most dramatic views, cascading creeks and water falls.  It’s all there, untouched and waiting for this moment and the right people to build a community of caring, sharing and prepared people.

In 2006, when we got started, I expected to quickly sell out on Phase I, then move to the best part.  Then the sub-prime mortgage crisis hit in 2007, followed by a total economic melt-down, led by Real Estate in 2008.  It’s been slow going, but our unique approach to community building creates value that goes far beyond the land.  So, we survived in slow growth mode.  Slow is good when you are striving to build a community with solid roots.  Sort of like nurturing a Japanese bonsai tree.

Fast forward to 2012.  The forests are 6 years older and the wildlife has cycled through several generations, but phase 2 is otherwise unchanged.  Meanwhile, the cost of building paved roads and other infrastructure required by the government, has sky-rocketed to the point that traditional development of Phase II is not feasible.  And, on Phase I, we have grown a community of self-sufficient folks.  Our gardens are maturing, along with our gardening skills and our bees.  We have weathered seasons of drought and plenty with our rainwater catchment systems; we have experimented with various types of low-cost alternative energy, from wood gasification to Lister Diesel generators, to simple wood stoves, solar ovens and micro-hydro-electric generators.  We have built six lovely homes, some traditional construction, log, SIP, cast concrete and experimented with ultra low cost CONEX shipping container construction at the amphitheater, for storage, for workshops and finally, for guest houses.  The learning from all of this and expertise from highly skilled people who have joined us over the years continues to raise the level of self-sufficiency and preparedness of the Village community.

Cost of ownership in difficult economic times has been the primary obstacle for most people who wanted to join us in living a simple, frugal life.  So, here’s the low-cost alternative:

Land on Phase II is to be owned by an LLC with shareholders. Through a shareholder’s agreement, co-owners allocate personal plots within the community.

This method of ownership has several advantages:

  1. Lower cost per acre (In the $4,000 range)
  2. Lower taxes: Blocks of land over 16 acres can remain in “green belt” status, with close to zero tax rates.
  3. As there is one owner, it is not a “development”, hence no need for Government Planning to interfere.
  4. Lower development costs for roads, and other infrastructure.
  5. Full membership in the established Village on Phase 1 with access to commons, hiking trails, community gardens, and other infrastructure.
  6. Shared cost of self-sufficiency infrastructure (well(s), rainwater catchment, alternative energy systems, etc.)
  7. Enhanced sense of community, but still not a commune.

Purchase size would be from 50 to 100 acres.
So, hypothetically, 50 acres, shared equally in 5 acre lots = 10 owners (could be more owners and lower total cost with smaller lots).  Out of that, each contributes an acre for a highly functional 10-acre commons. This is all usable plateau top land. Cost per household would be in the neighborhood of $20,000 plus the shared legal cost of setting up the LLC.  Add a low cost home, like the guest house from Shipping Containers I built for under $10,000 to, say, a 2-acre piece of Phase II and you could have a great life in a gorgeous, sustainable community for about $18,000.

I know there are a lot of you out there who desperately want to own land in the Village, but simply can’t afford it in this economy. And I can’t afford to sell Phase I land for much less and even cover my sunk development costs.  But I have no development costs in Phase II other than the interest I have been paying on it for six years.

If this sounds interesting, please let me know. We can start doing some serious planning and marketing if there is enough interest.

Fear Mongering?

I found this TED presentation fascinating, as much for the audience reaction as for the information conveyed.
On YouTube there are, at this writing, 515 likes and 794 dislikes.

Among the YouTube comments, there is a refreshing amount of critical thinking and legitimate dislikes over some of the solutions  Goodman suggests and even his self-interest-promoting motives.

  • Good idea to re-engineer the genes of world leaders to make them invulnerable super-people?  Hmmm…. seems like a pretty bad idea to me.  Maybe the world leaders are the real terrorists?  In fact, I’m pretty sure many of them are.
  • Open source everything, including everybody’s genome?  No thanks.  Think I’ll try to keep that to myself as long as I can.
  • Turn everybody into vigilante mob cops?  Welllll… there are some problems here too, although neighborhood watch groups have been a pretty good thing for some time.

On the other hand, even with all the communications and coordination technology used by the terrorists in Mumbai, I wonder how successful ten guys would have been at killing hundreds of people in a luxury hotel and shutting down the city had all of the guests been personally armed and well-trained.

Here’s one case where Occam’s Razor seems to apply, where the more complex things become, the simplest and most straight-forward solution is the best one.

Liberals who responded negatively to this piece frequently suggested pre-emptive work to identify and help criminals not to become criminals.  That would be nice.  And, of course, there was the argument that the real problem is poverty.  If we could just put all our efforts into lifting people out of the ghetto, we could have a utopian society where crime would not be necessary.  As I have said elsewhere, I like nice, uplifting thoughts that often come from liberals with good intentions and positive, optimistic viewpoints.  But the pragmatic side of me says, point me to one example where that has worked in the real world.  (Again, see Occam’s Razor)

History says there always have been, are and always will be bad people motivated by power and greed and some who are just vanilla psychotic.  The smart and wealthy ones will be the most dangerous in a world dominated by high-tech innovation.  There must be adequate deterrents for them and protections for the rest of us.  Small, underfunded, slow response, remote police forces won’t be up to the challenge.    Don’t believe it?  How about cell-phone/text coordinated flash-mob gang robberies of stores in big cities that have become routine police nightmares?  Similarly, it’s doubtful that well-intended social engineers who want to reform all the bad guys will be up to the task, especially against the smart, well-financed bad guys (drug lords, world leaders and garden variety terrorists).

Liberal, anti-gun enthusiasts  love to cry “Fear Mongering”, believing it to be the modern equivalent of “Wolf”.  Many commented on YouTube, with a touch of sarcastic ennui, “What’s new? Technology can and always has been used for good and evil.”  as if to say in true Alfred E. Newman style, “What, me worry?”  But, if there is anything that rings true about Goodman’s talk, it is that the stakes and the risks are increasing at an alarming rate.

On a happier note, if you believe the majority of people are actually good and the bad guys are in the minority, as I do, why not put some trust in the good guys?  Arm them, train them well, not only in gun handling, but in positive ethics.  The Swiss seem to have a handle on this, where the general population is disciplined and  trained to be responsible for their own lives.  Guns are handled with great respect and crime is extremely low because the deterrent is high.  To acquiesce to a few well-armed criminals while distrusting a well-educated, well-trained majority is, in my view, the ultimate in pessimism. Unbecoming of a true, good-hearted liberal.  For a thinking person, the natural response to the scenario where the bad guys are the only ones armed with technology and weapons is not “fear mongering”.   It’s just rational, useful fear.

If I wanted to Save America

  • I would start with me.
  • I would focus on my strengths, I would strengthen my self-sufficiency.  I would prepare for whatever might come my way.
  • I would assert my independence, my freedom to do what I believe to be right.
  • I would listen carefully for what God wants me to do and be.
  • I would “BE the change I want to see.”
  • I would join with or build a community made up of  people who can convince me that they truly want to be what I want to be.
  • I would watch their backs and expect them to watch mine.
  • I would teach others to be strong, to have courage and hope.
  • I would stop whining about the Federal government, because it’s past what I can change, but I would change what I can, locally.
  • I would “Act like an American, the kind of American that my father and Grandfather and their forefathers were.

.

If I wanted America to Fail

This video has gone viral.
But it offers no solutions.
Focus on action, not fear.

.

What kind of American are you?

Watch this for another shot of courage. . . and wisdom

.


.

A Different Sort of Courage

Common wisdom: Courage is assertion in the face of risk.

But sometimes, courage requires us to shut up when we disagree, let others express themselves without interruption, and still others to carry the burden of my debate.  To trust that truth may lie outside my own consciousness, that it will only be revealed by others is to trust in the worthiness of opponents, friends and strangers.

The courage of humility is to wait, to hope, to listen.

The fruit of Courageous Humility is Uncommon Wisdom.

Quarter Horse Parable

Many of you who have visited the Village, if you were lucky, got to meet Joe.   He’s a local who does a lot of work here.   Joe is an expert with horses as well as an expert trader. A few days ago, knowing nothing about horses myself, Joe told me a little about his favorite, the quarter horse.
According to Joe:
The Quarter horse is a powerful, sensitive breed. They respond only to the lightest touch on the reigns, but are among the most brilliant, agile performers. They are the breed used in rodeos, barrel racing, cattle roping, all activities that need precision and power.  Joe buys and sells lots of junk horses. Most cycle through rapidly. He has one that just keeps coming back. With each trade, Joe makes a little money. Ironically, this one is his favorite.  It’s a keeper and it’s a quarter horse.  He sells it and then re-buys it for a lower price when the new owner discovers that it is un-ridable. That’s because people who are used to less sensitive and responsive animals tend to horse them around – meaning that they use gross, rough jerks on the reigns and gouge with their feet. Quarter horses respond to rough treatment with an equally rough ride.

It takes me a while to process information like that. This morning I awoke with a lovely thought. Good people are a lot like a good quarter horse. They are bright, sensitive, hard-working, responsive to a light touch, but may buck under a rough hand. Because I sometimes view myself as ineffective, an unskilled horseman, I often feel that people don’t understand what I’m saying or respond as I would like.  When I feel that way, the tendency is to be less sensitive myself, to tug on the reigns too hard or dig in with the spurs. Almost inevitably, that brings on a rough ride.

That thought reminded me of Christ, quietly writing in the dirt.  A gentle suggestion, “let he who is without sin cast the first stone”.  The accusers who were ready to stone the adulterous woman melt away.  He turns to the woman and gently asks, “where are your accusers?” Then, I can imagine he said lovingly, almost in a whisper, “I don’t condemn you either. Go your way and sin no more”.

Good people are like a good quarter horse and the adulterous woman. Imperfect, sinful, like everyone else, but humble and sensitive, ready to respond to a gentle touch with power and grace. It’s a lesson I struggle with over and over. Today, I will try to remember Joe’s parable of the quarter horse and live with a lighter touch.

I am so thankful that I live with a constant, perfect example of the gentle touch, my dear wife, Becky.

Surround yourself with Extraordinary People

What do you want to surround yourself with?
I wanted to write something for you about this, so I Googled “surround yourself with” and here is the advice that came up on the first page.

I agree.  I NEED to surround myself with the best, the extraordinary, so that I can become my best.  That’s easier said than done.  It takes work to attract and keep the best in your life, especially if you are looking for people who are better than you are.  I have spent the last five years of my life with that single-minded goal, to attract extraordinary people to the Village.  Our list of permanent residents is still small, but it includes people of extraordinary talents, skills, accomplishments, experiences and character traits.   To name a few, these highly accomplished people, all with post-graduate degrees in their field and stellar life accomplishments, include among their skills:  published philosopher and writer, chemist, plant geneticist, musician, Sr. business executive, successful entrepreneur, web developer, teacher, world travelers, electronics/communications expert, linguists, etc.  If you include those who have purchased land but have not yet built and moved in, the list becomes too long.  Overlaid on these skills are values of hard work, positive thinking, humility, mental toughness, creativity, generosity, mutual caring, independence, self-sufficiency and a strong desire to be part of a cohesive, sharing community.

Have you noticed that on my website, the request for information page includes a text box that asks an unusual question?  “Tell us a little about why you are interested in living in the Village on Sewanee Creek and what you would bring to the community as a neighbor.”  Do you know of ANY other developments where land is offered for sale, but applicants are asked to justify their contribution in terms other than dollars?

I don’t refer to myself as a “developer”.   My primary focus is building this community, so my business card says simply “founder”.  Unlike developers whose work focuses exclusively on subdividing, meeting government codes and selling, I actually live here and have different, vested, personal interests.  So I spend the bulk of my time blogging to attract extraordinary people, then interviewing and observing to understand whether they would be happy and contribute here.  When a person buys land in the Village, only a little of the value they are getting is in dirt, trees, creeks and a nice view.  They are buying years of my single-minded labor to assemble a community, a circle of extraordinary people.  For some, it is hard to recognize tangible dollar value in that.  Those who think the above quotes are only nice platitudes won’t join us in the Village.   They are unlikely to commit to the lifestyle we aspire to or even discover my website with its carefully crafted key search words.  And that is good.  We aren’t looking for average people who have money but don’t get it.

For those who strive to surround themselves with greatness, with people who will lift you higher, people who are like-minded, passionate, intelligent, creative and so on, to these the beautiful land is a nice incidental.

That Village residents understand and value this was recently demonstrated to me by one of them.  We were on an outing together to Nashville to see my favorite play, Les Miserable.  As we drove together I took the opportunity to discuss some community business.  I mentioned that property values in the Village have stayed significantly higher than any nearby as indicated by recent sales.  I sought their views on changes to the covenants because I want to make them as minimally restrictive as I can while maintaining the beauty, tranquility and productivity of the Village.  A Villager with two young children dismissed higher property values.  “Resale value is irrelevant to me”, he said.  “I plan to live here the rest of my life.”  Then he added, “I just want to be sure you will continue to be selective with the quality of my new neighbors.”  BTW, this young, extraordinary man is our post-graduate philosopher/writer/entrepreneur and I would say he gets it.