By Andrew Morrison
There’s something special about the connections that happen when people work together towards a common goal. I see this at every workshop I teach. Without fail, there are people who share with me that the weeklong workshop has been the best experience of their lives. I used to joke with people that they “need to get out more,” but I no longer see it that way. Instead, I have come to recognize the beautiful community experience that people share at events such as a seven-day, hands-on straw bale workshop. I’ve seen it happen enough now that I felt it was time to dig a little deeper into why people have such powerful experiences. I have been grateful for the opportunity to ask this question of my workshop participants and of myself as well. Here are five things that I have learned.
- Adults are kids too. Most adults have a hard time being a kid once they become adults. In general, adults are more concerned about looking and acting a certain way than they are about being goofy and having fun for fun’s sake alone. Here’s an easy example: If you, as an adult, get together with a bunch of friends, do you a) have conversations about fun times you have previously had in your life, b) have a few drinks to loosen up and then…have conversations about old times, or c) run around in the street screaming and laughing with minimal clothes on? Not to say that we run around screaming and laughing with minimal clothes on in my workshops, but we do have a lot of fun. One woman shared with me that she had not sat around a campfire with friends telling jokes and playing music since she was a kid. She hadn’t realized just how much she was missing out on until she had the chance to experience it again. Another man shared with me that he hadn’t laughed so hard, so often, and for so long in about 60 years as he did at the workshop.
- When we work together, we connect. I mentioned in the introduction that there is something about working together towards a common goal. When we spend seven days working hard at each other’s sides a certain bond is made. Keep in mind that many of the people attending the workshops are not used to doing seven days of hard labor in a row. Although some are contractors and builders, others are architects, engineers, CPAs, parents, and people from many other trades. Those who are not used to the labor, feel it right away. Working side by side with others with that common goal helps people to not only persevere and keep working, but also connect at a deeper level with those around them.
Common Visions. Everyone who comes to one of my straw bale workshops has something in common: a desire to learn about straw bale construction. This is just the beginning though. Many have beliefs around living a sustainable lifestyle and minimizing their impact on the planet. Others believe in the importance of knowing where their food comes from and ensuring it is healthy and organic. Still others love the opportunity to meet new people and to work and play within a group dynamic. What’s more, people don’t have to have the same belief systems to connect at a deeper level. It doesn’t matter how you vote, where you live, or what (if any) religion you practice as long as you come with an open heart and a willingness to share an experience with others. No matter how people see the world they find ways in the seven days to come to places of common ground. The best example I have of this is my friend Cal who I met when he first attended one of my workshops several years ago (he has been to several since). He and I have perhaps the most opposite beliefs when it comes to politics. He said it best: “we live in different worlds” as he is from a relatively conservative part of North Carolina and I live in a very progressive town in Oregon. Even though we couldn’t disagree more on politics and many other topics, we have found a great friendship from our time together at workshops. We respect each other for our differences and care about who we are inside: kind people doing our best to bring something positive to the world.
- Coming back for more. My friend Gretchen has been to several of my workshops. She even flew down to Australia a few years ago to be part of my first class down under. I asked her one day why she keeps coming back, adding (tongue in cheek) that I hope it wasn’t because I was doing a bad job teaching her! She told me that she just loves the time with other people from different backgrounds who are all in the same boat for a week. She loves the friendships she has made and she loves the opportunity to spend a week doing something positive. There was no other reason. She doesn’t plan to build her own straw bale house (she will hire it out). She doesn’t need to brush up on her plastering techniques. She just wants to spend the week with amazing people doing something good for the world. I can’t argue with that.
So much more than a straw bale workshop. What I have truly come to embrace is that the week of baling is so very much more than simply building. We come together, a group of 35 or so people (most of which don’t know each other), and LIVE together. We bring positive, fun energy to everything we do…even when things go wrong along the way (hey, it’s a construction site and things are never perfect!). We help each other. We help the hosts by building their house. The hosts help us by feeding us and nurturing us for the whole week. It is truly a win-win situation. The hours before, during, and after the work on the job site are all equally as important. We have had “joke-fests” go on until the early morning hours (and yes, we still got work done the next day!). We have played music together and sang around a fire. I have worked one on one with participants who were having personal struggles in their lives late into the evening. These moments of “personal growth work,” for lack of a better term, have deepened the group dynamic immensely. The participant’s willingness to be real, to be honest, and to be vulnerable in front of people they have just met shows how incredible the workshop experience can be. We have literally laughed, cried, and shared our truths with each other time and again. The experience is so much more than just a construction workshop.
I have toyed with the idea of changing the name to a straw bale funshop, because “workshop” seems too serious for the amount of fun we have. The truth is, we do work and we work hard; however, we also play hard and share ourselves at a deeper level as a result. Just how the perfect recipe comes together, I cannot say. What I can say is that it always seems to be the same result: a week of incredible people coming together to do incredible things and all the while, connecting and creating friendships that last. I can’t think of a better job to have and I am incredibly grateful for it.
Andrew has a passion for straw bale construction that is matched only by his desire to teach his knowledge to others. With nearly 20 years of building and contracting experience, he has now moved his practice entirely to consulting and teaching. He shares his knowledge with thousands of people via his DVD series, blog, and hands on workshops. To learn more, please visit www.StrawBale.com.