Getting to the “And”

Winds of Peace has funded a series of workshops this year, focused on the value chain for rural coffee growers in Nicaragua, including small scale producers, first and second tier cooperatives, technical support organizations, buyers and funders.  The third in this series of workshops- all attended by the same participants- will be held during the first week of September, and the planners and facilitators of the conference are busy with preparations. Even WPF has preparation to do, as we have been asked to present some history and context on WPF Founders Harold and Louise Nielsen, the company they founded (Foldcraft Co.) and the unique way in which it has been envisioned, how and why WPF was formed after the sale of Foldcraft to its employees through an ESOP, and whatever other historical information might be of value to the workshop participants.  It’s a privilege to be asked to participate in this way.

Rene Mendoza, who has been the primary organizer and facilitator of these workshops, also sent along some questions about the visions which Harold and Louise might have had for Foldcraft, Winds of Peace, the people of Nicaragua.  The questions are deeply philosophical and invite thoughtful answers, which Harold has agreed to provide.  But there is one in particular which caught my attention and which I share here.  Rene asks,

As the expression of the Chinese teacher goes: “Knowing that 1 and 1 is 2 is important, but more important is understanding the “and.”  But I am not able to understand what they [Harold and Louise] understood. What is the “and” that Harold, Louise… understood?  Is WPF part of that “and?”  What is really the “and” … that only a few get to understand it and make it a reality?

Getting to the “and.”  That’s what Rene is asking for, to understand what exactly that means for people like Harold and Louise, why so few of us seem to understand it or demonstrate it.  It’s as if the “and” has some ephemeral or illusive quality worthy of the chase.  I’m sure that Harold will have some simply-stated, deep-truth answer to the question as he frequently does.  But it has also prompted my own thinking.

My first thought is that “and” means in addition.   “And” is the addition, the action, the including connector between two or more of anything: words, numbers, people, things, whatever.  There is something incorporating and encompassing in that simple word, something that embraces rather than excludes.  There is at least one world-view that suggests everything and everybody on this earth is here for a reason, a meaning toward the whole, that our own purpose here is to discern what that role is to be, how we fit within the entirety.  In that world-view, the “and” is as essential as life itself, since we cannot complete the whole without every element of its makeup.  “And” is a together word which presumes that there is no reason to leave something out, to exclude, to leave behind, to forget.  I suspect that Harold and Louise intuitively felt the sense of “and” on that very first journey amidst poverty and deprivation.

“And” also invokes adding to, as in the very example Rene uses, “1 and 1 is two.”  It is an indicator of a plus, creating something more than where you started, building something bigger.  It seems an irony to me that we human beings, who are always on the lookout for ways to create and have more of everything- security, food, comforts, satisfactions, achievements, things– seem to want to do so by and for ourselves.  And when we do see the need for collaborative efforts, such initiatives are short-lived for the most part, broken apart at the fear of having given up too much or at the lure of achieving some other objective for our own benefit.  Especially here in the United States, we revere the myth of rugged individualism, the perceived strength of “going it alone.”  It makes for wonderful storytelling but an inferior strategy.  No one of us is as smart as all of us.  Missing the plus of inclusion is like trying to fell a tree with a nail file: it’s possible, perhaps, but it could be done a lot faster and better.  Harold Nielsen learned that reality by building a business that could only be successful utilizing the skills and energies of all of its members.  It led to employee ownership and a participative organization wherein people were provided with the opportunity to understand the “and,” from both inside and outside of the company.

“And” implies a consequence, too.  The Nielsens elected to take that fateful trip to Central America all those years ago, and they were transformed.  Life truly lived implies some degree of risk-taking, a coming out of the comfort zone for the sake of learning, seeing differently, understanding the complexities of this world in new ways.  We will never understand all of it, but we are called to know more of it than we do.  The only way to achieve that look is through the lives of others, to see their realities in light of our own.  It was true for the Nielsens as they ventured far away from the safe confines of rural MInnesota, for the members of Foldcraft who are asked to see business in a very different way, and for all of us who allow the idea of the “and” to lure us to new perspectives.  There are consequences to such experiences; for some, the risk is worth taking, the consequence positively transformative.  For others, the risk is too great and the “and” remains an elusive curiosity.

Winds of Peace Foundation represents the “and.”  It is the current evolutionary place in a long journey of seeking, self-discernment, self-effacement, discovery and response.  It isn’t a perfect partner for those with whom it works, nor does it purport to be the answer to the myriad difficulties faced by its Nicaraguan neighbors.  But it is a manifestation of the Nielsens, and of those who have been invited along for the journey, to regard their own lives in a posture of servanthood and connectedness with the world at-large.  It’s a counterintuitive, countercultural view of life that runs contrary to the way most of us think and live, and why, when we hear of it in someone else, we behold it with a deep, wistful longing for ourselves….


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