OAEC is a non-profit education center in Sonoma County that works to promote ecologically and culturally sustainable communities. Learn more.
Reflecting upon our long-term goals and the values that continue to guide our programs and community life, here are some of our “family values” – our shared beliefs about what is most important.
We begin with a reverence for place. Our values emerge in large part from the physical and meta-physical context of the geological, meteorological and biological processes which have sculpted our 80-acre site and the surrounding coastal watersheds.
With place we combine community, the broader human family of which we are a part. We then apply intention to bring place and community into balance. This is easier said than done. We are constantly challenged in very practical ways to answer the question: what is the right thing to do? To ascertain right action we rely on a variety of adopted and invented planning, decision-making and conflict resolution processes. We place great trust in each other, and in our ability to do what is fair and true to our values.
Here are some of those values – synthesizing place, community and intention.
1. Respect Ancestry
The sheer volume of industrial technology, media and materials in our lives forces upon us the illusion that the present is the only time frame to pay attention to. Yet without knowing the lessons learned by our recent and distant ancestors, we are indeed destined to repeat past mistakes, and to lose the wisdom they held. We at OAEC strive to honor the ancestry of our land, and the wisdom of people who preceded us.
2. Respect Diversity
A diverse natural system is a healthy system. With diversity, life hedges its bets, exploits every niche, and becomes resilient through interdependence. Biologists tell us that we are living amidst the sixth great extinction event in the history of the evolution of life on Earth. This one was not caused by meteorite, volcano or ice age, but is a consequence of a brief thousand years of humans exploiting every life form and resource encountered. Faced with this precipitous decline in biological diversity, we at OAEC greatly value actions that conserve and restore every expression of life.
3. Respect Ripeness
To know when something is ripe one must pay attention, and have patience. Just because we may be ready for that tomato or peach to be eaten, it may not be ripe. As passionate harvesters of our cultivated vegetables and fruit, and of wild mushrooms, Bay Laurel nuts and other native delicacies, we learn well to wait until just the right moment. This is a practice OAEC also applies to our social change programs. Social, economic and political conditions are often unripe for the change we so passionately desire today. Rather than act out of time, and harvest a sour fruit, we seek to prepare well, and act when the moment is truly ripe.
4. Cultivate Democracy
We hold democracy as an ideal to approach, not as a result achieved. Democracy is the constellation towards which we navigate the loftiest program goals of OAEC as well as the most routine daily acts of our staff and community. We are committed to democratic values: participation, inclusiveness, equality, empowerment, shared responsibility, transparency, accountability and respect.
5. Cultivate Community
In 1850, the population of California was less than 100,000. In 2004, it was over 35 million. Many of us lack the kinship, geographic context or locally evolved cosmology that made the world coherent and meaningful to our ancestors. Our challenge is to begin to act as if we plan to live here another couple of thousand years. That requires cultivating communities based on a local sense of place, awareness of the limits of natural resources, connection to the rest of the world, and democratic self-governance. Every OAEC program seeks to cultivate this practical, long-range perspective.
6. Cultivate Literacy
The International Adult Literacy Survey ranks U.S. adults with a high-school degree 18th out of 19 high-income countries in mean prose literacy. Researchers report that U.S. children today have a significantly smaller vocabulary than U.S. children of 60 years ago. These are indicative of the dumbing-down of America. When we lack the linguistic complexity or capacity to make sense of the world, as a society we are more likely to make self-referential and rash decisions on critically important economic, environmental, international and social issues. At OAEC we cultivate, teach and try to model ecological literacy, global literacy, economic literacy, historical literacy, democratic literacy, and other tools for critical thinking.
7. Cultivate Creativity
We value the creative energy within each human being. From whimsical indulgences to journeys into the depth of mystery, our creativity is essential to our humanity. When we develop our capacity for creative self-expression we enjoy richer and more satisfying lives. OAEC encourages each person in our community, and those we engage through our program work, to explore and achieve their creative potential.
8. Practice Solidarity
We have designed our work and lives so we must ask certain questions over and over again. With whom do we stand? For whom or what will we pause our daily routine and make a sacrifice? How far can we extend our personal circle of love and caring? We value personal and community acts of solidarity – speaking up for the voiceless and standing beside those who struggle for justice. As a project and a community, we at OAEC strive to create space in our jobs and in our personal lives to change that which could be made better, and to stand with all who aspire for a better world.
9. Be Radical
To be radical is to address the root cause of a problem; to remove the source of a disease rather than simply treating the symptoms. While for some of us, each day on Earth is infinitely beautiful, we recognize that we are living in a time of nearly unprecedented danger. Global ecological systems that support human life are close to collapse because of intensive resource extraction, climate change, rapid decline in biological diversity, environmental chemical toxicity, fresh water depletion and human population explosion. Actions that seek to simply regulate the degree of the harm are no longer acceptable. At OAEC we value ideas, strategies and actions which are non-violent and compassionate, and which focus on deep, structural, radical change of the sort that will give our children’s children a chance to enjoy more beautiful days.