The Big Idea
We're a collective of people, organized as a club, who care deeply about improving ourselves, our families, the members of our Tribe, and the members of our communities scattered throughout our Western Slope region. We affectionately refer to our club as "The Tribe." The Tribe is run by a Council of elected officials, and we've established several committees that are carrying out the various tasks related to the research and development of the project.
We achieve self-improvement through intentional actions that address the seven dimensions of wellness. Each member of the Tribe actively and continually grows in each of these dimensions, and actively and enthusiastically helps other members of the Tribe do the same. The dimensions are:
- Physical Wellness - Includes engaging in healthy behaviors like exercise, good nutrition, abstaining from harmful substances, identifying early signs of illness, and protecting yourself and those we love from injury and harm.
- Emotional Wellness - Includes developing the ability to feel and express the entire range of emotions in a healthy way, having the ability to love and be loved, and achieving a deep sense of purpose and fulfillment in life. This also includes developing optimism, self-esteem, self-acceptance, and an ability to share feelings.
- Intellectual Wellness - Includes engaging in creative, mentally-stimulating activities, especially creative problem-solving applied to ourselves, our Tribe, and our community. We want to expand our knowledge and improve our skills, which includes staying up-to-date on current events and how they affect us, and routinely seeking out activities that actively engage our mind.
- Social Wellness - Includes learning to interact with our families, our Tribe, our communities, and our world more effectively, and live up to the demands and expectations of our personal roles in each. We do this by learning better communication skills, developing intimacy with others, and creating a support network within our Tribe and our broader community.
- Spiritual Wellness - Involves seeking harmony between what lies within us and the outer world. We accomplish this by developing a set of guiding principles, beliefs, and values that give our life direction and meaning. We develop high levels of faith, hope, and commitment. We question everything and develop an appreciation for that which cannot be readily explained or understood.
- Environmental Wellness - Includes developing an awareness of our daily habits and how they impact our physical environment and developing a way of life that maximizes the harmony with the earth and minimizes harm to the environment. This also includes not just protecting our physical surroundings, but actively improving them as much as possible. .
- Occupational Wellness - Involves making use of our gifts, skills, talent, knowledge, and experiences to gain purpose, happiness, and enrichment in our lives. We want to integrate a commitment to our chosen occupation into a total lifestyle that is satisfying, rewarding, and helps others in a tangible way.
Outlaws University - Teaching Holistic Lifestyle Design
Our Tribe is the vehicle we use to improve the individual members of the Tribe. While this certainly makes an objectively measurable improvement in the lives of our Tribe Members, the effects on the rest of our community are only limited to the impact we can make through our own self-improvement. We can radically amplify the positive effects we can have on the world around us if we teach others how to improve themselves across the seven dimensions of wellness.
Enter Outlaws University.
As the name implies, we're a school that breaks the rules of education. We care about affecting real, positive change in the world in general and the Montrose and surrounding communities in particular. As a lifelong public high school teacher, I've spent my entire adult life trying to solve the riddle of how to help each and every one of my students. The system itself, though, creates barrier after barrier, usually in the form of rules, policies, and procedures, that severely limit our ability to reach every student. These barriers are usually created by well-meaning people who simply cannot foresee the unintended consequences of their actions.
Our school solves this problem by distilling education down to its most basic element - we have a teacher who possesses some useful skills or knowledge and has a desire to teach something, and we have individuals who have an intrinsic desire to learn those skills or knowledge. We bring them together and allow them to negotiate how that transfer of knowledge will happen. We will be there to offer suggestions and guidance based on our own expertise in the psychology of education and learning, but we are a resource. Nothing more, nothing less.
The specific topics we'll teach could be anything covered under the umbrella of the seven dimensions of wellness, but we adhere to the "oxygen mask" principle. When you're on a airplane and the cabin depressurizes, you're instructed to put your own oxygen mask on before you help others put their oxygen mask on. In the same way, our teachers will be people who have successfully applied what they're teaching to their own lives before they teach it to their students. This prevents a strong personal pet peeve of mine where so-called "life coaches" take money from people to give them guidance about living a better life when their own lives are complete train wrecks.
In future posts, I will spell out exactly how this will work in a practical sense.
The Current Lay of the Land
The State of the Tribe
Currently, our Tribe and the Outlaws University are in the development phase. Our Tribe has five Founding Members, one additional Tribe Member, and around four other people who are considering becoming Members. Given we're still developing these ideas, we're not actively recruiting new members. Too many chefs in the kitchen and what not.
Our Tribe members have a few extremely diverse shared interests, and we're currently weighing how to incorporate those interests into the project. The most notable shared interests include:
- Regenerative agriculture and accompanying animal care
- Brazilian jiu jitu
- Boxing and kickboxing
- Mixed martial arts
- Healthy nutrition
- Developing social connections
- Teaching and learning primitive skills
- Helping kids and adults navigate the negative effects of the COVID pandemic
- Firearms and other self-defense training
- Off-grid living
- Personal self-improvement
This isn't a comprehensive list, but these are a few of the major topics we discuss, do, or are in various stages of implementing. Each item on this list satisfies one or more of the seven dimensions of wellness, and we either teach them now to people outside our Tribe, or likely will be teaching them in the relative near future.
Our Surrounding Community
Making a positive impact on our community is a major goal of this project, so it will be helpful for readers to understand some of the features and problems that define our community. We define our "community" as the valley communities of Montrose, Olathe, Ridgway, Delta, Cederedge, Hotchkiss, Paonia, and surrounding areas loosely bordered by the Grand Mesa to the north, Black Canyon to the east, Uncompahgre Plateau to the west. and the San Juan mountains to the South. The area includes approximately 65,000-75,000 residents.
Our interest in regenerative agriculture stems from the historical agriculture industry in the area. Outside of the aforementioned small towns, ranches and farms define the valley landscape. Western Colorado is in a bit of a pickle in regards to agriculture. For 140 years, irrigated agriculture has defined the area. But the rising temperatures of climate change, coupled with drought conditions seen only once before in the last 1,800 years, are slowly killing agriculture in the region. Simply put, there's not enough snow falling in the mountains, too much is evaporating as the snow runoff melts and fills reservoirs, and too much water is being diverted for use on Colorado's Front Range and the America Southwest. This article explains the problem in detail.
The life of the typical rancher and farmer in the region has always been difficult, but it becomes increasingly difficult with each passing year. Not only is the water slowly disappearing, but the political winds of the state are shifting due to a population explosion on the urbanized Front Range corridor. As the population of the state becomes more urbanized, more and more laws and policies are being developed and passed that actively harm our rural farming communities. Like the reintroduction of gray wolves. Or the dumbass ballot initiative 16. Hopelessness, depression, and despair are rampant; far too many people are living exceptionally unhealthy lifestyles as a means to cope as their lifestyle slowly slips away.
These problems are exasperated by a growing trend where ranchers, due to impossible economic situations and no hope for the future, sell their land to developers and sell the water rights to various municipalities. This trend is creating a patchwork of developments being built in and around existing ranches. Given Western Colorado is a popular place to relocate, there's plenty of demand for houses in these new developments. City folk in Denver and the uber-expensive West Coast are searching for a quieter, slower, more affordable lifestyle, and the ample outdoor activities in the region prove to be a powerful draw. Indeed, the City of Montrose has been recreating itself into a regional outdoor recreation hub for a number of years.
Regenerative agriculture practices may or may not be able to save the area, but maintaining the status quo will result in a predictable, painful, tragic end to agriculture in the region. But more is needed than just altering the land management practices. The people themselves need support. This is where the Tribe and Outlaws University come in - modeling and teaching the seven dimensions of wellness with the goal of helping to make our neighbors healthier, happier, and better able to cope with the stressors of our rapidly-changing region.
Our Tribe and the University can also play a role in helping smooth the relationship between the people who have lived here for generations and the flood of outsiders moving from cities. Rural America is a different world. I know; I grew up in the sticks of Northern Michigan. There's an entirely different culture with different norms and different ways of relating to each other, all born out of necessity. Many of the topics we would teach at the University, such as agricultural and animal-based skills or primitive skills, would be geared towards complete novices. Learning these skills would help urban and suburban dwellers understand and empathize with rural living, and help them gain an appreciation for the hard work that provides the food they buy from the grocery store.
Likewise, we can also play a role in helping the agricultural community see the influx of new people as a resource, not an intrusion. Regenerative agriculture practices requires significantly more advanced planning, as does advanced water management strategies. The influx of people usually brings some significant skilled labor, which will help integrate technological advancements in current and future agricultural practices.
Or maybe we'll see a significant shift away from large-scale agricultural operations, and see a proliferation of small "hobby farms" popping up. In this case, our Tribe and the University would be well-positioned to help teach the basic skills required to run said hobby farms in a sustainable, responsible way.
Or perhaps the confluence of conditions proves to be too great to overcome and the entire irrigated agriculture industry in the region dies. While this would be our worst-case scenario, the Tribe and University would be an excellent resource to help people transition to other endeavors that would fulfill each of the seven dimensions of wellness. And, given the nature of the University structure, we could adapt whatever we teach to any sort of regional demographic shift. If the region does become an outdoor recreation mecca, we have the ability and infrastructure to teach any outdoor recreational skill.