July 12, 2004

The Naturally Constructive Life of Scott Nearing

by Linda Anderson

All of us are attempting, in our own particular manner, to develop "a good life" for ourselves. Visions of that good life vary immeasurably, taking as many shapes and shades as exists in the world around us. For some of us human bonding is the essence of good living, while for others the vision is a more solitary and reflective one. Beauty may be at the heart of one good life, while personal expression has center stage for another. Service, wealth, power, peace, faith, talent, health... there are countless ingredients sought for good life recipes.

Scott and Helen Nearing's version of "The Good Life," as America's homesteading heroes, is a highly individualistic one. The form and texture of their lives are alien to many of us who spend more time with buttons, keypads and switches than with soil or stone. Yet the foundation on which their lives were built is not only familiar, but consistent with many Constructive Living principles. Their vision, which was fervently developed and documented for more than half a century, was based on purpose, work, simplicity, service, and commitment.

Though controversial figures, in terms of their radical politics and alternate lifestyle, there is little dispute about the constructive nature of their lives. They were doers, leaving in their tracks not one, but two fully developed hand-built homesteads (the second of which was begun when Scott was in his 80's), which also served as educational centers for several generations. In their enthusiasm for hard work, and simplicity, the Nearings were careful not to sacrifice their values and principles for end results. They used as little equipment as possible, preferring instead to keep pace with the natural substance and rhythms of life.

It is no wonder, in our comfort and convenience-seeking culture, with its worship of leisure and ease, that Scott Nearing was perceived as a jabbing thorn. Born into affluence, Scott rejected his privileged status as merely the result of good fortune for which he had no responsibility and to which he had no claim. He became passionately concerned about social injustice and worked fervently to fight inequality, even though he became ostracized from his beloved university settings as a result. For his sanity and his survival, he turned "back to the land."

Though his words, in over 50 books and pamphlets, were eloquent, his daily life was the most impressive contribution he made. Each day Helen and Scott balanced four hours of "bread labor," related to their own needs for shelter, food, and fuel with four hours of creative or mental work, including research, writing, and music. Scott maintained this routine until the age of 98. According to Helen, "He still worked in the garden and on the woodpile, though not with his former staying power... as he carried in three logs instead of six, then finally, apologetically, one or two at a time."

Scott gave the following advice to a young student:

"Share something every day with someone else; if you live alone, write someone; give something away; help someone else somehow ... this will allow you to forget your own troubles. You are too valuable a person to waste your time in moping, recriminations and self-pity. Get on to the job you came here to do and do it with all of your might."

He was a pragmatic, realistic, solution-oriented man who reached beyond concepts and theories to make contact with life itself. When Roger Mudd interviewed him in the late 70's about the energy crisis, Scott handed him an axe for splitting wood and said "Come up with me to the woodpile and I'll show you one way to solve it." They chopped wood to provide fuel for one family.

At the age of 100, Scott died "on purpose". With the help of Helen, he allowed his body to pass away by simply abstaining from food -- controlling the controllable. Scott presented us with a radical but gentle alternative to the process of dying.

"...it takes a strong person to formulate his own values of conduct and live up to them. It can be done, but it is not easy. It is up to each of us to lead a disciplined, constructive life, and to lend a hand where possible. That is about it."

"When it comes to getting around, I always walk if possible. I use mechanical transportation reluctantly. I like to have my feet on the earth and move slowly enough so that I can observe and note what is going on about me ... my formula calls for the least necessary interventions between my purposes and plans and their execution. Life consists in doing, constructing, embodying ideas inform not in pushing buttons."
-- Scott Nearing

Linda Anderson is a staff member at ToDo Institute.

Posted on July 12, 2004 6:07 PM
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