“The problem with homelessness is not houselessness.”
Eugene, Oregon, is a city like no other. Nestled on the western edge of the Cascade Mountains, it’s surrounded by a valley of agricultural bounty. Sheep graze at the edge of the airport runway. The rivers flow and the flowers grow across a Disneyesque kingdom-like landscape that produces some of the best wines on Earth. This veritable Garden of Eden is encircled by majestic, towering Douglas firs that cover the rolling hills to the east and west.
Culturally, the city is equally fascinating. It feels as if the old and new American West were dropped simultaneously into a particle supercollider and then accelerated at high speed into a blended explosion of what was and what shall be.
Eugene is home to foresters and farmers, poets and philosophers, loggers and lumbermen, students, activists, and scientists. The famous University of Oregon campus flows into a city that looks and feels like no other. And dotting the intersections and highway underpasses of it all are tents, hundreds (if not thousands) of tents. Those tents are homes to those without homes, refuge to the refuge-less. And on my first visit to this region, their presence simultaneously concerned and intrigued me.
It was lumber that brought me to Eugene. I was joining the board of directors of a sawmilling- and timberland-owning company nearby. On my first drive into town I passed one tent colony and then another. The following day, I found a few more. It soon became clear that a transient community had established a presence here, and I couldn’t stop questioning its meaning and messages.
Have the tent dwellers failed—or been failed by—society? Are those gathered within the tent colonies of free spirits of sound mind, collectively rejecting society as it’s currently constructed? Is this a population that’s sick and addicted, healthy and intentional, or both? What is the DNA of this transient community and why has Eugene attracted more of them per capita than any other city in America?
Pondering all of this brought me back to my favorite question that I believe lives at the root of all social disharmony:
What if everybody on Earth felt trusted, respected, valued, safe, and heard?
If everyone on Earth felt trusted, respected, valued, safe, and heard—what might change?
I believe everything might change.
But the question is how is such a lofty yet exceptionally accessible goal best achieved?
I’ve thought a lot about social problems such as this one, and I’ve concluded that the most powerful solutions are administered locally. National governments are reduced to national responses, typically to a circumstance that has already spiraled out of control. But humanity moves one human at a time, and no two humans share identical stories or solutions. This is why we must come to realize that we are living in the age of localism. In the twenty-first century, the people right in front of you are the ones you are called on to impact.
I have dealt with similar thought patterns during my time at Pine Ridge. The depth of helping everyone is overwhelming. But the possibility of helping someone, human to human is always actionable.
In the Aquarian Age that is upon us we need a return to local level leadership. Power is dispersed. The ability to create change dwells within us all. Waiting for bureaucracy to administer bureaucratic solutions is a fool’s errand. Neighbor to neighbor, soul to soul. Humanity moves one human at a time. What if we all simply committed to help the people we encounter today feel trusted, respected, valued, safe, and heard? Now that is actionable and often free. That’s a mission both you and I can advance today.
In a matter of days I was leaving Eugene, Oregon. I wasn’t going to be the one to take on homelessness in this funky Western town. But I did recognize these tent cities. They are manifestations of what happens when humans lose their voice, their sense of safety, and their respect for self within the larger society that surrounds them.
What if everybody on Earth felt trusted, respected, valued, heard, and safe?
What might change?
I believe everything might change. And that is something I will work on. I hope you will join me. We’ll work on it together, with the people right in front of us.
“I never met a ragged boy in the street without feeling that I may owe him a salute, for I know not what possibilities may be buttoned up under his coat.”
Thank you for considering my thoughts. In return I honor yours. Every voice matters. Nestled between our differences lies our future.
This is the thirty-sixth post in a series of short essays to be posted by Kevin to www.thebusinessofsharedleadership.com in 2021. Kevin is dedicating these writings in honor of Black Elk, the Oglala Sioux holy man who was escorted as a child on a sacred vision quest by the 48 horses of the four directions to visit the six Grandfathers. My horses, prancing they are coming. They will dance; may you behold them. On that journey Black Elk understood the sacred power that dwelled within him and lives within us all. He also recognized that this power could be used for good or bad. Intentional we must be about the path we walk. To invite others to join The Business of Shared Leadership and receive these posts, just pass this link along. The more who join, the deeper the energy field of engagement will become! Thank you!