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Cultural Choices Come Full Circle … It Seems

“That’s why we went to grad school so long, ”Ms. Coyne said. “to avoid employment. And then we slid from grad school into these alternative jobs in informal spaces. And we graduated from those to living by our wits.”

“Living by our wits?”

I call it something different, perhaps you do too. But whatever you call it, it is a philosophy rooted in time and place … and in our history; self sustainability, that is. Some might call it freedom; some might call it our inalienable right.

Ms. Coyne and her husband, Mr. Knutzen, have co-authored a newly released book, “Making It: Radical Home Ec for a Post-Consumer World,” a how-to manual complete with recipes and tips where you too can save the earth without self-deprivation.

In this manual, they give detailed instructions on how they construct their form of do-it-yourself sustainable living like; making your own dog food, your own washable sanitary napkins from flannel shirts, olive oil lamps, dental twigs, and dry toilets. And this so-called “revolution” can be achieved, joyfully and happily.

And late in the New York Times article, Ms. Coyne admits she frequently references home economic manuals from the 1880’s through 1920’s to obtain knowledge on home remedies from homemade cleaning products to medicinal herbs found in her Los Angeles urban garden.

Sarah A. Leavitt, a curator at the National Building Museum and the domestic advice author says, “Every generation would say, ‘These people don’t have the connection to the past that our grandmothers had,’ ” Ms. Leavitt said. “But people have been saying that since the 1840s.”

Over the centuries, she said, “The counsel is often the same: homemakers should embrace simplicity, thrift, cleanliness, independence. But the rationale changes with the mood of the times. In the mid-1800s,” Ms. Leavitt said, “good housekeeping was a Christian virtue; a few decades later, it was sanitary and scientific. During the immigrant boom of the early 20th century, the well-made home was a testament to nativist fervor.”

But this “lifestyle” isn’t just about domestic arts; it’s about something much greater. It’s about purpose and mission and motivation. How that manifests itself; our behaviors and our methods, is merely the packaging.

Speaking of thrift, another generation comes to mind. A generation that survived horrendous hardships we now call The Great Depression, the Dust Bowl, famines, wars, meteorological events that changed the way they and their families lived. Events that will forever be etched in our minds thanks to timeless works like, “The Grapes of Wrath.”

Some have called these individuals, “The Greatest Generation.” Tom Brokaw contemplated this generation and wrote a book to immortalize them. In it he illustrates the hardships they suffered both in war and economics; he details their instilled values with which they raised their families and built their businesses, their courage, their innate integrity and the values that infused their lives. "They never whined or whimpered," Brokaw notes.

This generation also believed in sustainable living. They didn’t have a choice. Sustainability equaled survival. And I seriously doubt their quest for survival was directed at the globe.

Many, I believe, in this generation worked tirelessly toward the survival and betterment of their family and their community. But part of that belief system was that of caretaker. Conservation was survival, conservation was moral, conservation was stewardship, and that included their families, their relationships, their communities, and the world in which they lived.

The difference, I think, between this generation and that one can simply be contrasted in their outlook on life and the motivations that drove them and us.

It seems that in previous generations; faith, family and morality played more significant roles. Today, we truly live in a throw away world where families and occupations and neighborhoods and communities and friendships are interchangeable. Ideas and beliefs upon which we build our lives are reliant upon a social pendulum that swings to and fro at the whisper of changing political and social winds. Our goal mayhap is to just keep up with that pendulum; to look as if we’re relevant and current in our beliefs and lifestyles.

We must ask ourselves; are we looking inward … or outward? Are we trying to save the planet to avoid employment … or do our values run deeper than our heartiness?

Stewardship. It’s an old fashioned word and an old fashioned ideal. But an ideal that at its heart embraces wisdom; that learned and that acquired. May be have stewardship over that in which we are entrusted.

May we build upon the knowledge of our past instead of recreating what has already been discovered. May we look at the world from the inside out, instead of from the outside in. And may we gift our children with the knowledge and lessons of the past so that they can build a bright future for those who are yet to come.

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