The polls are closed, the results are in, and four out of five of my IPA-drinking friends agree. The hippies had it right. And if we had continued on their track, western civilization would have evolved much differently over the past fifty years. Here’s one (formerly dirty) hippy’s perspective.
Tread lightly on the Earth She is all we’ve got. Hippies came in all shapes, sizes and colors, and it is not accurate to paint all with the same Day-Glo brush. But a few basic principles were almost universally shared by people in the alternative movements. One was that resources of all types are precious and are not to be squandered. Use what you need, share what you have, and please clean up your own mess. A dislike of the hoarding of resources (allowing the concept of a billionaire to even exist) and a profound uncomfortableness in having much more than your neighbors has characterized a kind of lefty tribal egalitarianism that simultaneously promoted individual artistic expression and letting your friends borrow your car and once again return it on empty. Had we continued in this vein, we would have built fewer roads, fewer houses, fewer vehicles, had more alternative energy, longer vacations and definitely fewer barbers.
People are people so cut the crap. My profound lack of respect for political correctness has often been misinterpreted. When you come of age on a commune watching women hold hands walking across the knoll, there is no emotional impact involved seeing people act a little differently than what might sometimes be considered “normal behavior.” March when you feel you need to but recognize that each of us is unique in creation, and there really is no such thing as “normal.” Like many Vermonters’ viewpoints, if you are comfortable in your own skin, others will accept you for the good person you are regardless of how you dress, cut your hair or whose hand you hold. But don’t get all uptight if someone questions your trip. It’s also their right to give you a poke to see how genuine your really are about what you do and how you express yourself.
Question authority and every social and political meme along the way. The hippies knew that ancient indigenous tribal cultures (and hardworking New England rural cultures) knew a thing or three about being human that our mostly suburban upbringings failed to teach. Starting with the premise that everything they (parents, school, church, television and the Establishment) told us was probably wrong, an atmosphere of playful social experimentation began to express itself. We tried a lot of dumb things that didn’t really work. But along the way we had some successes too. These days the commune experiments would be called pilot projects or seeking proof of concept. I do not consider these alternative social structures to have been complete failures, just because the majority of them collapsed within a decade or two. This is the stage upon which the movement for the basic rights of all people and living things to follow their natural life courses was played out. It was and is a movement that has profoundly changed societies around the planet.
No fighting, no biting. People will differ on their politics, but my politics are rooted in the basic principle that bullies suck. It was never considered appropriate to fight violence with violence. However, when the women, children and older folks were threatened, hippy folk stood right up, usually in highly creative ways. For example, having 30 longhairs pop up out of the bushes yelling like banshees and taking pictures of the troublemakers as the local State Trooper walked toward them shining a very bright flashlight put an end to that type of trouble mighty quick!
Eight years of commune life taught me a lot about being a person, an adult, and a man in this place and time we call America. And when I left, it was more to escape the merciless grinding poverty of the lifestyle than the lifestyle itself. Forget beer money, all I wanted was a handful of 16-penny nails! And like many an artist, craftsperson and small business founder and owner that finally grew up, I swore to remember the lessons from those days and to incorporate them into my business and human relationships. During the ensuing 50 years, multiplied through over three hundred and fifty thousand Vermont transplants, this attitude has become a big part of what makes Vermont the special and unique place it continues to be.
Soap for the people!
Larry Plesent is a writer, philosopher and founder of the Vermont Soap Company dedicated to replacing yucky stuff with yummy stuff for all the girls and boys who care. Thanks for listening. Learn more at www.vermontsoap.com and www.reactivebody.org
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