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obligation is poison  RSS feed

 
paul wheaton
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Location: missoula, montana (zone 4)
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On mount spokane, many years ago, I shared a road with one other family. It was written into the documentation for land ownership that the costs of maintaining the road should be divided 50/50. I talked to the neighbor and we struck a deal. I would buy a tractor, clear the snow, shape the road and keep it in good condition and he would buy some fresh gravel each year. I did my end. He never did his end. A few times a year I would try to check in with him about the gravel. This small thing turned into a poison for our relationship.

From his perspective, I suppose he thought I was some sort of dick. Each time I would call would be "harassment". He didn't want to see me and it got to the point that I really didn't want to see him.

I suspect that if there was ever a day that I was late in removing snow or a bit of a pothole problem, he would have justification for not holding up his end. But I was really good about doing my end.

I think that in the beginning, he had every intent to hold up his end. Then ... who knows. Maybe he just, simply, perpetually put it off. Anything else seemed more pleasant than buying and applying gravel.

- -

When trying to build anything, there needs to be a certain level of predictability. If you go to build a great thing and collaborate with five other people and one of the five ... um .... falls a bit short, then you have to fill in or one of the others has to fill in, in order to complete the "great thing." Of course, it has been my experience that the party that fell short still wants whatever they were going to get out of the arrangement.

What happens if three out of the five fall short. And some of those things that were to be done ... well, the whole reason you tried the bigger project is because it was a merging of three magic pieces that were hard to come by. And the people that did their part wanted the final product.

- -

When ernie and erica first started selling their plans, they set it up at a site that would, at the end of the month, say "paul sold 30, you now owe him $150". So I became a bill. An obligation. And it is my opinion that this was starting to poison our relationship. So I harassed E&E regularly until we got moved over to scubbly. And now I was no longer a bill - I was the guy that connected buyers to their plans and scubbly made sure all agreements were honored.

THIS is an example of working with nature. Working with human nature. My relationship with E&E gets more awesome with every passing month.

- -

For the last 20 months I took on the obligation of feeding gappers. I am not a cook, and I don't want to cook. But I had this theory that this would be the beginning of building community. To pay for food, cooking and cleaning ended up averaging about $6000 per month. For 20 months I did this. This was an enormous amount of money. I tried to find ways to reduce costs, which nearly always ended up in causing frustrations. My thinking was that this was "to prime the pump". In a few years, we would be growing a lot of the food and the property would have a collection of income streams that would pay for somebody to cook and somebody to clean. I confess that this has been far too stressful for me and I need to find a different solution to forward velocity.

The problem with this is that each gapper that eats the food then has an obligation to provide work. But the work they are tasked with might be outside of their comfort zone. They come to learn about natural building, but they might find themselves repairing the pickup that another gapper was less than kind to.

We have a big list of stuff and we collectively look at the list once a month. We talk about the projects. Some people take ownership and say that they will make sure it gets done (obligation).

I'm in the office working to pay for everything while everybody else is working to move the project forward. I know that some people have worked some really long hours and generated a lot of cool stuff. And some people have sorta phoned things in. I think some people get a few months down the road and start to think that this is a shitty job with shitty pay. Frankly, I agree with them. People that don't know how to fix things keep breaking things and the people that do know how to fix things get stuck trying to fix the broken things instead of working on cool stuff.

Then the person that is accomplishing a lot is working next to the person that is not accomplishing a lot and knowing that they both get "paid" the same. Resentments build.

When you come for a week, you don't really notice these things. But when you are here for months, this sort of thing starts to build in your head.

So we have a lot of artifacts that move a lot of things forward. These were built by the group to move the group forward. After all, I don't need four houses to live in - I can only live in one at a time. I don't need six showers - one is plenty for me.

When the work day starts at 9am, it is an obligation. When breakfast starts at 6:30, that is a type of obligation. If you come for a week, then it is no big deal. But as the months pass, it is too much. It's a job and the pay is too low.

At the same time, having people be here for years is of far greater value than having people here for just a week.

This system is turning out to be unsustainable. And I don't think I can keep bringing in this much money anymore.

- -

There was a gapper that needed a phone. We have pretty good cell service here. Plus, it would be good to be able to call/email/text for improved communication. So I struck a deal: I'll pay the $60 per month for the phone if he posts a picture a day to permies (I got him a phone with a really good camera). Since this guy was planning on being here "for life", I went ahead and agreed to the two year contract. This is gonna be awesome! People who are itching for pictures on permies will see more stuff! There is gobs of stuff that has not yet had a pic posted!

The result: One picture every few weeks. Often after a reminder from me.

Poison.

I think I became something of an ugliness in his life. I tried to limit my mentioning it because I knew how painful it was. And, at the same time, it was eating me up. After all, this is a thing I could clearly measure. All of the gapper responsibilities fell into a space that I could not (or did not) measure.

But there were so many people falling short on their obligations, commitments, etc. it was starting to become a bit overwhelming. Everybody needed me to be 100% all the time, but they also needed me to set my expectations of them to 0%. Over and over it kept happening. I finally got to the point where I just NEEDED more people to honor their commitments. To do the thing that they agreed to. For anything where there was a metric that could be measured, I needed those things to be honored.

I was poisoned. He was poisoned.

He left. I am paying the termination fee for the phone (hundreds of dollars).

In hindsight, there are lots of ways I could have handled this better. One way would be to say, in the beginning, if you don't meet the agreement for a month then you fork over $60. Of course, this becomes a hassle to measure. Thus indicating that it is a poor approach. Probably the best thing to do was to have this person solve their own phone needs and then come up with tasks where there could be some cash flow. Do the task get the cash. Let the task go, no problem - somebody else can do it. (although I am surprised that we didn't have more people posting pictures just for hoots)

- -

I was talking to somebody about making a DVD series. The deal didn't work out, but the thing that bothered me the most was that this other person wanted a royalty. I think that is a normal thing to want. And I'm sure all sorts of production companies want to go that route instead of money-up-front. (and let's skip past the fact that this guy wanted big money up front plus big royalties) But this would mean that for the funds that come in, you gotta make a report for that stuff and then calculate the royalty and send a check. I agree that is not a LOT of work, but it is some work. And sometimes I can get swamped. I am working to reduce my obligation load. So, for me, that was a deal breaker.

I like business deals that quickly come to an end and then we can all go on to make other business deals. Granted, there is still obligation, but it is possible to get to "done". As opposed to the concept of "there will always be more work to do."

- -

Time to own my shit: I failed in my obligation to Bart. We did the world domination gardening kickstarter in january 2014. The idea was that we would start a new kickstarter every three months or so, so the next one should have started around mid april. This would give bart lots and lots of work so he could focus full time on these projects. We hit some big fiascos in march and april. Followed by more in the summer. And then more. I didn't hold up my end of the deal. I have some very serious pain around this. I hope that, in time, I can make this up to Bart.

- -

I remember as a software engineer, people would want to pay me by the job. There would be an eight page contract detailing what the software would do and at what points there would be payment. But with most of these, the needs would change as development happened. Then there would need to be all sorts of negotiation about a new contract with the new features. And most of the time they would ask for freebies just to avoid all the paperwork. It just led to a lot of painful discussions. So I ended up passing on anything but hourly gigs.

I liked "extreme programming". Every two weeks the team would meet and bid for tasks: "I can do that task in six hours", "I can do it in five" etc. Then when your dance card for the next two weeks is full, you stop bidding. I would generally outbid everybody and then get "my" tasks done early, then help others. I felt like it was a system that encouraged fairness and it was clear who was awesome (me!). Others .... didn't like this. And that manifested as .... human stuff .... less-than-noble-stuff.

- -

There were lots of places I worked as a software engineer and sat next to people that just seemed to accomplish about nothing. I remember once place I worked where a manager came in every day for a week and asked me "what time did he come in?" and "what time did he leave?" Other people were asked too, but their answer was "I don't want to get in the middle of anything - I have to work with the guy." I answered. When the person who signs my checks answers a legit business question, I'm going to answer. The guy was putting in less than 20 hours a week. He showed up late every day and talked about getting his kids to school. Then he left early because it was his day to pick up the kids - or to squeeze in an errand before picking up the kids. In the meantime, this company was in quite a pickle (which is why they hired me). Lots of people were working late. This guy had an obligation to be there 40 hours a week.

I suspect that when they fired him, they paid him his full salary up through the date of being fired.

This sort of thing was really common in some offices.

Another thing is that there often seemed to be engineers that would show up for work but they just didn't really seem to get much done. They seemed to spend a lot of the day visiting with others or surfing the internet. But software engineering is something that can be hard to measure. A manager would have to be really observant to catch on to what is really going on. And when the manger comes to talk to you about pissing away the day, does that qualify as "poison"? What an icky conversation.

Along these lines, when my grandad died, I was pretty out of it for a year. Fortunately, I had put in a few months with this company already and saved their bacon a couple of times. Even more fortunately, I had kept extremely careful track of the hours I put in. After my grandad died, I might spend ten hours at the office, but I just wrote down "2". I think I started 300 in the positive. After a year I was 400 in the negative. I got it back to even before I left the company. I guess I'm lucky that a manager didn't press the point. My point here is that I totally get there can be off days - or even an off year.

- -

When we design community the permaculture way, it has to account for people being "human" (as opposed to being "noble"). I have learned a very expensive and painful lesson.

We could reflect on every last thing and talk about how people should have honored their obligations. But that is contrary to the point. This mental exercise is: how could the system have been designed so that the project moves forward at a higher velocity, lower expense and happier people. What does a system with less obligation look like?

My first thought is: I withdraw feeding everybody and I withdraw the 35 hour per week obligation. More focus on the ant village. Gappers can still come and hope to build experiences, and they will be given simple tasks for which they will be paid. They handle their own food - whether that is growing it, wildcrafting or buying. They do their own cooking in their own space.

 
paul wheaton
master steward
Posts: 22166
Location: missoula, montana (zone 4)
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I don't think there is ever going to be a perfect solution. But I do think there is a possibility of having something that is "better". Something that is more aligned with human nature.
 
John Wolfram
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Back during the cold war, there was the Mutual Assured Destruction (MAD) agreement between the US and the Soviets over the use nuclear weapons. Both sides acknowledged that if they were to use nuclear weapons, the other side would respond in turn and both sides would be utterly destoryed. MAD worked wonderfully because it recognized that both sides had the ability to dick over the other side, but the consequences of doing so would far outweigh any benefits of the party that broke the agreement.

In the road example, there was no mutual assured destruction. Paul's neighbor launched his ICBMs failed to buy gravel, but Paul continued to maintain the road and resentment grew. While some obligations may end up poisoning relationships, it seems to me that the chances are decreased when both sides know the consequences of failing to meet their obligations will have a serious impact on them personally.

Perhaps what I'm saying is that people are selfish, and that's fine as long as you plan accordingly.
 
paul wheaton
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Let's suppose a person is signed up to do four projects. Each might take a day or two, or maybe a week or two.

If a person starts the first project, but never finishes it, then they never get paid. If they have plenty of food, money and shelter, it is no problem. Somebody else is hired and the job is completed.

There is obligation, but the obligation has a built in "you don't have to if you don't want to." So the obligation is pretty tiny.
 
Curtis Budka
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I think it would be good to try to start fostering together somewhat of an intentional community type economy. What you are doing now sounds a little bit like unintentional communism too me. You provide mostly everything a person needs in exchange for work regardless of quantity or quality. Gappers also tend to have limited concept of ownership of stuff and much less do they own anything that is relevant to the work that is being done (a gapper might help build a wofati and be proud of it, but the wofati is still yours). In communistic countries, you are given a job, with which you pay for life's necessities. Regardless of the quantity or quality of work, you still get what you need and the government owns everything.

I'm not bashing what you are doing by calling it communistic and being political. I'm just connecting thoughts (communism and what you are doing are both unsustainable). I don't see anything wrong with you owning 'everything', but the gapper must own something for which he/she is responsible for. Something that no one else is involved in, gives them a reward as collateral, yet still works in favor of increasing the velocity of your mission. This thing could be as simple as one's own food supply grown/raised from the land or as complicated as the 'restaurant'-in-a-wofati idea you mentioned in another other thread you recently started. Maybe this can be a formula for work that a gapper will do....or something like that.
 
dan collins
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Paul your story made me laugh, again I realize I'm not alone. Living here in the Maritimes we have had a 100+cm the last week. The neighbor who I plow his driveway for the neighborly 'free' rate through blizzard or sunshine, complained it wasn't plowed as asthetic as he liked and wanted me to move a bunch of the piles to his liking.


 
Kyrt Ryder
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Location: Graham, Washington [Zone 7b, 47.041 Latitude] 41inches average annual rainfall, cool summer drought
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Curtis Budka wrote:I think it would be good to try to start fostering together somewhat of an intentional community type economy. What you are doing now sounds a little bit like unintentional communism too me. You provide mostly everything a person needs in exchange for work regardless of quantity or quality. Gappers also tend to have limited concept of ownership of stuff and much less do they own anything that is relevant to the work that is being done (a gapper might help build a wofati and be proud of it, but the wofati is still yours). In communistic countries, you are given a job, with which you pay for life's necessities. Regardless of the quantity or quality of work, you still get what you need and the government owns everything.

I'm not bashing what you are doing by calling it communistic and being political. I'm just connecting thoughts (communism and what you are doing are both unsustainable). I don't see anything wrong with you owning 'everything', but the gapper must own something for which he/she is responsible for. Something that no one else is involved in, gives them a reward as collateral, yet still works in favor of increasing the velocity of your mission. This thing could be as simple as one's own food supply grown/raised from the land or as complicated as the 'restaurant'-in-a-wofati idea you mentioned in another other thread you recently started. Maybe this can be a formula for work that a gapper will do....or something like that.


I like this format. A gapper's 100$ fee is their 'buy-in,' providing one month's stay. They have that month to get their shit together and start earning Wheatonbucks [the currency of Wheatonlabs] which can be used for all sorts of things beginning with bunk space [with an included one hot shower per week and possibly one load of laundry per week] and food and possibly extending all the way up to one of the land lease options available on the labs [or entry into the year's Ant Challenge if it's still available at the time and there is open space.]
 
Rufus Laggren
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Paul

Good thread - lots to relate to, to-the-point honest. Makes for confidence. Seems you and the community are going through growing pains, just like any new endeavor; there's lots to learn and some of it will be w/the help of pain. <g> Pretty normal, right? Your forthrightness and good effort, and facing up the problem directly looks like good practice to me. Obligations are found everywhere entwined in our life. Good moral hygiene just requires managing them like we do other parts of our humanity on this mortal coil.

I think we in the well-off U.S. don't grow up as soon as some other peoples. That can good and bad: Some of the good involves creativity and flexibility, some of the bad involves 30yr-olds that think it's OK to talk loosely and leave their trash around. So in some respects anybody here in a position of responsibility needs to be prepared to act in loco-parentis sometimes for those they deal with. I don't really see any way out of this except become a hermit.

Cheers

Rufus
 
John Saltveit
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THis is an interesting and useful thread about any cooperative enterprise. These are classic questions that we have to deal with. In my experience, it is way better to talk with people about misunderstandings, like you do, than to just ignore them. Then they become really strange and unpredictable. That is when huge conflicts happen.
John S
PDX OR
 
Eugene Rominger
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An not completely formed idea :

1st month $100+ X for 1 month of food...

at end of month the 'gapper wrangler' adds up the value of hours worked - the value of broken stuff or jobs done badly.

wangler issues wheaton meal coupons in that value

bonus coupons for hard workers ... redeemable for extra desert or lunch with Paul or feeding friends ....any candy you can think off and assign a value to.

in other words you earn next months ( or quarter) meals this month.


1.2 cents worth
 
paul wheaton
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I think that while there are many flavors of people, there are some factors which are a driving force. In this case, I think people are coming for a variety of reasons:

1) to build experiences and skills
2) to live somewhere that is "better" (by certain definitions of "better")
3) cash flow or a spot where they don't need to worry about cash flow
4) a sense of community that they long for

This is four things out of a list of maybe a thousand. And for each person, the "volume knob" on each thing is set to something slightly different.

I think that if a person showed up to an amish farm, they would be off grid and living a beautiful life, and they would be put to work 14 hours a day, experiencing the very things they wish to learn. And they would be elbow to elbow with the people that have mad skills in that space. They would be eating the food that they grew and living in the building that they built and heating with the wood that they chopped.

But we don't have that here. At 14 hours a day, that's 98 hours per week. I cannot insist on anything like that. And I don't think it would be a rare person that would show up and be okay with that.

I'm surprised I found this video clip. Spoiled city kid gets a billion dollars if .... and the important part is at about 6:30 .... more starting at about 7:50 ...



When I worked on a ranch when I was 11, I was taught that you don't use a whip - it leaves a mark. Of course there is a hollywood ending - he learns real values and he sincerely likes brian dennehey.

Trying to get things started, we fall short on a lot of bits and bobs. And after a few months, the novelty wears off and the reality sets in that there is years of work to be done. And there is a lack of females. And then add in the whole "breakfast with spiderman" factor. Then add in the poison that this thread is about. And the list goes on.

I think the whole "ant village" concept solves 90% of this.

I suppose that if I had a few million dollars, I could go about this a bit differently. I think the smart way would be to have a permaculture school, complete with three full time instructors and a list of maybe 20 guest instructors. Each student would start with their acre and at the end of three years they would be self-sustaining on their acre. Of course, for such a school there would be a fee.

As is, with the ant village stuff, the cost is a tiny spec, and instead of instructors there is a community.

- -

Back to "obligation is poison": I met my obligation to feed folks. The money. The river of tiny issues to resolve. It has fried me (poisoned me?). I need to regroup and find a better system. At the moment, ant village looks like the best solution. For ants and gappers.


 
Philip Jurkowich
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The crux of the issue is the assumption that the people you are interacting with will keep their word. The reality is most people will say whatever is expedient for the moment. Two things are clear, The current gapper setup is unsustainable for a myriad of reasons and any gapper program going forward should require little or no financial input from Paul. I also think that in addition to a buy in there should be a deposit for tool replacement that has to be replensihed if it is used up. If you break it you bought it.
 
paul wheaton
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The crux of the issue is the assumption that the people you are interacting with will keep their word.


Well, yeah.

At the same time, I think it is important to explore this topic. It could end up being even worse if they DID keep their word. If it is something that it turns out that they thought they wanted to do, but in the end, they really didn't.

I think the phone thing is an excellent example.

Good, decent people were on a good, decent path. And then came the phone deal. And then the goodness and decency were poisoned. On about the third day I would ask if they needed help with taking pictures and uploading. About a week later, check in. After a couple of weeks I'm getting pretty frustrated and I think they are getting pretty poisoned too.

I wish to emphasize: good, decent people willing to work hard. Poisoned. I need to wrap my head around these issues enough to prevent or reduce future poisonings.
 
Kyrt Ryder
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The problem with the tool deposit is that it depends funds upfront from people who may not have the cash to spare, but may be earnest people looking to learn and willing to work their way through it.

I rather like the potato gapper thing, where they only get access to hand tools until they either prove that they were responsible tool types who knew what they were doing, or got the opportunity to PEX1 with more advanced tools with the assistance of someone who does. [Obviously it's nice having more people who can use the more advanced tools to better delegate that work, but very few people actually know what to do with them and how to take care of them.]

Lastly on the phone thing Paul... did it never occur to you to buy a cheap prepaid phone for an 'image uploader' rather than an individual?
 
Kaiten Rivers
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Hi Paul,
I was wondering how things were going when I was there for the RMH event in September
What is still running through my mind is Tobey Hemmingways talk which included 'the commons" at PV2-Definitely a thought paradigm shift. I think it would be worth going over that, if you haven't already.


 
Craig Dobbson
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I'm one of the rare people perhaps that relies on obligation to keep me motivated. When I commit to doing something for another person I make damn sure it gets done better than it should be and faster than expected. I take it as a personal challenge and I find that I excel when I set almost unrealistic expectations for myself. They key component is that somebody I respect wants something from me and I want them to respect me for doing an AWESOME job at it.

The big hurdle I've always run into is that eventually this mutual respect breaks down and then feelings get hurt. I'm very upfront with people and I make it clear that as long as we are mutually respectful, things will work out well. As soon as I feel like I'm being disrespected... I'm out. In almost every instant I've been the most productive and reliable employee or contractor that the employer has had work for them and I don't ask for much. But as Paul mentioned above - There are bad days or weeks at times. I could be doing three times the work as any other employee consistently for years but then have a "rough week" where production gets a little bogged down. Mind you, the work is getting done but not at the same super fast rate that the boss has gotten used to. Then the boss comes over and gives me a ration of shit for dropping productivity. I feel obligated at this time to point out the fact that since being hired I've been the major driving factor in our increased output. It's at this time that the boss backs off and gives me some space or I walk off the job. I cannot work for a person that can't see past this week's payroll.

So yeah... poison. I don't let people make that same error twice either. When it comes to obligations, it all goes to shit when there is an uneven level of respect.


On the phone thing: Perhaps next time the issue comes up the deal goes like this.

You (gapper) take out a contract on the phone and assume the billing obligations in your name.
You use it for making wheaton labs awesomer by taking and uploading a picture every day, for which you will be credited fifty cents per picture off of the monthly bill. 120 pictures uploaded = a free phone.
To start the process off an investor (Paul) would put up the capital for you to obtain the phone if that is needed.

That gapper would basically have Paul paying their phone bill as long as they do the picture work. Fall short, and Paul only picks up some of the bill. Do nothing and AT&T is up their ass, not Paul's.
The only thing Paul would have to do is monitor the picture uploads and then fork over the funds for work accomplished.
Paul would avoid a contract and fees and the gapper's minimal obligation is now tied to their credit and work ethics.
If they fail, Paul is only out the investment for the phone (which any decent failed gapper would fork over or pay for as a gesture of good will).


 
paul wheaton
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Maybe what we need is to get "tiptheweb" to work with user accounts. If a user posts a great pic, five or six people might tip a buck. If a user posts a mediocre pic, five or six people might put in a nickel.

 
paul wheaton
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I am now thinking that the idea is to have tasks generally broken down in such a way that they don't last longer than a week. That way, any obligation is short term and then a person can take a few weeks off if they want. Then they might be ready for another.

Another thing is that a person could take on a task and bring a few friends to the party. The person that owns the task can work out with the friends what the payment might be, if any.


 
elle sagenev
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I found the road bit rather funny. We have a tractor and so does one of our neighbors. His tractor is bigger than ours. Small snowfalls were no problem and we plowed the road. Large snowfalls were a problem and he needed to plow it. Then we bought a snow blower. A snow blower is 10x nicer to a road than a tractor bucket. So the first time my husband used the snow blower the neighbor came out with his tractor and plowed after, rutting the road and pissing my husband off. I suppose I think it's funny that you couldn't get anyone to help and we are having the opposite problem in that we are all too helpful. It makes me wonder about all of the places you've stayed. I must say that I live on a 640 acre section, split into 40 acre parcels. All of us are pretty darn awesome (businesses along the highway aside). We help each other quite regularly and all get along. We have one neighbor with no tractor. We've lent him ours and he has assisted us by fostering some kittens. We're just all nice people. Perhaps it is where I live. I think Wyoming can be awfully friendly but maybe that's because I was born here.
 
elle sagenev
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I don't know if you're particularly religious Paul but a lot of this kind of reminds me of what Dave Ramsey says a lot. He quotes the Bible a fair bit but what sticks out to me is, "The Borrower is SLAVE to the Lender." Dave always talks about how loans and such are the perfect way to ruin relationships. That if you love someone you will not give them money unless you have 0 expectations of return. Basically, do only what you are able to gift.

SO I guess I think with the phone thing in particular, that you should not have done it unless you were willing to look at it as a gift. You saw what it did, it poisoned and killed the relationship. This sort of thing has been going on since mankind was made.

I suppose it seems bad to say that you need to lower your expectations. Mostly I see a lot of you being frustrated with the failings of others. I just think you need to lower your expectations. People are people. Give them what you can and don't give them what you will resent giving. In the end this all hurts you a lot more than it hurts them. So just lower your expectations and only give what you can afford to lose.
 
Kyrt Ryder
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Location: Graham, Washington [Zone 7b, 47.041 Latitude] 41inches average annual rainfall, cool summer drought
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elle sagenev wrote:SO I guess I think with the phone thing in particular, that you should not have done it unless you were willing to look at it as a gift. You saw what it did, it poisoned and killed the relationship. This sort of thing has been going on since mankind was made.

This is where cheap [20$ or so] prepaid phones come in really handy.
 
paul wheaton
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I suppose it seems bad to say that you need to lower your expectations. Mostly I see a lot of you being frustrated with the failings of others. I just think you need to lower your expectations. People are people.


I think the fault is mine. I thought I was "stacking functions" but instead I was poisoning a relationship.

I think the key is to design systems that minimize poison.

 
Matu Collins
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I've had many wwoofers come here, some knowledgeable and hard-working, some more distractable and inexperienced.

Without fail, across the board, I get better work from them when I work alongside them. Ask them to be their own supervisor and less work gets done, and the work done is of lower quality. I don't know any way around this yet.

With you working indoors on cash-generating projects, workers are left to their own supervision. At my place, this would not work. I'm able to get them started, go inside to do housekeeping and childcare, and then go back out for them to show me what they've accomplished. This is a lot of hand holding, but it's been my best bet. I have a much smaller property and more modest goals than Wheaton labs.

I wish I had a better answer!
 
paul wheaton
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I think a lot of people do want to work side-by-side with me. And I think the novelty of that wears off in a few days.

The reality is that I spend 96% of my time in the office and my mission is "how do I improve the forward velocity of these projects?" So I'm full of schemes and ideas and trying to figure out ways to get stuff to work. Then I share meals with everybody and we get the "breakfast with spiderman" effect.

 
Dan Boone
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paul wheaton wrote:
I think the key is to design systems that minimize poison.


It's a hard problem. You'd think that models for humans successfully living in community to advance a common purpose would be many and diverse, but historically speaking the ones that have survived have been pretty authoritarian (with ugly enforcement mechanisms) or united by strong external pressures.

The countercultural communitarian efforts of the 1970s met with such consistent and abject failure that there's not even much vocabulary left for talking about them that isn't polluted by connotations of mockery and derision. That's how hard it is.

If you can crack this tough nut, if you can use the principles of permaculture to build human systems that work, and if those human systems can be used to bring and keep humans together while they learn and practice and spread permaculture methods? That will be extremely awesome. It's worth trying a lot of failed experiments, for so long as you can weather the failures.

I don't have any great suggestions for making it happen. But I do hope you find a way. I guess this is me trying to be encouraging, about a discouraging problem.
 
Rebecca Norman
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A lot of the suggestions sound good, but would require additional record keeping, and then making judgements on what somebody's work was worth, or whether it came up to snuff (which then might require you to justify it, and then you're back to square one with the poison and all). And that's just more of the same kind of headache.

Paul wrote: "My first thought is: I withdraw feeding everybody and I withdraw the 35 hour per week obligation. More focus on the ant village. Gappers can still come and hope to build experiences, and they will be given simple tasks for which they will be paid. They handle their own food - whether that is growing it, wildcrafting or buying. They do their own cooking in their own space."

I think this is more doable, since it simply removes a lot of work and management from you. On the other hand, some possible problems... Will you then be legally employing them, with tax and other obligations? Also, it has the potential to attract loafers who have some money to live on, who come with grand ideas of learning and working but end up being lazy and hanging out and not working much. I don't know, maybe not, since the living facilities are bit rough. Another is, you've already had problems with beer bottles lying around, already in the first year. Having all the gappers cook for themselves, many of them probably young guys who haven't had to keep a kitchen in order, you might run into some further problems with slovenliness, even when you're not sharing a kitchen with them.

But it certainly sounds like it would lighten your headache. All this discussion makes it sound like you need to hire an HR department. Ack, lots of headaches! Managing workers is unappealing work at best, and then add to it that it's all unconventional and hoping to rely on obligation and good will and the desire to work. Ouch!

Here, we get lots of volunteers, and we just charge them all for room and board. We get enough enquiries that we can simply say no to almost all requests for a discount, and still get plenty of volunteers for 10 or 11 months of the year, and way too many sometimes. We're also strict on a minimum of 3 weeks. Just yesterday after I told someone "Please come instead some time in the future when you've got a solid three weeks," she replied "Nooooooooo, Please don't do this!! I have been waiting for this for a year. Trust me, it would be meaningful volunteering... PLEASEEEEEEEEE accommodate us. I have been literally dreaming of coming..." Yikes! It has taken years to build up this situation where so many volunteers to want to come. A fair bit is word of mouth, but also a fair number of volunteers seem to find us through google, I don't know really how.

For us, having all volunteers pay for their room and board means that we don't feel like we're looking over their shoulder to make sure that the requisite amount of work gets done.

I can see many reasons why charging for room and board might not work for you, but it has been working well for us.
 
Dale Hodgins
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Every project, no matter how big or small,  must have someone who wants to be the heavy. If you don't have a taste for cutting out dead wood, someone less attached to these people should be brought in occasionally.

The other day, when I arrived at my brother's demolition project,  the first thing I asked was "who are the smart ones? Who are the lazy ones and who are the dangerous ones? My brother Jeff pointed out one lazy one, four dum ones and a smart guy. There wasn't one drivers license amongst them. Safety and efficiency concerns make it imperative that I get the information upon arrival.

I've been brought in to clean house a few times. If a manager has a plan to get rid of a bad apple, I get him to save the task for me. Sometimes workers who have become very complacent, may not grasp that the guy they've known for five minutes, has their fate in his hands.  A quick clean up of the least useful ones, can work wonders with those who remain.

 I remember doing my first firing when I was about 13 years old. It was very empowering. My dad was a little soft on lazy, lying drunkards. I sent him packing while dad was gone to the lumber yard.

I'm not the guy for the lab, but if anyone needs to weed out a construction crew, I'm up for it. 
 
Rufus Laggren
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Paul

Dale has a very good point: You as the king s/b loved. Your honcho, executive assistant, majordomo whatever s/b the one people get real careful, quiet and respectful around. I believe this has been long recognized as basic good practice for responsible leaders.

Rufus
 
Sam Boisseau
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As an immigrant from the old continent, I've come to realize that Americans tend to be more approachable, friendly, but sometimes you shouldn't rely on their word too strongly.

When someone tells me about something they plan to do, I often have a BS alert that rings in my head. Often it's because I know that shit happens, there's a lot of friction in life where people don't end up doing what they plan to do.

So when I am myself expressing a plan to someone else, I usually use words like "if things go well" or "I'll try to", or "maybe", to express that I am not 100% sure. If I don't see any hurdles, I might not use "maybe" and then I make sure that whatever plan I committed to is prioritized. Sometimes shit still happens.

Now saying "maybe" isn't very popular. If someone invites me to a party, saying "I'll try to come" is a bit of a party pooping response. So most people I know just get excited about the party and say they will come. And then they don't because they got tired or distracted.

If I see someone around me not using the word "maybe" in at least some cases, then I will not take their word as seriously.

I think, regarding the phone story, that unless you've seen signs that that person is someone who will keep their word, it's a bit of a stretch that they will be doing that picture thing every day. Just so much can happen.

Also, you were missing a contingency plan. What if they don't meet their side of the bargain (which seems likely). Then you're out hundreds of dollars. Doesn't seem like a good plan after all. Has that person been good with their money previously (i.e. paying back their debts)? Probably not, otherwise they wouldn't be needing you to pay for their phone...

My 2c.
 
paul wheaton
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I added this thread to the "residual income streams" forum.

I think that the beauty of residual income streams is that you do the work because you feel like it. There is no obligation. And once the income is coming in, you have no obligation to keep doing it. Of course, the work is already all done, so it would actually be more work to stop the income.

For other people that are wired like me, the whole residual income stream thing is the best possible path to make a living.
 
Matu Collins
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Sam Boisseau wrote:As an immigrant from the old continent, I've come to realize that Americans tend to be more approachable, friendly, but sometimes you shouldn't rely on their word too strongly.

When someone tells me about something they plan to do, I often have a BS alert that rings in my head. Often it's because I know that shit happens, there's a lot of friction in life where people don't end up doing what they plan to do.

So when I am myself expressing a plan to someone else, I usually use words like "if things go well" or "I'll try to", or "maybe", to express that I am not 100% sure. If I don't see any hurdles, I might not use "maybe" and then I make sure that whatever plan I committed to is prioritized. Sometimes shit still happens.

Now saying "maybe" isn't very popular. If someone invites me to a party, saying "I'll try to come" is a bit of a party pooping response. So most people I know just get excited about the party and say they will come. And then they don't because they got tired or distracted.

If I see someone around me not using the word "maybe" in at least some cases, then I will not take their word as seriously.

I think, regarding the phone story, that unless you've seen signs that that person is someone who will keep their word, it's a bit of a stretch that they will be doing that picture thing every day. Just so much can happen.

Also, you were missing a contingency plan. What if they don't meet their side of the bargain (which seems likely). Then you're out hundreds of dollars. Doesn't seem like a good plan after all. Has that person been good with their money previously (i.e. paying back their debts)? Probably not, otherwise they wouldn't be needing you to pay for their phone...

My 2c.


This concept is built into the worldview of the Muslims I know, they always know to say "insh'allah" (Good willing) and the colloquial old timer American way is "Lord willin' and the creek don't rise"
 
Andrew Rodriguez
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As someone who has Wwoofed on several locations I find that a lot of the poison that seeps into the relationships between me and the farm owners has to do with lack of courtesy, respect and open-mindedness.
On the courtesy issue, Ive had had people literally EXPLODE into a fury on me because something wasn't done to their liking. They react immediately on their anger instead of taking the moment to calmly tell me to correct this or that. While I know it is only human to be emotional, a lot of my resentment stems from how I was told to do something.
Also, when staying on other people's land, it is hard to permanently deal with the fact that you own nothing. The owner of the property can literally tell me, no you can't do that project, no you can't dry your clean laundry and I put it on the muddy floor of your room because I have to do mine or something similar. The lack of ownership, apparent to both parties, leads to situations where we inconvenience each other without communication involved. As someone who is living in someone's home, I feel like I have no room to request something out of the owner because I feel like I am owed nothing. After all, it is their house.
Knowledge and experience as a Woofer/employee/intern is a blessing and a curse, because you come in knowing lots of things but at the same time I have found most people are stuck in their ways and anything you suggest to them that might optimize their system is taken as defiance. Example: I had been scolded by the owner of a homestead because the 40 free ranging hens had empty feeders early in the morning. I told her that the hens wake up energized and hungry, a perfect change for them to scratch and forage for worms in the wet climate for a few hours. There was no need to top off the feeders constantly, as the best time to feed them was later in the day when they were getting lethargic. She was spending about 200 dollars a month or more on laying pellets and I wanted to reduce her feed bill by rationing a little bit since she has 13 acres of pasture. She promptly told me that if I do not have full feeders available constantly, some hens will not eat and egg production would drop. I have raised chickens for about a decade, but I still felt like I could not argue my point further because these were her birds, but doing things that are expensive and don't make sense just sits wrong with me. Joel Salatin says that it is on obnoxious to give unwarranted advice, but the downside for someone who feels like they know what they are talking about is that their knowledge and experience is useless and stifled.
Not sure if any of this is relevant, but a lot of folks are commenting from an owner perspective and I just want to throw an "employee" perspective out there. A lot of people arrive at a farm with expectations based on very brief first impressions and the nuances tear them down.
 
Roberto pokachinni
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I want to thank Andrew for posting the above perspective of the willing worker, especially one who has considerable knowledge and experience to offer his host farmers.

When I read the following quote, I was struck by memories of a few experiences of my own, when I wwoofed at two separate places in 2005.

Knowledge and experience as a Woofer/employee/intern is a blessing and a curse, because you come in knowing lots of things but at the same time I have found most people are stuck in their ways and anything you suggest to them that might optimize their system is taken as defiance.


After having several of my quite educated and experienced opinions squashed by aggressive, defensive, needlessly confrontational attitude, I had to sit and ponder whether I should just suck it up and do the work that I did not agree with, argue about it, or go my own way.

The arrogance of certain farmers excludes them from gaining valuable knowledge or perspective. That said, I will qualify, and verify that the following quote from Andrew bears pondering deeply:
I still felt like I could not argue my point further because these were her birds


The bottom line is that it is the farmer's farm, and it has to ultimately be the farmer who makes the decisions. The wwoofer must accept that it is not the obligation of the farmer to change his/her methods on the suggestion of his workers. That said, it should be the obligation of the farmer to consider the suggestions of the worker(s), and be considerate of both the feelings that any given worker is experiencing, and the position/perspectives that are inherent in the given worker; in this case: that of owning nothing in the project that the worker is volunteering to help at, and having knowledge and experience that should be valued as a potential great contribution to the progress of the farm.

As Andrew writes:
the downside for someone who feels like they know what they are talking about is that their knowledge and experience is useless and stifled.

I would add that the feeling that is deep within the psyche of someone who is accomplished but is not given credit, or acknowledgement as such is "under valued". This lack of value that the person is feeling is a scar on the psyche which can only really be healed if the person who could give credit for, or acknowledge the insight of, the wisdom provided, shows value and appreciation. It follows then, that a considerate discussion will follow that could very well change the nature of both the farm and the farmer.

It might be hard to wrap the thought processes around, but as a human, we are, I think, inherently not at all wanting to be told that we are doing things wrong, whether we are the incoming worker, or the host farmer.

People-even open minded super intelligent people-have trouble with the concept of change; this is especially true when we have developed a system and it works to a point and we have pride attached to it. Pride is a shining blade that blinds our vision that we should be striving to further improve. It blinds us to alternatives. It almost always puts us "One-Up" on someone, even if we do not see it, or can't admit it. Pride can be more poisonous than obligation. And as a blade, it can do a lot of damage, not only to those who are not "seeing the light" that sourced the pride, but actually-and perhaps most importantly-to the personal growth of the prideful person. While all pride is not so destructive as this, when pride and ego are blended (which is it's predominant form), then it's a slippery slope to a petty dictatorship.

Also, many people do not have an understanding of the principal that we all are students, no matter how old or experienced... Zen Mind/Beginner Mind. Many wwoofing hosts simply want help on their farms, and do not even teach any real valuable skills. It is up to the workers, in searching out farms, to communicate what they are hoping to get out of the experience, and to try to get a grasp of what the farmer is hoping to gain from having them come to the farm. It is up to the farmer to communicate clearly what he/she can provide, and what he/she hopes to expect from the worker during their stay.

A grasp of what it actually takes to be a leader, as well as what it really means to be both mindful and respectful, are traits that are often sorely, and sadly, lacking in host farmers. While it should be accepted that they are inherently and undoubtedly human, and thus come with flaws and quirks, it should in a slightly more ideal world, be accepted as a reality that the hosts will have a preconceived notion of and obligation toward channeling the energy of their volunteers in a way that engenders positivity and inclusivity in the collective pride of the accomplished tasks.

Further, as a farmer now, and having had my first blessed wwoofer come to my land, I can honestly say that if we can not wrap our brain around the great benefit it is to have a brand new and highly unique combination of neurons firing on our projects (not to mention the youthful inspiring energy), then it is the farmer that is truly at the losing end of things when the worker leaves in frustration.

As a travelling wwoofer, I did find some amazing hosts and great minds who truly were open, and these were there to thankfully give me perspective. After beating my head against the wall of the closed mind of several dictator farmers, I decided the best course of action was often to walk away. If there was something that I thought that I could gain knowledge from, and I thought that it was worth sucking up the bad that was happening in another aspect of the farm, then I would stay for a while to learn what it was that was intriguing me. When it came to the dictators, I almost exclusively found that these types of people are not worth my energy to argue with, after an initial skirmish that tells the tale.
 
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