I will always remember the time my son looked up from something I had made from scratch and said, "You should use scratch more often. It tastes so good." Heart stopping. Could I blissfully stay in that moment and never explain that scratch was not an ingredient, but a process? Making things from scratch, when appreciated with the voracious appetite of the hungry, gives back to the giver tenfold. But then the demands of our hurried, processed, checklist of a life take over again and we forget that making things is the gel that keeps us all connected. Or at least I do.
In this season of light, I am writing to you not about another visionary but about an idea I've been playing with:
Could making things from scratch be the pragmatic, linear approach to a successful life rather than dewy-eyed "Etsy" idealism? Is gifting what comes naturally or effortlessly to you what matters most? Is then giving it to those in your immediate place what society needs more than ever today?
If you have a voice and position to speak about women's rights, or the scientific abilities to get behind climate change or CRISPr technology, or you know how to measure better than most when we look for cost effective ways to fund new transportation or schools, or you're the one who sees opportunities earlier and more easily than others that give people around you work - is it not your responsibility to share your gift? Or maybe you make spaces beautiful, or are a storyteller, or know how to build things like tree-forts and community? Is that not what you should be doing? Most of the visionaries I have interviewed do what they do because they love it and were naturally drawn to it.
Last month my family went up to Montreal to our Canadian homeland and some of our oldest friends fed and surrounded us. Alicia Johnson, a wise and talented artist, raised her glass to share a quote that environmentalist David Orr had written in the 90s but has recently gone viral as those words of the Dalai Lama. Regardless of authorship, the quote resonates in these times of superpowers and extreme socio-economics and 24-hour pundit fear mongering.
"The plain fact is that the planet does not need more successful people. But it does desperately need more peacemakers, healers, restorers, storytellers, and lovers of every kind. It needs people who live well in their places. It needs people of moral courage willing to join the fight to make the world habitable and humane. And these qualities have little to do with success as we have defined it."
I have been thinking long and hard this year about what defines success, about the act of gifting and how it can live alongside earning. Which one comes first? As often with those things we bear, we notice acutely when we hear a similar clang. And lately, I have noticed many people wondering what success looks like and how their contributions matter.
As part of this exploration, I have taken to looking around for those people doing things for us that make us healthy or vibrant as a society, and often the effort is from scratch. Part of the game is to disregard their pocket book, or lack thereof. Look at their act. Notice those around you who are giving you their time and talent and who are sharing something that comes easily and joyfully to them. It need not be grandiose, but it should be something that sustains how you and I move in the world. Perhaps they cook for you? Perhaps they coach your child in weekend sports? Perhaps they help with the laborious and the mundane? Perhaps they spend an immense amount of time wrapping you a gift that itself is a work of art or champion a cause in which they believe in ardently for society?
To make something from scratch is to witness it compound and be a contagion for more of the same. I wish I could encourage society to laud those around us who make things as much as we reward those most sought after by every development team today. In other periods of history, great societies celebrated the makers and thinkers as well as the donors. How can we merge the two today? Think of what they might create together of value that lasts for the next generation.
These interviews come easily to me and as a writer, I felt like there was a moment in time that needed to be captured. And I have come to realize in a time when content is free, these interviews are my gift. For they too have been made from scratch. Your time reading them has encouraged us to make more. Many who edit, tweet, and photograph the subjects are not, trust me, doing it for the paltry pay. They too are gifting us all something they do easily and well. I get it that we must earn to live but gifting doesn't need to disappear as a result. And so these interviews are yours to read and enjoy over time and they are here to be shared. My secret hope is that in doing so you may be encouraged or lulled into gifting all of us what comes easily to you. In many ways, I'm beginning to think it's the thing we all need most today. Thank you for another great year of reading and passing them on.
Happy Season of Light,