View from the southwest, March 4

View from the southwest, March 4

Our architect Michael Klement recently sent us this quote from George Bernard Shaw:

The reasonable man always adapts himself to the world; the unreasonable one persists in trying to adapt the world to himself. Therefore all progress depends on the unreasonable man.

Michael contends that Tom and I are creating change by being unreasonable in our design and expectations. One could argue on both sides of this dichotomy.

We do seem to be unreasonable in our demands on the conventional building industry.

  • In our search for non-toxic building materials, we’re asking manufacturers to reveal ingredients and production methods, the particulars of which they might prefer to keep quiet. We’re calling out and rejecting manufacturers who create toxic products.
  • The procedures for building a tight house and one that will last for centuries require far more time and attention to detail than “normal.” Whenever we ask members of the construction crews, “What’s different here?” the answer invariably is, “Everything.” (One happy result: Blower door test last week, evaluating the tightness of the house, yielded amazing numbers.)
  • Tom and I are perhaps more demanding than many in our building preferences. We think a lot about the small details, likely causing endless tongue-biting on the part of builder and crews as we ask for specific placement of electrical outlets, thermostats, heating vents and more. This is, indeed, partly us – but it’s strongly driven as well by the Living Building Challenge imperative that buildings be beautiful. Beginning with an image in our minds of a house rooted in elements of timeless beauty (sheltering roof; visible structure; progression of spaces from public to private, to name just a few), we’ve taken our time in the design process, knowing that beauty in living spaces can translate into serenity in living.
  • We’ve pushed the local building and health departments with the Living Building Challenge requirement that a building integrate fully with its environment. With no regulations on the books at the time of our request and appeal regarding composting toilets and rainwater harvesting, the powers-that-be felt constrained to deny our requests to incorporate those systems. But many of them agree that these are good ideas and good for the environment.

On the other hand, it seems entirely reasonable to take stock of the current climate, food production systems and ecological conditions, and to work within and with those to make the best of what we have.

  • It makes a lot of sense to build a home that’s ready for any difficulties potentially caused by continued climate change or disruption in the fossil fuel industry (to name just two possibilities). Either of these events would ripple through nearly every aspect of life: food production and delivery, transportation, availability of water, and more.
  • It’s perfectly reasonable – in fact it only makes sense – to restore our worn out farmland to health and to establish abundant food production. Doing so, and especially by using methods of permaculture and by distributing locally, lower external inputs are needed for growing, storage and transportation. No matter what else, growing food makes sense!

Tom responded eloquently to Shaw’s quote:

As I continue [in life], I’m impressed at how most of God’s creation works, simply put, on chance. While many people today are convinced that the harder they pray for stuff, the more perfectly they ask, the more morally upright they are, the more God will cooperate and give them what they want.

But when you take a hard look at reality, you mainly see the complex interaction of an impossibly large number of influences on any outcome – so complex that most of what happens seems to come by chance. Charles Williams, a good friend of C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien, called it “holy luck.” One person gets cancer, his brother doesn’t. Of course, we can have influence over our luck, but we can’t be totally in control of it. By not smoking cigarettes, I’m less likely to die of lung cancer. There’s no guarantee lung cancer won’t kill me.

Here in God’s green earth, we find ourselves continually dealing with both the good breaks and the bad breaks. Rather than living with the illusion of controlling all this by earnest prayers or obsessive attempts to stack the deck in our favor, we might do better to relinquish our illusions of complete control – and to reconceive our life as a dance. We’re on a large dance floor with many and frequently-changing dance partners. The key in the dance is to receive with joy and happiness each good partner (i.e., good luck), and exercise grace and forgiveness when we find ourselves paired with bad dance partners (i.e., bad luck).

I see Shaw’s “reasonable man” as the one who can dance with the bad partners with grace and forgiveness, and move on to the next dance partner to see what luck awaits him.

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