Most of us would agree that our culture, even our civilization, is at a crossroads.  Do we continue with the
“success” of past approaches? After all, most people had jobs, housing and foodThat’s still true, though the amount of people in the “most” pool is significantly smaller than it once was. I think, though I’m not an economist,” that if we look at how we got here, we looked at our “success” through “comfort colored,” glasses. After all, haven’t we been putting off the true costs of using fossil fuels, our food choices, or other activities?

We have only been looking at the cost as an end product, much like a teenager does when they dream about that new car.  Getting that car seems so exciting because it means freedom, and adulthood, and ultimately respect.  But once those teenagers get their car and they face the cost of car payments, insurance, gasoline, maintenance and repairs, all of sudden that car is not appealing. That “freedom,” came with ties that weren’t there before the car was.

The same is true with our past “success.”  We are now hearing people say we don’t need “green energy,” if we can use “local resources” for oil.  That belies the fact that burning fossil fuels has an effect on the atmosphere around our children, and us all. It affects the quality of our water and food, which cannot be protected universally and keep it affordable. It affects the climate as we see growing season shifts, species become endangered and lush grasslands become deserts as their snow/rain fall disappears. These are the “car payments, maintenance and repair,” of our world’s environment and our fossil fuel use.

But if we take this a more local level, and look at the economy, have our past choices been in the best interest of our local economy.  In our attempt to get the cheapest goods possible, we have imported goods from overseas, resulting in the closing of neighboring manufacturing areas. My looking for the least expensive way to do something, we have found issues of quality, long term health and availability. By saying “I have a right to do ____________.  It’s my constitutional right,” haven’t we forgotten that the Constitution and the Bill of Rights were written with the greater good in mind, not simply the personal good?

Our culture prospered because there was an innate balance between an individual’s best interest and their affect on their community.  If we look to the midwestern tradition of neighborliness, it is due, in part, because there was a recognized need to rely on each other.  If a prairie fire were to start, everyone would come running to help. If not, people noticed, and if that absent person were in the way of a prairie fire, their neighbors might not assist in the fire that threatened that home. It was a law. It was an intrinsic understanding.

The same thing goes in other parts of the nation, though not always as easily illustrated. But we have lost that spirit of community in our search for personal collections and power. The way we get this culture back, and rebuild our civilization, is to really consider how our actions affect other people. It is natural to look out for ourselves, but if we a truly going to be successful we need to look at how we can prosper with our neighbors, instead of at their expense.

At NCSC we face this struggle all time time. With a couple of retail outlets, an art gallery, and recreation activities how do we balance the educational, manufacturing and business aspects of our work?  The only we can do it is to understand that we truly are a balanced table, and if one area falls apart, it will all fall apart.

This is a constant struggle, and is the reason we have a board of directors and an executive director. Some of us have to relearn that consideration of others. In fact, some people were never taught that they have a responsibility to assist others. That is a tall order to fill, but I believe that it is in our best nature, and if we reward it, it will grow.

NCSC will succeed by individuals and groups cooperating with each other. 4H, dog clubs, contradancers, even parents of disabled kids may benefit from a large open space with a roof over it, though in very different ways.  Storytellers, public speakers, musicians and politicians all have interest in a speaking platform, though for very different uses.  If they don’t cooperate, they would wind up competing. But by cooperating and being considerate, they each get to benefit and prosper in their goals. That is the basis of North Country Sustainability Center’s existence – shared facilities for divergent interests. Our core mission is to make things more sustainable, but exactly how depends upon each groups’ own interest.

So, how do we, both NCSC and the culture, make this work? By looking out for each other, as well as ourselves.  Without that, nothing will get better. It’s not rocket science, nor high tech. It’s just traditional, and taught in pre-school and kindergarten.  As John McCutcheon said in his song “Kindergarten Wall,”

“Don’t hurt each other and clean up your mess
Take a nap everyday, wash before you eat
Hold hands, stick together, look before you cross the street
And remember the seed in the little paper cup:
First the root goes down and then the plant grows up!”   (Kindergarten Wall)

That worked when we were little. It can work when we’re “grown up.” That’s
the simple, and difficult, way to “make this work.”