Living On the Edge, Comfortably

living on the edge
I was sitting outside one evening last week with an impromptu gathering of neighbours. We had all started out going for a walk around the block, but ended up congregating at one neighbour’s house (he was getting opinions on a new wine he was importing, so it didn’t take a lot of arm-twisting). When we started talking about jobs, half of the group lamented that, because they worked for assholes at dysfunctional (mostly foreign-owned and neglected) companies, they longed to start their own companies. The other half, who are entrepreneurs who do own their own companies, lamented the high stress, long hours and sometimes unreasonable customers of their companies, and fondly recalled when they could go home at 5:30pm and leave all their cares at the office until the next day. The grass, as they say, is always greener on the other side.

It occurred to me that this tension between living in thrall to corporatists, and living with the great responsibilities and uncertainties of entrepreneurship, extends to all the critical decisions we make in life between a ‘traditional’ conformist lifestyle, addicted to consumption and debt, and one of Living On the Edge.

Here’s how this tension plays out, a struggle between gravitational force luring us inwards and centrifugal force hurling us outwards. Those in the middle band in the graphic above feel those forces most equally, and it is for them that this tension is strongest:

When Deciding: What Attracts Us to the Centre What Attracts Us to the Edge
How to make a living Working for Corporatists:

  • the carrot of being very well paid if you reach the executive level
  • it’s easier than entrepreneurship (E)
  • it’s less stressful than entrepreneurship
Creating your own Natural Enterprise:

  • meaningful, joyful work (F)
  • no asshole bosses
What to buy Buying Chinese ‘free’ trade crap at Wal-Mart:

  • it’s cheaper, at least in the short-run
  • it’s easier (E)
  • shopping for non-essentials is fun (F) (?)
Buying local, organic, quality, fairly-priced products:

  • it’s socially and environmentally more responsible
  • it’s better value-for-money in the long run
How to be healthy Relying completely on doctors & synthetic drug-makers:

  • you get fast results
  • it’s easier, requiring little time or energy investment (E)
  • it’s cheaper, if you’re insured
Self-directed, largely self-diagnosed and self-treated, prevention-focused, natural holistic health care:

  • you’re sick less often (F)
  • you’re more self-sufficient
  • you get better diagnosis & treatment
  • if you’re not insured, it’s your only option
How to be educated Relying on the public or private education system:

  • it’s cheaper (public system) (C)
  • it’s easier (E)
  • corporatist employment demands it
Self-educating / home-schooling:

  • you learn more critical life skills
  • it’s a better learning environment
  • you’re more self-sufficient (F)
  • it’s more fun
What community to live in Living in a suburban subdivision  on the grid:

  • it’s easier (E)
  • it’s less commitment
  • it offers more privacy
Living in an intentional community powered by renewable energy:

  • it’s less expensive (shared costs) (C)
  • it’s healthier (more socialization, more love) (F)
  • it offers more community support
  • it’s less vulnerable to the End of Oil
  • it’s socially & environmentally more responsible
How to get around Driving a gas-guzzler everywhere:

  • it’s easier (E)
  • it’s faster (?)
  • it’s more fun (F) (?)
  • it’s necessary if you live in the suburbs
Walking, cycling, using alternative-fuel vehicles:

  • it’s less expensive (C)
  • it’s healthier
  • it’s less vulnerable to the End of Oil
  • it’s socially & environmentally more responsible

I think most of us, like my neighbours, will have to admit that the choices are not cut and dried. But neither is it a choice between comfort (in the centre) and discomfort (at the Edge) — the decision is more complex than that, and many of us come down close to the tipping point between going one way and the other. And some of the factors (marked with question marks on the chart) are dubious: Shopping for non-essentials is only ‘fun’, and an essential part of your social life, if you lack the imagination to find healthier fun and (arguably) live a pretty socially impoverished life. Driving a gas-guzzler is only faster if your home, work, shopping and recreation are long distances apart — and there are ways to bring them together. And driving a gas-guzzler is no fun in traffic jams and grinding daily commutes.

I’ve said before that, in making important life decisions, we do what we must, then we do what’s easy, and then we do what’s fun. In the chart above, I’ve marked the easier choice with an (E), the more fun choice with an (F), and the cheaper choice with a (C). (In the decisions on What to buy and How to be healthy, the cheaper choice depends on your circumstances and perspective, so neither is marked (C)).

Not surprisingly, the easier choices (E) are all at the centre, while most of the fun choices (F) are at the Edge. So as long as we do what’s easy before we do what’s fun, we’re going to be prone to make traditional choices (how to make a living, how to be healthy, how to be educated, and what community to live in). Why do we make such choices? I would argue that we’re too busy and too tired to do otherwise — if we have no time and no energy, we’re going to choose what’s easy over what’s fun. And that’s exactly what the corporatists are counting on. I would bet that the proportion of people living at the Edge is inversely proportional to the length and stress of the average work-week (including commuting). As more and more of us learn to value our time more highly, and seize back more of it for ourselves (even if that requires lowering our material wealth and consumption), we will start to choose what’s fun over what’s easy, and slide over to the Edge.

The decisions what to buy and how to get around are more complex, and they’re the two that will prevent a lot of us from moving to the Edge. We may know that locally made, organic, fairly-priced products are better quality and better for us, and in the long run (because they last longer) will cost less. But the more expensive products cost us more now, and no matter how conscientious we may be that’s tough to swallow (perhaps impossible if you’re on a fixed income). Besides, there are plenty of discouraging examples of locally-made crap, too.

Similarly, the decision how to get around isn’t entirely ours to make if we live more than walking or cycling distance from work, shopping and recreation. In this, those who live in revitalized downtown cores are wise and blessed, but that lifestyle is not for everyone.

For the most part, however, we do have a choice, and there are encouraging signs that more and more of us are choosing to wean ourselves off our addiction to consumption, debt, and being too busy and too tired for our own good. Out at the Edge, it’s getting more comfortable, more fun, and even a bit more crowdedall the time.

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5 Responses to Living On the Edge, Comfortably

  1. Dave Smith says:

    Old quote from Thom Hartmann: I’ve observed that people tend to live at one of two extremes in the spectrum of life: those who live on the edge, and those who avoid the edge. Those who live on the edge are hanging out in the most dangerous and unstable places – yet they’re also often the most powerful agents of change, because the edge is where change is happening; away from the edge, things are naturally unchanging.

  2. This is a GREAT tool for teenagers to use to determine their lifepath! What a wonderful inspired idea!Thank you for helping us see more clearly.

  3. knomad says:

    Life out on the edge is not consistent. We take some dips into areas of the mainstream. Medical care for example. Totally educated in public schools. Driving a diesel motorhome and living in it puts us in a constant state of tension between the edge and the “gas guzzlers.”Choices about how to live are not so bipolar as the chart would indicate. By the way there are several million of us out here living in our RV’s full time, self sufficient and off the grid.

  4. Excellent diagram, Dave! I see so much truth in that single image. I would love to see entrepreneurship truly embraced, but it seems to be going the way of the corner barbershop. It’s usually a hit or miss thing even as it used to be undertaken in a more village oriented economy. Today, to start up any small business, even on a cottage industry level, one has to jump through many legal hoops. There doesn’t seem to be a way to live-test an idea on a small scale first — or set up an intentionally temporary business. This is especially burdensome to the more creative, impulsive, and less business-oriented among us, or to people who really want the variety of a few tiny business endeavors rather than just one. The system seems to feed that whole starving-artist mindset, treat us as if we’re unrealistic dreamers, or we’re just trying to cheat the tax man rather than trying to make an honest living doing things we love. It’s all about the corporation these days, and the bigger the more priveleged. Corporatists would much rather see us get “real” jobs and become good little addicted consumers again. When I see corporations like WalMart swallowing up organic foods business, I shudder.

  5. David says:

    I think that the most powerful tool we could have available for permanent change to our world would be to find a single world religion that we can all agree on. Scientists and all.. All it takes is a recognition that Gaia might have a mind. This is pagan of course.. and enough like GOD to satisfy me. Imagine all the enormouse ammount of energy that people put into worshipping some invisible ‘god’ up the clouds, was instead channelled into protecting the planet.. if anything can give us a change to survive till the end of our planets natural life, this has to be it.As a way of putting it, this ‘devil’ that the Church tells us is very tricky, is in fact so very,very tricky that he has us looking in exactly the wrong direction to find GOD.. with the inevitable result that GOD dies and us with it and Satan wins the conflict.Another way is that the good Chistian, or Moslem (any religion that has a cloud-based GOD) is too often capable of cutting down the rainforest, even whilst praising their ‘god’ up in the sky.. the one they can’t show me a photograph of.Me? I’m just a white fella who came to understand what the black fella’s have always known, and learned how to say it ways that other white fella’s might understand.If you like my thinking, please spread it far and wide. I’m just learning how to myself, and don’t believe that there is any more time to waste.David Brock

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