Unity Commencement #2

Rule #2: Buck convention.

Don’t deny your youthful naiveté; it may be a blessing. Innocent idealism trumps cynical realism. In a world that has gone so wrong, a certain amount of ignorance can be a powerful tool. You have no trouble thinking outside the box when you’re not in it. In this world, there’s an overabundance of the rational, reasonable and realistic and not enough big, hairy audacious, let’s-stretch-ourselves belief in the possible. So, challenge conventional wisdom; much of it has proven to be both unwise and unsustainable.

Trust your instincts and then trust yourself to learn about the constraints and barriers in real time. If you are humble, resilient, perseverant and adaptable, you’ll end up where you should be – not with someone else’s ideals and visions, and not where you were told to stop.

Conventional wisdom tends to build up big, thick defensive walls to ward off the evidence that it might be wrong, incomplete, or inadequate. Habit and history are powerful forces, but they also often create arbitrary mental boundaries and constrain possibility. Over time, habit becomes belief, belief becomes cultural law, and questioning it becomes heresy.

Sometimes—in fact, very often—the ideas, processes, and systems we take for granted, are out of date or just plain wrong. Henry Ford said that if he had listened to conventional wisdom, he would have worked on faster horses. If our founding fathers had listened to conventional wisdom, we might still be living under English rule, and we certainly wouldn’t have tried the grand American experiment we call democracy.

Soon after I went off on my own in carpentry and building, I started seeking a better way to build because I’d become dissatisfied with what is known as stick construction. Ironically, it is also called conventional building. As an alternative, I eventually decided to embark on a mission to revive the craft of timberframe building in North America. From a rational perspective, the idea was nuts. Although timberframing had been the dominant form of wood building for several thousand years, it had been completely dead for the previous four generations; there was nobody to learn from and the only available tools were antiques. Furthermore, I didn’t even know how to do it.

So, there were some significant obstacles, but I had some things going for me to improve my odds for success:

• youthful naiveté
• blind ignorance
• unwarranted optimism
• dumb perseverance
• no Plan B

Today, I know how to timberframe. I’ve written four books about it and there are now around four hundred companies throughout North America that specialize in this ancient, but now completely modern building method.

So, what big, thick walls of conventional wisdom stand in your way? There are many and there is much at stake. For tens of thousands of years of human development, we struggled to protect ourselves from nature, but now it is nature that needs to be protected from us.

To build a sustainable world for humans, we’ll first need sustainable beliefs and aspirations. We need the power of innocence; we need a new vision from those who haven’t yet been boiled in the stew of prevailing illusions and disconnections. Those who remain unshackled to accepted economic and societal assumptions are unlikely to need being told that:

• Prosperity is not just about money and stuff
• Our purpose here on earth is not to shop and consume
• Progress is not inherently defined by growth
• Productivity does not trump health
• The desires of present lives are not more important than the needs of future lives

That leads to the final rule.

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