A dozen folks of varying ages filtered in through the double doors of Ross’s barn just after the dinner hour. Hugs were exchanged among old friends, and newcomers were greeted with enthusiastic handshakes. Sam called the session to order.
“Welcome everyone! It’s great to see you again. For those of you who were not here last time, we’ve started this conversation group to share what homesteading projects we’ve each got going on at our places . . . to see how we could help and learn from each other.”
Lyla piped up: “We’ve converted the island in our cul-de-sac to food production with our neighbors. It’s going well, but we’re trying to find a source of manure or compost to put nutrients back into the soil.”
Sam responded, “We can help there. We’ve got a pair of bunnies we call the Manure Machines. You would not believe how much they produce. And it’s not ‘hot,’ so you don’t have to compost it.”
The conversation continued for several hours into the cool night, with topics ranging from rainwater harvesting from a condo’s rooftop to methods of permanently relocating raccoons to protect backyard chickens. As folks reluctantly left the meeting, Ross received thanks for hosting, as well as comments about how much more secure they felt being part of a group like this.
- protection from weather and new hazards created by the incident,
- rescue of both ourselves and those neighbors close to us,
- securing potable water, and then
- securing good food.
In this chapter, we’ll discuss security preparations and how they can enhance the sustainability and enjoyment of our everyday lives. Using a broad definition of security that will include physical, financial, mental, and relational components, we’ll also distinguish between the one-time procedures listed above that we need to perform immediately after a wide-scale emergency versus ongoing activities that become part of our daily and weekly lives.
What happens immediately after an incident is the primary focus of Dr. LuAn Johnson’s Map Your Neighborhood program, and, once this program is set up with your neighbors in advance of a disaster, it will increase your peace of mind immensely. Dr. Johnson’s program teaches you and your neighbors the first nine steps in securing your home and protecting your neighborhood in the event of an earthquake, tornado, or hurricane.
We need to secure ourselves from both the elements (e.g., extreme weather) that likely caused the emergency and any new hazards that have been introduced by the emergency event (e.g., gas leaks, chemical spills, panicked people). It’s difficult to think clearly in the aftermath of such a significant event, so the Map Your Neighborhood flip chart that you keep under your bed is designed to help you navigate those first few crucial minutes. The program helps you quickly and safely help yourself and your neighbors with your physical security.
Staying safe and secure during emergencies that can involve physical violence, such as riots and looting, is also worth thinking through. We previously discussed keeping our bodies in good shape not only to be better prepared to recover from a disaster and help others, but also to better enjoy everyday peaceful life. Self-defense classes are a great way to increase your physical health as well as your self-confidence. Many martial arts classes focus on a specific approach, with an attitude of “my kung fu is better than yours,” but increasingly you can find mixed martial art classes that borrow the best of multiple disciplines.
Even better are the public safety courses these teachers offer to schools, churches, and the public with a very narrow set of self-defense skills that most citizens can learn. Although books (particularly those by Kelly McCann) can be useful for training, take a warning from Kip in Napoleon Dynamite not to train to be a cage fighter by watching YouTube videos. Head to your local dojo for real instruction and full armor/speed practice.
Rick DeMile is the founder and head trainer at Family Martial Arts on our island. I’ve studied under him with my sparring partner author/speaker John Perkins. I asked Rick recently about the philosophy behind his dojo. He began by taking about his programs for children and youth.
I’m not going to try to dress up the term ‘martial arts.’ In many sectors of the martial arts world, training (especially with children), has devolved into a McDojo environment where students are coddled, entertained, and handed a belt no matter what they do or how they perform. Does this have any resemblance to the world we live in? The fact of the matter is that martial arts refers to combative arts and it has to do with principles and techniques which can be used effectively in a fight.
Now, most of us would prefer to avoid a real fight (physical engagement) if at all possible since hurting another person (and let’s be honest…getting hurt ourselves) is a repulsive idea. I believe that many ‘fight’ principles can and should be translated into life principles for the benefit of our students.
But what about taking the practice and mentality behind self-defense skills into the real world which – hopefully – rarely sees a violent encounter? Rick gave me a great example:
We aim to inspire, challenge, and equip people of all ages with practical self-defense skills. Now if you’re like most people, when you hear ‘self-defense’ you think of protecting yourself against physical violence. But I want this idea to have a much broader application and have thankfully seen this accomplished in the lives of so many students over the years.
For example, if a person can successfully face and deal with another person trying to punch them in the nose, how can they take that skill and translate it into defending themselves from bullying in school or the workplace? Another common theme in martial arts training and certainly in a self-defense scenario is the never-give-up mindset.
The other day I saw a young female student struggling to accomplish a Jiu Jitsu move against a partner who was giving a lot of resistance. The point of the drill was not simply to perform the move successfully, but also to never stop struggling to be successful until the timekeeper called time and that is exactly what she did. I suspect that when this young lady is faced with a challenging situation in her life somewhere down the road she’ll show the same determination and resolve. These are only a few of the valuable martial arts life skills we often see develop in the students.
I’ve seen the community and strength of relationships that Rick and his staff have built at his dojo and asked him to comment on the “friendship factor” as he calls it.
As someone who has trained in the martial arts for almost 40 years I can certainly say that I have learned many, many techniques. But when I look back over the years it is not the techniques which stand out. Rather, it is the different people I have had the privilege training with and learning from. I love to see students training together but it is also extremely satisfying to see them laughing together, struggling together, and developing bonds of friendship which can last a lifetime.
About a year ago I had 5 of my Black Belts show up for a workout with me. They started when they were about 6 years old, trained all the way to Black Belt, and were home from college to be with family and friends. These kids met when they were very young and as they experienced martial arts training together a bond was created that can never be broken. For me to be a part of that and to see them grow and mature as young martial artists is a great privilege.
I happen to be “firearms agnostic,” but the topic of weaponry must be considered and discussed by all North Americans, as access to firearms in our country is fairly ubiquitous. As an exurban microfarmer, I have a love/hate relationship with deer, coyotes, and raccoons. I appreciate their beauty, but I’m more than a little frustrated by their destruction and attacks on my neighbors’ pets and livestock. I’ve discussed this with a multitude of professional farmers across the country, and most (but not all) of them consider a firearm to be an essential piece of farm equipment, particularly in areas with rampant deer and larger predators.
But the use of firearms in self-defense is not limited to dealing with wild animals threatening our foodstuffs and livestock. When thinking about long emergencies, it does no good to grow your own food and raise your own animals only to have them taken away by the first thug visiting from the next city over who has a gun.
I spoke with Alan Kasper about the Sportsmen’s Club on our island, where he serves as both the President and as one of the certified range safety officers. The club is a historical site, and in addition to hosting community activities like holiday dinners for island seniors, it provides a safe environment for practice with firearms and archery. Alan told me recently about his observation of families at the pistol and archery ranges, enjoying afternoons of target practice together.
Without the Club, we would most likely not have met. There are many other stories of a like nature. It is not unlike any other social environment. People make friends when they get together in an activity they mutually enjoy.
For the Club activities, our safety officers teach safety in all aspect of the sports we pursue. We teach mental discipline and focus, for one cannot shoot firearms or archery equipment safely without keen focus. Our sports develop hand-eye coordination and instill responsibility of handing firearms or archery equipment, which if used irresponsibly can cause damage, not unlike a car. We also help prepare individuals who are going to be using firearms or archery equipment for hunting.
The underpinnings of the club are to conduct all instruction in the safest possible manner. Whether using a bow or firearm for hunting or self defense, one must conduct oneself in a safe and responsible manner. The old adage of “practice makes perfect” is true. This requires familiarity, practice, discipline, and respect. I have a 10-year-old granddaughter. She and I have spent time at both the archery and pistol ranges. She knows the safety policies and can quote them to you if asked. She was told by her school that firearms are evil. She has found out for herself that they are not. They can be harmful if used incorrectly. However, under proper supervision, with a focus on personal responsibility, she has a better understanding of reality than she would by merely listening to anti-gun rhetoric.
Although programs like Neighborhood Watch have their uses in our neighborhoods, being truly secure means turning inside ourselves first to build mental and emotional strength. Whether it is through developing that type of security for a short-term crisis or preparing for the daily struggle simply to get out of bed during a long emergency, we become better citizens and neighbors when we exercise self-care of our bodies and minds. It behooves us to develop mental toughness and flexibility. In both emergencies and in regular life, having a mind that is supple and strong—like tall bamboo in high winds—is a desirable goal.
When we look at the topic of security holistically, we can see how positive preparations in these different aspects can lead to a better neighborhood, a better town, and a better society. I spoke with John Perkins, author of Hoodwinked and Confessions of an Economic Hitman, recently while he was traveling through Costa Rica. Our conversation quickly went from the physical security measures we have to endure when traveling to a high-level societal view of the topic. We discussed changing not only the mental outlook of citizens but also those of our larger organizations, be they corporate or government.
Security takes on new meaning during this time of severe financial, political, social, and environmental turmoil. Every time I go through the security checkpoints at airports I wonder at the fallacy of the process. As a martial artist I know my hands are more lethal than a tube of toothpaste. I also know that any professional bad guy can get a polymer or gun knife through those machines.
As a society, we need to redefine security. It is no longer about protecting ourselves from men in Himalayan caves or on Somali fishing boats. It is about getting both business and government to understand that their job is to create a sustainable, just, peaceful world, where future generations of all species can thrive.
There will always be a few crazies around. But if we take away the causes of desperation and anger that fuel them, peace and security will follow.
Our corporations can (must!) certainly play a role in making our society safe and secure. But as citizens it also behooves us to make our own financial contingency plans. We must redefine “job security” from the classic definitions of “wealth” to something more resilient, something like a strong network of relationships on which you can depend.
It’s a conversation that many Americans don’t like to have, but we all have way too much debt in our lives from living too far above our means. I’ve recommended Dave Ramsey‘s books and seminars to countless folks interested in taking back control of their finances in order to bring more security to their lives. It’s a simple, straightforward approach to living within your means, eliminating debt, and building up an emergency fund. As Ramsey often quips, he’s just recommending the same advice you would receive from your grandmother.
I know several families who have followed Ramsey’s “advice from grandmother” for years and now enjoy debt-free living. For us personally, this has made all the difference in the world when moving in parallel paths towards both simplicity and preparedness. But I’ve also experienced the awkwardness of this financial conversation with many others. Why don’t we talk more about this, both as families and in the general American public dialogue?
I asked writer Joshua Becker about this and how as a community we can pull a judo move to flip the topic on its head, to go from being awkward and silent on the subject to open and resiliency-building. He’s written about it before and had this to add to the conversation:
The statistics concerning our personal financial habits are downright sad: 1 in 4 Americans have no savings; 57 percent of American households have no budget; the average U.S. household debt is 136 percent of household income, and money often ranks as the #1 source of conflict in marriages. And yet, nobody is asking for help.
The statistics above (along with countless others) make it clear that we need to seek more help with matters of money. Unfortunately, they also represent the very reason we are so hesitant to ask for advice. It can be a very humbling process to ask for help—especially if we think everyone else has it all figured out. And when it comes to money, there is definitely a large percentage of the population putting up a false front that everything is just fine.
If your spending habits are not working for you, know that you are not alone. Know that many Americans struggle with the exact same problem. This realization won’t eliminate the stress of living in debt or living paycheck-to-paycheck. But it should provide you with the motivation to bring up the conversation with someone you trust. Start with this, “Hey, can I ask you a question about money?”
When I’ve been asked about our local Prepared Neighborhoods group—what is it and what do we do—my quick answer is that we encourage neighbors helping neighbors. The creation and maintenance of solid friendships is significantly more important than any other type of emergency preparation you may make. Many of the folks I know that are more focused on self-sufficiency than building group resilience think that statement to be heresy, but there are other thought leaders who would agree.
Joel Skousen has written and consulted extensively on the design of secure homes. He has researched the best locations to weather emergencies following both natural and human-made disasters as well as how to fortify one’s current location to stay safer—which one has to do with the disasters your region is prone to. As an architect and contractor, he clearly knows what he is doing and has decades of hands-on experience. But I find it most encouraging that this expert on physical security has this to say about preparedness: “Possessing a few personal friends you can intrinsically trust at all times is one of the most important contingency preparations you can make.”
Over the last few months Chuck Collins, a senior scholar at the Institute for Policy Studies (IPS), and I have been discussing the importance of relationships. Here’s how Chuck summarized our conversations:
Many people are trying to face the new ecological and economic future but find they cannot do it in isolation. There is only so much troubling information we can take in without some sense of urgency and ability to make a difference. There are also limits—as you point out in your book—to individual solutions. We have to prepare at the community level.
Resilience Circles are a way people can begin to connect with others, learn together, and strengthen personal and community resilience. Think of them as support groups for neighborhood preparation but at the block level. Most Resilience Circles are 8 to 15 people who have some common affinity; they are members of a religious congregation, are physical neighbors, or share some other bond. They meet regularly to strengthen mutual aid and figure out meaningful action they can take together.
Since real security can only be found in the strength of our communities, it is also a way to contemplate how to build real security. What makes us secure is a sense that we are being held by our friends and neighbors, that we will have networks to fall back on and to help one another.
Building resilience in small groups and large, street by street in neighborhoods and across small towns is clearly the best way to build real security. And common among the various definitions of security—from physical to mental, emotional to spiritual—is the core of relationships, relationships with our neighbors and our planet (here’s a Foreign Policy article on this new old way of looking at these relationships).
Photos by opensource.com, Scott James, Nina Hale, Alexander Dulaunoy, Quinn Dombrowski, James Collins, Brad Chaffee, and seeincolor.