In this month's blog, I’ll be examining recent global events, and local truths, and boiling down a topic I’ve written about many times before. Liberty - freedom plus virtue. Not the freedom to do what you like, the freedom to do what is good.
The big philosophical question since Aristotle has been “what is good?” And there are a lot of differing opinions about the answer these days. But I’m here to find common ground, and discuss how we can best know what is good, and that starts with the perspective and feedback of others, because none of us can be good alone on an island.
Well maybe we could be good alone on an island, but that would be because there are no other people there - tempting us, or making us jealous, or stealing our food or our mate…but I digress, and I hope you’ll read on.
As I sit down to begin this month's blog, we have just celebrated Independence Day in America, or the Fourth of July as some prefer to call it. We have more liberty now in America then we have had in some time I suppose, with no masking (yet) in most places, fewer vaccine mandates for international travel and local entertainment, and the lockdowns of 2020 are becoming a more distant terrible memory. But inflation is eating away at our savings, and our lifestyles, and the world seems to be going the other direction.
Farmers in the Netherlands have initiated widespread protests in recent days, primarily against nitrogen emission limitations placed upon them - because the Netherlands has not yet reached its EU climate goals. Because of this, new home permits are being denied to residents of the cities and towns, housing costs are going up, and so the government plans to severely restrict the number of farms in production, and the number of cattle and other farm animals allowed in the nation.
Here’s a little tip for the leaders of the EU, and the Netherlands: Your regional prosperity and security is in grave threat and your economy is a smouldering dumpster fire; energy costs are outlandish and strangling your crucial manufacturing economies, and the biggest thing you need to worry about is feeding your people! - and keeping them warm! Climate goals and affordable housing can rank lower, though I would recommend you issue building permits as fast as you can so that people can also find a warm place to live!
I’m sorry to get so excited about it, but I’m a farmer’s kid and with more than 8 billion people in the world I don’t think we need to be doing things to limit food production! Unless we’re trying to limit global population, and then let’s have a conversation about it instead of being sneaky. I’d rather sterilize a bunch of people than see them starve to death.
Not only that, but I am 1/8 Dutch! My great grandmother, Helen (Somsen) Bear, was born of Dutch parents, who became farmers when they immigrated to North Dakota. She married a man of less-known descent, but carrying an Old English surname. And so I am a Bear, and taller than I would otherwise be. She was quite a woman, to hear stories of her - I remember her only a little because she died when I was five. She had 46 grandchildren, and my father was one of them. And her words of wisdom and character inspired him more than anyone else, and so he started his farm and grew it and prospered, and my family has lived the American dream.
The farmers in the Netherlands are individual examples of an all too widespread phenomenon in our world. The state has severely restricted their rights to earn a living in such a manner as they see fit, and they are protesting it. Same for the truckers in Canada, and the citizens of Sri Lanka. And there are dozens and dozens more examples around the world - most of which you have never heard about because our media doesn’t really want you to know.
I am not an anarchist, I believe in having a state, and having that state exercise power over individual bad actors in our society. That is why I like the term liberty so much, it is not unadulterated freedom to do whatever we like, but instead we must have an undergirding of virtue. The freedom to do what is good, and an understanding of the consequences if we do not.
Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn has a quote that I’ve always loved. “The line separating good and evil passes not through states, nor between classes, nor between political parties either -- but right through every human heart -- and through all human hearts. This line shifts. Inside us, it oscillates with the years. And even within hearts overwhelmed by evil, one small bridgehead of good is retained”
It is challenging to know what is good, and to be good and stay good I would argue that one needs community. Many, especially those outside the church, see the church as a place of control, of restriction on my right to do as I please. Those of us who are part of a good church however, know that we voluntarily enter into community to help us reinforce within ourselves what is good. We are not trapped, nor captured by dogma, and ultimately our decisions are our own - likewise the consequences!
Similarly, many people are called to become a part of a Rotary club, or a dad‘s group, or perhaps even a LoCo Think Tank chapter! All are places where one can find community; those who are willing to tell you straight when you’ve been acting poorly, or lift you up when you’re sad, or celebrate with you when things go well, or grieve with you when they don’t. If you’re like me, with many rough edges still to polish, perhaps you’ll choose to be in more than one such place!
I’ve shared a short story recently a couple times, that I’ve probably shared in this forum before - but it’s a good one to illustrate my point. Back in June of 2015, I was in my second year of my mobile food business - Bear’s Backyard Grill - and I was working my tail off! We’d grown a lot, and had a lot of demand for attendance at events, and regular catering engagements as well. I was often working 7 days a week (in the summer), and managing a rag-tag group of college students and moonlighting food fans, and squeezing only a little bit of profit out of the bottom line.
My question to my LoCo chapter was simple: “Should I add a second licensed food trailer to my business?” For context, I had acquired another trailer along the way that needed work, but would allow me to operate sidewalk sales through the winter, and increase revenues next summer. I needed to grow the machine if it was ever going to make any money - basically. I went through my whole Focus Member presentation, reviewing my financial performance for the previous year and year-to-date, segmented my events by type and success ratio, and identified the scope of the opportunity if we added this unit.
Once my question was on the table, step 2 is clarifying questions from my fellow members. “Curt, you’re a creative guy, and you’ve created a great brand and menu and community, but now that you’ve built all of these things don’t you mostly just make the same food over and over again?” Ouch. The next was also insightful, “Curt, you’re a social guy, but don’t you mostly work when your friends have time off, and have time off when your friends are working these days? How does that make you feel?” I don’t want to talk about it! And finally, “Curt you’ve always been involved with non profit causes like the Mathews house and Habitat for Humanity, don’t you feel an absence in not having any time or money to be involved with these causes?...and do you think that would change if you had three food trailers in a restaurant someday?”
Each of the biggest questions included an observation, because these members had been with me through all the ups and downs of my business so far. In some ways they knew me better than I knew myself. I was operating under the premise of “How can I not fail at this business?”, when the question I might have been asking was “What business should I succeed at?”
Step 3 in the LoCollaborative Process is Suggested Solutions, and there were two big ones. “Bear, you should park that friggin’ food trailer in your backyard and go get a job!” followed quickly by “I agree, and you should get a job that lets you work more on LoCo Think Tank! It’s more scalable, more useful to the world, and WAY more you! You’re not a manager, you’re a creator, and even if you become successful on the path you’re on - you’ll probably find yourself miserable!”
Step 4 is Commit to Action. I hired a coach, and we examined together whether I could scale LoCo Think Tank fast enough to provide for a decent living - I was scared and decided it was too risky - and we examined what kind of job I should get. That path led me to Thrivent Financial, which provided me with training and income and health insurance for a couple of years - (not too much income, in part because my members knew I wasn’t going to be a long-termer in that industry - even if I didn’t know it myself. LoCo Think Tank grew on the side for another two+ years before I eventually went full time on it in February of 2018.
It hasn’t been easy, but it’s been a very creative and social endeavor, and it’s helped to build me a platform from which I can continue to advocate for good causes and connect to others and serve the community. I’ve served as an Ambassador for The Matthews House for over 5 years now, and I’m pleased to report that beginning this fall, I’ll also be serving as an Ambassador for Realities for Children! They’ve got a big event coming up in a few weeks, the 21st Annual Realities Ride & Rally - World’s Largest Poker Run! - on August 26-27. There’s still time to register!
The family, and the village, used to provide this kind of clarity and support system, but so many people have moved away from their families in today’s age, and into suburbs and cities, that they find themselves surrounded by people and yet lonely! Social media provides a way for us to stay connected, but the connection is only skin deep, or pixel deep I suppose, and it’s not really a place to build relationships.
Back in the fall of 2019, I wrote a blog titled The Unstable Balance between Contentment and Striving, in which I posited that this balance might be achieved with gratitude. Contentment might look like laziness, or poverty from some angles, while striving conjures up images of treadmills and hamster wheels. However, when we are grateful, we may find contentment. And, when we are grateful, we may strive even more to share our gifts with the world, and provide jobs and love and encouragement to those around us. I see this topic as similar.
When the state removes our liberties, we suffer - we must have the freedom to pursue our ideas and our occupations or we shall suffer under a yoke of oppression as much of humanity has done throughout the ages. And yet, we can not be our best selves with only our own strength - we see ourselves more clearly through the eyes of others. Isolation brings anxiety, and sometimes worse, and it’s difficult to make decisions about what is good using only our own perspective.
And so that’s my call to action, whether you are building a business, or raising a family, or just trying to be a good employee and find your way in your early career… find your people! Find those who have much in common with you, and find those who do not. Encourage a dialogue and build relationship to help you understand yourself - and the world around you. Try to understand the needs and the concerns of the people around you, and when you see a need that you can fulfill, stretch yourself and fill it once in a while. If we all - under our own self-power, but with perspective and accountability and encouragement from those around us - try to become our best selves, our neighborhoods, towns, cities and nation will become a better place. We don’t need more laws and rules, we need more people seeking the good, and helping each other find it and define it.