Risk, Resilience and Love: Lessons from Woodstock

As GreenBiz unveils its State of Green Biz 2013 report this week, risk and resilience emerge as new touch-words for sustainability.  The implications for business will be further explored at the GreenBiz Forum in San Francisco and New York later this month.   But what about the implications for society?   How will we respond as communities if faced with over-crowding, strained infrastructures, and unexpected climate events?   Woodstock: The Oral History provides clues for preparing our communities wisely.  And yes, LOVE is the answer.

Woodstock was written by GreenBiz ‘ executive editor Joel Makower (see our interview with Joel) in 1989 as a way to celebrate the 20th anniversary of the infamously over-subscribed three-day concert in upstate New York.  It was re-released in 2009, the event’s 40th anniversary, and is a timely story for our day.  Woodstock: The Oral History is a story of environmental and economic strife.  It is also a story of social creativity, care-centered risk-mitigation and cheerful resilience. 

Woodstock was the product of a grand vision and an organic design.  It succeeded despite obstacle after obstacle, through a combination of capitalization, commitment, fearlessness, inclusion and creative surrender. Central to the success of Woodstock was its genius security design, managed masterfully by the Hog Farm, a well-known commune flown in from New Mexico and assigned this task.   A sample of Hog Farm genius can be found in an anecdote by Wavy Gravy, clown and co-founder, as he reflected 20 years later with Joel:

We just thought if everybody was a cop there couldn’t possibly be a problem.  That was the logic.  What we’d try and do is take the hard edge away from the concept of security, which is people helping each other out…. So we decided to call it the "Please Force" [instead of the Police Force].

His wife completes the story:

So we made a bunch of arm bands.  The idea was that when we saw someone who was taking responsibility in a really excellent way that we would have an extra arm band in our pocket and would say, “You are part of the Please Force.  Help out wherever you can”…. It really worked well.

Other lessons (and reminders) I gleaned from my read of Woodstock, each which informs risk-mitigation and resiliency-building, include these:

  • People need and expect free places to convene, especially during times of great change.
  • People feel more secure if they are having fun.
  • Large-scale positive “vibes” can absorb and neutralize negative ones.
  • To create a culture of competence and security, recruit people gifted in the behaviors you want modeled to act as teachers and mentors.
  • Respond to characters who threaten to disrupt your efforts by inviting them to join you and creating roles for them.
  • If someone is feeling out of control with a problem, help them to get themselves centered, and then put them to work helping someone else.   Their act of helping others will further help them.
  • An atmosphere of love, and/or group yoga, can create a natural high.
  • An atmosphere of non-judgment helps keep things cool.
  • Solve problems as they arise.
  • Music and art can contain a challenging situation.
  • Don't forget to bless the kitchen.
  • When resources are scarce, sharing is the answer.   When resources are not scarce, sharing may still be the answer.
  • Reality is a tapestry of diverse perspectives.
  • At times things can get very muddy.  It's OK.

In The Oral History, Woodstock is ultimately revealed as part social experiment and part spiritual pilgrimage, whose soundtrack was an amazing rock ‘n roll concert.   Long after it stopped making business sense, Woodstock’s sense of mission carried the day and changed the world.  While re-creating Woodstock is not the task at hand today, perhaps remembering and learning from it is.  Because yes, LOVE is [part of] the answer.

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Sue Lebeck 

  Cool Block Platform Director

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