Unity Commencement #3

Rule #3. Save your world

It’s actually a simple thing to define wealth and progress more maturely, more humanely, and with more sustainable ambitions. It just needs to happen in the hearts and lives of people like you and me, one at a time.

Almost forty years ago, I heard a speech by the great English economist E.F. Schumacher in which he said something that has been my mantra and beacon ever since. I’ll pass it on exactly as I wrote it down. “The most powerful and useful thing any individual or organization can do, is to create a visible model of the ideal world they envision.” His point was that it is often useless to struggle and fight against the big world problems. It’s typically frustrating, ineffective, and depressing. On the other hand, it’s much easier, much more positive, and much more rewarding, to work toward your ideal of how the world should be – by simply creating it where you are.

Schumacher was echoing the words of Gandhi’s: “Be the change you want to see in the world,” but he was also specifically talking about creating tangible evidence for others to see, allowing your visible model to inspire others in a potentially endless cycle of positive change. Schumacher’s take on the concept was to not only “be the change,” but also to be deliberate about ensuring that others see it and learn from it. Every good model of a better world, large or small, has the potential to become a movement. This simple idea is the definition of the term, “seeds of change” and it is something that any person, group, or community can do, right now.

Inspired by the Schumacher/Gandhi challenge, my wife, Christine, and I have spent our years together trying to build good, visible models of the world as we’d like it to be for everyone.

First, in our home life: we have tried to make this our number one priority and a place where love and patience are boundless. We have two amazing daughters and 39 years of marriage to show for it. In addition, we have only used the sun and wood to heat our home for the past 36 years.

Second, in our business, we have tried to make it a place where everyone has the opportunity to reach their full potential, and where responsibility, authority and money are fairly distributed. Our view of a healthy business is one in which everyone can apply Tedd’s Rules in their own way. We have 80 associates, many of whom have been with us for over 15, 20 and 25 years to show for it. Also, our facilities have been built primarily from recycled materials, and we use our wood waste as our heating fuel.

Thirdly, we have the houses we build. We believe homes greatly matter in the lives of people and communities. This Winston Churchill quote is carved into a beam you see as you enter our building: “We shape our buildings; thereafter, they shape us.” Our company mission statement therefore doesn’t mention buildings: it reads, “Through process and product, to improve the quality of lives.”

We now are trying, audaciously as usual, to shape the future of homebuilding. Our OPEN Prototype Initiative, in partnership with MIT, is an attempt to make a visible model of the sustainable American home. In our vision, this home will be capable of lasting 500 years, require zero energy for heat and power, and will be affordable. It may take many years for this vision to be fully realized, but once again, there is no plan B. I’m happy and proud to say that our most recent effort in creating that model is also a partnership with Unity College, and it will rise right across the campus in the next month or so. Our vision and yours are now destined to be entwined, for many centuries.

So, I guess this speech could have been much shorter: Tedd’s rules are:

Be happy, buck convention, save your world.

There is no doubt that the world is in distress and that these are difficult times, but I believe that we will not only endure, we’ll prevail. In the deepest part of us, there is an inner truth that fires a spirit capable of compassion, sacrifice, and an inherent longing for sustainability.

Somewhere within us, we know what all religious teachings have been trying to tell us for centuries: that this life is ephemeral and transient, and that success and failure, as popularly defined, are a lie. It is the mission of our team—as I like to think of you and myself—for each of us to find meaning with our hearts, and our minds, and our hands, and our souls. The work of our lives is simply to bring out all that is within us, and doing that will not only save us – it will save the world.

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