Wisdom & Sustainable Living

Here’s an unusual blog, with quotes taken from a book about Native American culture.  I reflect on these quotes – especially in light of modern-day politics and our national and international cultures – and then reflect on what “sustainable living” might truly be about.

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The Wisdom

of the

Native Americans

                                                                           Kent Nerburn


(P.10) Silence meant to the Lakota what it meant to Disraeli when he said, “Silence is the mother of truth,” for the silent man was ever to be trusted, while the man ever ready with speech was never taken seriously.                        (Chief Luther Standing Bear)


[This observation seems so relevant to today’s speechmakers – especially political speakers. And their genuine concern for the quality of life of our average citizenry, especially when they foster tax relief for the wealthy, is often seen as questionable.]


(P.19) Excessive manners were put down as insincere, and the constant talker was considered rude and thoughtless.  Conversation was never begun at once, or in a hurried tone.

No one was quick with a question, no matter how important, and no one was pressed for an answer. A pause giving time for thought was the truly courteous way of beginning and conducting a conversation.

(Chief Luther Standing Bear)


[My ex-wife once gave me a plaque that stated: “Be sure brain is engaged before putting mouth in gear.” (Of course I’m sure that was for general conditions, and not pointed specifically at me!) My observation is that we often are more interested in proving our point than in honoring someone with whom we’re communicating, and understanding their viewpoint – no matter how different it is from ours – and why they see things the way they do.]


(P.68-9) In the government you call civilized, the happiness of the people is constantly sacrificed to the splendor of empire.  Hence the origin of your codes of criminal and civil law;  hence your dungeons and prisons.  We have no prisons;  we have no pompous parade of courts;  we have no written laws;  and yet judges are as highly revered among us as they are among you, and their decisions are as much regarded.

We have among us no exalted villains above the control of our laws. Daring wickedness is here never allowed to triumph over helpless innocence.  The estates of widows and orphans are never devoured by enterprising swindlers.  We have no robbery under the pretext of law.



[The U.S. now has the highest per-capita percent of its population in prisons of any nation – often for minor offenses that have harmed no one. And the corruption at high levels in our government, many leading to quick resignations from office – often taking spoils with them – seems more rampant than ever. Sustainable living has to include integrity, and respect for the rights of everyone, as one day each of us may end up in servitude, regardless of what we may have done.]


(P.138) It was this practice of government by council and consensus that forced the oratorical genius of the people of the Iroquois federation.  The need to discuss ideas clearly and directly, and to arrive at decisions which all could support, bred in the Iroquois an eloquence that European observers often compared to that of the Roman Senate.                          (Ohiyesa)


[Consensus – especially among large groups – usually takes considerable time and energy to achieve. But when everyone can influence and support the outcome, personal sense of potency rises, as does our satisfaction with the outcomes.

Even entire nations, such as Finland, are using social media technology to elicit ideas from citizenry and to cause elected officials to respond directly, in their voting, to all ideas that achieve a level of popular support. The process causes more people to express themselves, to respond to the ideas of others and, as a consequence, to become more thoughtful and knowledgeable about issues facing us.]

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It doesn’t take much imagination to transpose these Native American statements to our current political and cultural state-of-being. While virtually all the writing about sustainability is about the physical aspects – heating, cooling, power, water, etc. – the #1 reason people who actually bought a Garden Atrium did so was due to their beauty.  Aesthetics, which is one aspect of life quality, ruled.

While our homes are each “fee simple,” we do have a homeowners’ association for the shared Conservation Zone. And we govern that by consensus among the total group, with no “Executive Committee.”  If only one person has a problem with some idea that everyone else likes … it doesn’t happen.  What actually happens, then, is dialogue about why someone likes or doesn’t like the idea.  I’m not sure I’d match our wisdom against that of the Native Americans quoted in the book, but I can say that our residents do share a high quality-of-life experience.

And, through the years it’s taken to complete development of this small cluster of Net Zero sustainable homes – and not just because I’m both the developer and a neighbor – the positive effect that living here has caused is far more satisfying than the dollars we save on our utility bills.  And in 18 years, not a single Garden Atrium has resold.

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New Video:  Periodically, we get questions asking if we’re doing another Garden Atrium Net Zero sustainable development – especially as ours is sold out.  In fact, we’ve just been contacted by a developer who wants to do just that, in his city.

To help, we’ve produced a brief (5 minutes or so) video sharing comments from residents, what a next development would be like, and inviting additional interested developers to see how such a development might work for them.  To see the new video, just go to our web site, www.gardenatriums.com, and click on the icon.  I think you’ll enjoy it.

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