This essay the latest list in a series which began back in 1998, that considers practical things that people can do to create a more just and sustainable society, a "civilization of life and love." After this "Practical Rules" is a compilation of previous thoughts I have had on this subject and published here and elsewhere, 1996 to date. As nearly always, my focus is on the domestic household because that's where I think we have the most control, and also I think that's where fundamental change begins. It's easy to demand that the government do something, and there are many political changes we must seek, but even then it still comes down to how you and your family live your lives and the choices you make.
1. "Where your treasure is, there will also be your heart." Spend less money in the unsustainable and unjust corporate globalized economy. Spend more money in the local just and sustainable grassroots economy. Where practical, spend your money with cooperative, worker owned enterprises and locally owned sole proprietorships. Avoid the franchises and glo mart chain stores. When you buy from the glomart economy, not only are you purchasing a particular item or service, you also may be financing ecological devastation, destruction of local cultures, dispossession of traditional peoples, authoritarian regimes, energy waste, corruption, violence against women and children, political repression, war, and animal cruelty.
2. "Take this job and love it." Consider carefully how and where you earn your money; aim for earning a "right livelihood". Work with an inner understanding that you are following an honorable vocation that supports yourself and your household, be your job mopping floors or composing symphonies, and thus evade the mind numbing alienation of wage slavery. Help the enterprise you work for or own, whether it is for profit or not, to learn and implement just and sustainable principles that help you do your jobs using less energy and producing less pollution, while being a good and honest neighbor. If your job involves building nuclear bombs or raping the environment, find less deadly and destructive ways to make a living. Consider creating your own job in the grassroots local economy, either by yourself or as a cooperative business venture with friends. Don't be afraid to start small, we often start small or we don't start at all. Earning less money, consistent with your circumstances (in particular the size of the family and debts), is generally a good discipline to follow.
3. "The borrower is the slave of the lender." The way out of that trap is to borrow as little money as possible, pay it back as soon as possible, and live debt free as possible. Don't use a credit or debit card if you can avoid it, especially with a locally owned business. Never finance entertainment and materialistic consumption at any interest rate on a credit card. If you do borrow money, try to do so from a credit union, avoid the big national chains and finance companies.
4. "There is no place like home." Find a congenial place and put down roots. Live in a building that you own (by yourself or in conjunction with others) and that is debt free. If you have a mortgage (literally "death grip" in Latin), make extra principle payments every month. To achieve this goal, it may be necessary for you to think outside of the box and learn to make the most of your circumstances. For example, two families with limited assets might not be able to afford a single family house, each on its own resources. But they could buy a duplex together. Or a half dozen young people could pitch in on the cost of a large older house in a poor neighborhood. Small towns and rural areas are generally better to live in, but if circumstances (work or family) tie you to a large city, live in the less expensive working class neighborhoods that are closest to your job or business. Consider the ability of the property to produce food (and thus create wealth and security for your household) as a major factor in your decision about rural or urban property.
5. "Waste not, want not." Minimize your energy use. Invest in energy conservation and alternative, renewable energies. Super insulate your housing consistent with your climate and if you have input at your job, also your workplace. Don't use conventional high energy air conditioning (learn other strategies for dealing with the heat and humidity of summer). For transportation, the goal is to organize your life so you can live car free or alternatively, to minimize use of a personal vehicle. If you do drive a car, be economical in its operation. Maintain it properly and keep to a self imposed speed limit of 55 miles per hour on the highway. Remember that just because you have a car, you don't have to drive it all the time. You can ride a bicycle, use public transportation, or walk. Never fly in an airplane, unless there is no other way to get there. Think twice about vacations that consume large amounts of energy, look for ways to travel lightly on the land when you leave your home community for business or pleasure. Go to local and regional conferences and meetings that don't require much travel, not to national and international gatherings unless there is a necessary reason for doing so. Be wary of travel to ecologically sensitive areas. When you consider the amount of space you need to live in, remember that "more space" generally translates into "more money and more energy expense". When you consider buying things such as appliances, consider not only the energy it costs to operated, but also the energy embodied in its manufacture and shipping.
6. "Invest in root stock." Grow some of your own food, with particular attention to permaculture principles, sustainable/organic production practices, heirloom varieties, and perennial plants What you don't grow yourself, buy from local growers or processors. Cook from basic ingredients; don't buy junk food, make your own snacks and beverages or buy locally grown and made foods and drinks from neighborhood stores, bakeries, or brewers. Eat with the season, don't buy fresh produce in the winter unless it was grown in your area. Never buy meat, eggs, or dairy products from the "Confined Animal Feeding Operation" agribizness/supermarket system. If you can't find local, free range meat, dairy, and eggs, become a vegetarian (this could be an incentive to organize a local food system in your area). Learn some home food processing skills and depend less on international commercial food processing corporations.. Stop buying and eating fish from the sea.
7. "Live simply, that others may simply live." Reduce, reuse, recycle, make do, do without. Make a personal vow of "material celibacy". Don't even go into stores that sell new merchandise unless absolutely necessary, instead patronize the after market (used, thrift shops, flea markets, barter, garage sales, etc.) If you buy something new, select a locally produced product and/or look for the "cooperative" or the "union" label. If you buy imported merchandise, look for goods that have been certified as "fair trade," that come directly from cooperatives or individual or village producers, or are union made, especially food items like coffee, bananas, tea, spices, olive oil, citrus fruit, and also art objects, fabric and household goods. Avoid the transnational corporations and their products.
8. You are not your wardrobe. Clothing is one of the easiest necessaries to find in thrift stores and flea markets. If you must have new clothes, make them yourself or have a local tailor or seamstress make them for you, or at least only buy clothes with union or cooperative labels. Minimize your purchases of clothes that require dry cleaning; air and sun dry your clothes after they're washed. Don't buy clothing that has been produced in sweatshops.
9. "The right tool for the right job." While avoiding mindless material gratification, you must also consider that you need certain tools to live a more just and sustainable lifestyle, for example, a small grain mill or other food processing equipment and some garden tools. It is better to buy a grain mill from a catalog or store and wheat from a farmer than to buy balloon bread every week from the supermarket. Be creative, several families or individuals could share ownership and use of such tools or civil society organizations such as churches or neighborhood associations could make them available.
10. "Gather your community." Connect with your local neighbors and friends. This is not a time when the Lone Ranger will find much success. Be a good neighbor. Help your neighbors and friends and work with them to make your community more sustainable and resilient. Be active with civil society organizations or informal associations that are working for good causes and goals. If you vote, do so intelligently and with thought about the consequences. If you have no community, find one or create one.
11. "Be alert and aware." Know what's going on. Search out "sidestream" media for news and useful information. Tell others what is happening in your area and be generous in sharing knowledge and skills. Ignore the prevalent government and corporation propaganda. Don't buy the lie that "what you do doesn't matter" and avoid procrastination. Kill your television, or at least grievously wound it. Beware of and resist media messages that encourage gluttony, waste, and instant gratification, which are often the source of the excuses you make to yourself that keep you from doing what you need to do.
12. "Don't let the perfect become the enemy of the good." Do what you can, with what you have, where you are. If you can't go all the way into sustainability right away, do small, easy things at first ("pick the low hanging fruit") and as you get better at those, adopt bigger and more challenging goals. If you can't do the best, it's OK to be simply better, or at least good, even "fair to middling." Where your journey is taking you is important, and if you make some detours along the way and lose some time, get back on the road when and where you can. To avoid fools, take steps.
13. "Think globally, act locally. " When the going gets rough, nobody gets thrown to the wolves. This is a basic principle of a civilization of life and love; we ignore it to our peril. Our first concern is naturally for those who are closest to us, but that can't be the extent of our involvement. Our families, friends, and neighborhoods are impacted directly by world events. The proper response to the globalization of greed and gluttony, and to the rise of violence in this world, is solidarity, which must manifest itself in practical actions, not just rhetorical flourishes. An injury to one indeed is an injury to all: we must make injustice visible and protect the poor and the powerless. The more solidarity and cooperation that is present in a society, the more resilient, just, and sustainable it is
14. "Love life as it is." Be present to each moment as you go through time and place. Be open to the wonder of grace that abounds, and be wary of the demons which prowl about the world seeking the ruin of souls. Do everything with a heart of generosity and gratitude and with joy and celebration. Pray without ceasing.
Robert Waldrop, Oscar Romero Catholic Worker House, on the fourth of July, AD 2002
This arrived in my inbox recently, and it seems to me to be a good addition to the list. RMW
Letter from Hopi Elders
You have been telling the people that this is the Eleventh Hour.
Now you must go back and tell them that this is the Hour!
And there are things to be considered:
Where are you living? What are you doing? What are your relationships?
Are you in the right relation? Where is your water? Know your garden.
It is time to speak your Truth. Create your community. Be good to each other. And do not look
outside yourself for the leader.
This could be a good time !
There is a river flowing now very fast.
It is so great and swift that there are those who will be afraid. They will try to hold onto the shore. They will feel they are being torn apart, and they will suffer greatly. Know the river has its destination.
The Elders say we must let go of the shore, push off into the middle of the river, keep our eyes
open and our heads above water. See who is in there with you and celebrate.
At this time in history, we are to take nothing personally. Least of all, ourselves. For the moment that we do, our spiritual growth and journey comes to a halt.
The time of the lone wolf is over. Gather yourselves! Banish the word 'struggle' from your attitude
and your vocabulary. All that we do now must be done in a sacred manner and in celebration. We
are the ones we have been waiting for.
+ Live simply and justly in solidarity with the poor and marginalized and be a good neighbor. Make no war on them, rather, be one with them in spirit, truth, and love.
+ Hear the truth when it is spoken to you. Discern the signs of the times and speak truth -- to power, to the people, and to the Church.
+ Make injustice visible -- witness, remember, teach, proclaim, tell. Light candles, do not curse the darkness.
+ Protect the poor and powerless-- listen, learn, educate, organize, empower participation, and respect life from the moment of conception to the time of natural death.
+ Work for reconciliation with truth, evangelism, catechesis, orthopraxis.
+ Celebrate life, goodness, beauty, virtue, responsibility, and joy. Practice peace, non-violence, servant leadership, harmony, community, voluntary cooperation, and the proper stewardship of God's creation. Pray without ceasing.
+ Ensure fair distribution, subsidiarity, economic opportunity, justice, and food security for everyone everywhere.
Resilience is the ability to successfully meet and surmount challenges, obstacles, and problems.
1. Solidarity and cooperation
When the going gets rough, nobody gets thrown to the wolves. This is a basic principle of a human civilization of life and love; we ignore it to our peril. Our first concern is naturally for those who are closest to us, but that can't be the extent of our involvement. Our families are only as secure as our communities, and our communities are only as safe as the world. Studies of past disasters show clearly the importance of cooperation in successfully meeting and surmounting a challenge. The more solidarity and cooperation that is evident in a society, the more resilient it is when faced with big problems.
2. Creativity and adaptability
Sometimes problems that seem very big need to be viewed from a different angle of observation. We get enclosed in boxes that limit our ability to see an entire picture. A rapidly changing world means we have to get out of our boxes in order to see enough of the picture that we can authentically respond. Sometimes we need to see the possibilities of new relationships, new connections, new uses for old systems or machines or resources, or new ways of using those systems to do new things. We are an adaptable race, and the ability to creatively meet changing situations, especially if the change is negative, is a positive indicator of community and family resilience. If systems are breaking down, we must discover new and better systems that are not so brittle and vulnerable.
Either you will act on this situation or it will act on you. A decision to do nothing about this is a decision to make the situation worse. It won't get better by itself. A flat tire is a flat tire, it has to be changed. Standing there and wishing it were otherwise, or denying that the tire is flat, gets you nowhere. Positive action in support of safety and security is evidence of resilience in a family and a community.
4. Prudence, preparation, and planning
Since ancient times we've been telling each other and our children stories and proverbs about how important it is to watch for dangers and take precautions. Look before you leap, watch where you're going, a stitch in time saves nine, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure, hindsight is always 20/20 -- it's foresight you have to work on, these are just a few of the ways that we teach the cultural and personal importance of watching out for yourself and others that you are responsible for. This is an important habit because while the world is full of blessings and opportunities, it is also a risky and hazardous place. The point of "watching out" is to avoid trouble, or manage it when it is inevitable. Cultivating the virtue of prudence & its associated discipline of sustainable living helps a family or community successfully surmount challenges. The time to build the cellar is before the tornado hits.
Our system works in part because most people willingly assume responsibility and carry out their duties. It's an important aspect of life, our civilization would be impossible without it.
Your social responsibilities include making a best effort to ensure that your own household is as sustainable as is practical for your circumstances. The more people that assume personal responsibility and carry out their duties in life, living in a more rather than less sustainable way, the more resilient is the community. In a time of rapid change or disaster, everybody must accept responsibility for maintaining community values, order, health, and safety.
6. Awareness of environment
It's easy to get into the routine of life, and go through the motions practically oblivious to what
everybody else is up to. We trust our environment because we know it really well and generally have a handle on its risks. But there are times when things change very fast and thus there are disruptions of that normality. Sometimes those disruptions are prolonged. To cope with rapidly changing circumstances, we must practice our ability to observe, understand, and generally be aware of our environment -- its opportunities and its risks.
7. Holistic methodology
We live in an age of specialization, but life has plenty of reminders that there are some things that everybody should know how to do. The crises and challenges of life at this time in place and history call us to expand our horizons, to look for solutions in many different places and peoples. We understand that nobody is an island, we are all connected. We can't cope with particular local situations in isolation from other global issues, because global issues inevitably work their way down to the neighborhood and there is a spiritual reality that unites us.
Times of rapid change, disasters and disruptions of life-as-we-know-it can stretch pre-existing stresses in a culture to the breaking point. Thus, we must bring all that we have and are -- values, reasoning ability, knowledge, spirituality, faith, prayer, relationships, and cultures -- to the table in the search for solutions to the very grave problems which afflict all who live on this planet.
See also Suggestions for Compassionate Conservatives (2000), The top ten lies of television (1996), 116 Just Actions (1998), Practical Distributism (1999).