The story behind Village of Ordinary
Image by Darinka via Flickr, CC BY 2.0
On June 14, 2005, when I wrote the first Village of Ordinary post, I was overwhelmed with sadness and a tremendous fear for the future my grandchildren would inherit. The world, it seemed, was at war, and my government was in the thick of it. My country–Land of the Free–routinely spied on its citizens, listening in on our telephone calls, intercepting our e-mails, and perusing our bank accounts and credit cards at will. While they undermined and outright stole our civil liberties, our leaders declared war on two countries in the name of democracy and freedom.
They paid mercenaries in foreign lands to turn in their friends, acquaintances and enemies for cash and a claim that they might be terrorists plotting to harm Americans. Whether there was evidence to back these claims seems to have been irrelevant, and hundreds, perhaps thousands of men, women and children were detained for years without counsel or rights. Some were tortured (ACLU video interview with former Guantanamo prisoners), breaking international and our own laws. Some were tortured unto death. Some who survived were lost to their families and loved ones, possibly forever. Many remain in the custody of our government to this day. No country wants them. Because of what we’ve done to them, our own people fear them and refuse to take them.
Brokenhearted, I struggled to find ways to cope with these horrors. I participated in a few peace marches, but felt shattered when too many marching with me carried signs and shouted slogans advocating violence, even death, against the warmongers and torturers. How can more violence bring peace, I asked?
If we can visualize it, we can make it real.
In the depths of despair, I began to visualize a world at peace …
- A world where people have no need for jealousy, covetousness, power over others, or hatred;
- A world where every child is born and raised in an atmosphere of total love and acceptance that she or he might grow to a strong, healthy, self-actualized adult who understands how intertwined we all are with each other, how much we need one another, and how much more we can accomplish with cooperation and love than with bitterness and anger;
- A world where we respect ourselves as much as each other, where we respect our land, air and water as much as ourselves, and where we respect the other creatures with whom we have the privilege of sharing the planet as much as each other.
Visualizing a peaceful world
At first, I believed that if I could visualize a world at peace, perhaps others would join me. Perhaps one day, possibly in my lifetime, we might begin to live in that world. So I began visioning and telling the story of one very ordinary woman, in one very ordinary village, much like every other village on the planet–a planet at peace. I told the story through her journals–little snippets of daily life that point the way for us. If we can visualize it, we can make it real.
To underscore how common this way of life can be, I named the village Ordinary, and in the world of Ordinary, what is so usual, so normal is that people live in harmony with the earth and with each other. Sounds Utopian, right? Before you yawn at the impossibility, know this: From the beginning, one overarching principle has guided the work: I write nothing Utopian. Every detail of the story either exists or has existed somewhere on the world at some time. What has been can be again. What is now can grow. We have the power to build that peaceful world right now–if we choose.
Learning from Ladakh
My guide and primary example has been the people of Ladakh, in Northern India. Known variously as Little Tibet and The Roof of the World, Ladakh has existed for thousands of years. Once a bustling stop on the Silk Road, and tucked in the high mountains between Pakistan, Tibet and China, Ladakh has been the nexus of land and trade wars for centuries. Adventurers have delighted in its stunning vistas and isolation for just as long.
Despite the factions warring to control their roadways and passes, until recently, the people of Ladakh lived peacefully. Their society knew almost no violence. They produced no more than they needed. They were highly efficient in controlling their population and not overburdening their land. They used absolutely everything and wanted for nothing. They enjoyed trade with their neighbors, and they partied for weeks at a time during the harshest winter months long after the planting and harvesting are done.
As air travel and tourism have increased in the last few decades, Western encroachment, with its improvements and modernizations has nearly destroyed this ancient culture, but many individuals are working to preserve and renew it. I pray they succeed, for if they can restore their culture, there is every hope that we can build as beautiful a life for the rest of the world.
Building Ordinary in our world
To help me better research and vision the world of Ordinary, almost simultaneously I published the first posts in a companion blog, Realizing Ordinary. I imagined a cadre of contributors to the blog, people who wanted to build the vision with me. I take responsibility for failing to build that community. Along the way, though, I met in cyberspace amazing individuals, each working in their own way to build a more peaceful, more sane world. Many of them are mentioned in blog posts. Some are designated Ordinary Heroes.
What I have learned in the last five and a half years is how plentiful are the people working for the common good, working for peace and justice, working to build that freedom some of our leaders have bandied so cavalierly in their speeches and jeopardized with their actions.
But Realizing Ordinary no longer meets my expectations for the Village of Ordinary. I no longer research simply to write a more authentic tale or to develop the vision more accurately. I intend to live in a village much like Ordinary, and at sixty-plus, I don’t have much time to realize it. I must begin to build it. Visit Building Ordinary to learn how I and others around the world are making real the vision, one step, one day, one action, one sustainable lifestyle decision at a time.
Now we are building. Will you join me?