Skills, Skills and More Skills
Rachel Falco, in her blog “How to Provide,” gives a list of 8 categories of things to be considered by those who are making plans to be homesteaders. Taken directly from her web site, the categories are:
Health & Wellness
Special Skill Sets
I think those are all valid and important. That said, there are a few changes and additions I would make. First, I submit these are good questions to be answered by anyone who desires to be more self reliant. While I’m a big proponent of homesteading, I recognize it’s not for everyone, urban or otherwise. You can be relatively independent and self-reliant/self-sufficient without embracing either prepping or homesteading. Whether your version of self-reliance involves a bug out bag or raising your own food or not, all the categories in the above list are important things to consider. You have to have food, shelter and the like.
When it comes to special skill sets, I would modify them by adding “specific to your situation.” After all, if you’re not at all interested in, or at all convinced you might one day need to, raise your own food, there’s not much incentive to learn skills related to growing a garden or raising livestock.
In addition to the categories listed on the How to Provide site, I would add the following:
I want to talk about each one of these, briefly.
Self-reliance and self-sufficiency are somewhat misleading terms. That is, they suggest one can exist completely independently of anyone else. In some cases that might, possibly, be true. In the right environment and climate, it is theoretically possible to exist without the contributions of others. In practical terms for most of us, such a thing is pretty unlikely, at best. As your clothes wear out, how will you obtain new ones? Shoes? Jeans? What about medical care if you break your leg? Food you cannot or do not grow yourself? All of those things illustrate the need for social interaction, before we even consider the fact that most of us probably wouldn’t do well with week after month after year of complete isolation. The reality is, we need other people. None of us can do everything. To me, one of the biggest and most common failings of many in the prepping and homesteading communities is the tendency to either ignore the importance of social contact, or to seek to establish communities consisting almost entirely of people who share the same views (a sort of “preaching to the choir,” if you will”). Certainly, there is nothing wrong with exercising our right to freedom of association. In fact, I tend to encourage it. That said, I am firmly convinced that one task of those who favor freedom, independence of thought and action, and self-reliance, is to let others see such things as not only possible, but also desirable. I’m not sure how to go about such a thing in total or relative isolation. Rather, one of the tasks of those who wish to be free, and see their fellow citizens be free, is to make freedom attractive to those who don’t already see it that way.
When I lived in the Tennessee Appalachians, I lived on a farm. Before we moved, we were well into the planning stages of how to be completely off the grid. Within a few miles of where we lived, there were people who really were off the grid (not a term we used back then). They lived much as their great-great grandparents had lived. If we accept one definition of generation, 25 years, that means the young adults living “back in the hills,” were living the same way people had lived in those mountains around the beginning of the 20th century. In some cases, that was the case. This was the US in the mid 1970s, and yet I met people who had never lived in a house with running water or electricity, their families had never owned a car, and the largest town they had ever visited had a population of perhaps 900 people. They came from a long line of very self-sufficient people. They grew and raised their own food (and in some cases made their own liquor), built their own houses, dug their own wells or got water from a stream or spring, walked almost everywhere they went – and still needed to occasionally travel to Sneedville to obtain goods and services they couldn’t provide for themselves. They knew each other, visited each other’s homes and intermarried. And yet, due to their relative physical isolation, they had developed a very insular culture. They were polite and friendly, but suspicious of outsiders. Even in the larger towns, a person who wasn’t born there would be an outsider, regardless of how long her or she lived there. The distinction was frequently made, by those born and raised in the area, between those who were “native” to the area and those who had moved there from elsewhere. Many of the people I met had no real interest in attracting others to the area or subculture. Such a thing is fine when we’re talking about different regions of the country and their various subcultures. It is most assuredly not fine when we’re talking about building communities of free people. We need people who will discuss, debate and disagree about freedom and how it is best achieved, all while being absolutely devoted to it. We do not need communities that say “this is the best and only way to achieve and exercise freedom and if you disagree, you’re part of the problem, either as a ‘useful idiot’ or a dedicated statist.” This is not helpful. On a related note, Bayou Renaissance Man published a post back in 2011 regarding the relative freedom enjoyed by people in different states. You might not agree with the study he references, but that’s okay. We’re free to disagree, right?
“Personal development” is one of those things that is often so grossly misunderstood that many people dismiss it as little more than “motivational” or “feel good” speeches and books. This view underestimates both how much people are capable of changing in positive ways and how desperately most of us need to change. When I lived in Southern California, I heard a former business acquaintance of mine (who was both a very wise and very successful man) talking to people about why they had not achieved whatever success they wanted in one or more areas of their lives. He said “there are only 3 reasons for not achieving that success. You’re not doing the right things, you’re not doing them enough, or you suck as a person.” All of those, he pointed out, are corrected with personal development. What are the things you need to do to be successful in becoming more self-sufficient? If you don’t know what they are, you need to learn what they are. If you know what they are, but don’t know how to do them, you need to learn. If you’re doing them but are inclined to give up because your self-sufficiency isn’t where you want it yet, you need to learn commitment and perseverance. If you’ve done all those things but no one wants to join you in your quest for freedom and self-sufficiency, it’s very likely because people aren’t perceiving you as someone they might want to follow, join or emulate. So, you need to learn how to be that person. All of those are achieved through personal development. True freedom and self-sufficiency do not increase if we lie to ourselves (and others) and pretend we know more than we do, have been “doing” self-sufficiency longer than we have or that we are different kinds of people than we really are.
I’ve noticed the prepping community seems to basically have 2 widely different approaches to spirituality. One is to approach it in light of religious faith, especially the Christian faith. The other is to ignore it entirely. Allow me to suggest both of these miss the point of spirituality as I’m using the term here. Certainly one’s faith can (and should) be a major factor in how one approaches self-sufficiency and freedom. Likewise, I understand religion should not be considered a requirement for being free and self-sufficient. Here’s my point. Spirituality, as I’m using the term, is that awareness of being part of something bigger, greater or beyond one’s self. We are talking about freedom. If we accept that freedom is important, that it is desirable for both a nation and the individual citizens of that nation, then I submit it is bigger and greater than any of us. As it happens, I am a Christian. My faith drives my morals and ethics. That said, I recognize that I can be a Christian anywhere and under any regime or circumstance. I can be a Christian even if all those around me are not. The same cannot be said of freedom. If I am to be as truly free as this life will allow, there are some things that must be in place. One of those is that I need as many of those people around me as possible to be free, too. If I am to be free, you must also be free. If I am to be free to make decisions and do things you wouldn’t do or like, you have to have that same freedom. If I’m to be free to be self-sufficient as some sort of homesteader, you must be free to find your own self-sufficiency. Freedom then, the cause of liberty, I see as being greater than me. It’s bigger than I. In the colonies, the cause of liberty was served by men who did not agree about everything. Sometimes, it seems as if they agreed about almost nothing, except this: They desperately and passionately wanted to be free. Again, Bayou Renaissance Man’s blog post seems to reflect that at least some of our fellow citizens are at least sympathetic to that desire for freedom.