In the most recent issue of my favorite magazine (dedicated to independence, self-sufficiency and rural living), I was stunned to come across the following letter:
"My husband and I want to purchase some land to start an organic vegetable and fruit farm, and maybe raise chickens and sheep. We have found several good prospects. The problem is money. I've tried going on the computer to find grants for starting to make my dream a reality. But everyone wants money just to give me books and list how to get a grant. How do you do it? Our home is not worth much (we are living in a fifth-wheel travel trailer in an RV park). Any advice on what to do would be very helpful. I have been reading books on organic farming, and I think we could make a real living at it."
I nearly blew a gasket. Grants? For making your dream a reality? Since when do people get grants for that? Wow, sign me up.
For clarity, a grant is "something granted, as a privilege or right, a sum of money or a tract of land." In other words, a grant is free money. You don't have to pay it back. It's yours to do with as you wish (or as the grantor determines).
Which leads to the question of why anyone ELSE should pay YOU for a chance to "make a real living"? You clearly have no experience in your "dream" beyond reading a few books. As an investment, you'd be a lousy risk. How about if you buckle down and work your butt off and figure it out for yourself? Because I can tell you from experience, farming (especially for profit) isn't all it's cracked up to be. Worth it, yes; but only if you're willing to experience a lot of failure. You face trials from weather, pests, fencing, disease, predators and a chronic lack of money. We've been at this for 16 years, and we're still failing at some things. It's a never-ending battle that has given us a deep appreciation for what our pioneer forefathers faced.
This person wants grants to achieve instant success. She wants to take the easy way instead of the hard way. She wants someone else to subsidize the risk with no guarantee of return for anyone but herself.
See, I look at this letter as an indicator of the way things have become in our society. Many people no longer think it's honorable and worthy to work hard and achieve things on their own merit, pulling themselves up by their bootstraps. Instead they look to others to provide things for them, to make it easy, to give them a cushion, to not allow them to fail.
Worse, begging is no longer something to be ashamed of; it's something to take pride in. It's not even begging anymore – it's entitlement. People come to believe they're entitled to (take your pick) medical care / housing / food / employment / education / ad infinitum. We're "entitled" to just about anything we want, whether or not we've worked for it, earned it, saved for it, sacrificed for it or prepared for it. We've fallen for the trap of entitlement so thoroughly that we're willing to take from others by force in order to give to ourselves. What a twisted, screwed-up and (dare I say it) profoundly un-American philosophy.
The government is happy to foster dependency by granting entitlements. Then pretty soon those entitlements become (cough) "rights." Then those "rights" are enforced at the point of a gun by depriving citizens of their income, property, freedom and liberties. Thus starts the slippery slope down the hill toward cradle-to-grave entitlements (often expressed as socialism). Success by your own merits is selfish. Failure must not be allowed.
But only by failing can you learn. If this person would take the effort to learn the hard way how to follow her dream, I think she'd find the success in the end is sweeter. If she can't afford to buy land – and many people can't – then there are farm cooperatives or property caretaking possibilities or employment in nurseries that will provide critical skills and education (and income).
We are a society becoming more divided into left and right factions, and I see the desire for grants to "make my dream a reality" as an example of how progressives prefer to approach those dreams. Have someone else hold your hand. Have someone else fund it. Have someone else take the risk.
A person from the libertarian side of the bell curve would have launched himself into the project and succeeded or failed on his own merit. If he'd succeeded, he would be in a position to offer sensible advice to those just starting out. And if he failed, he would be wiser – and still in a position to offer advice.
But if he is propped up by "grants," the whole enterprise is artificial. He'll never know if he was good enough to succeed or fail on his own. To me, this is a significant distinction.
By trying to take the easy way out – on someone else's dime – the letter-writer is giving up on what could be an extraordinary wealth of creative outside-the-box thinking. The most brilliant ideas and solutions are often forged in the crucible of struggle.
So my advice to these and other progressive dreamers is: Get busy. Find an acre of land in some remote part of the country – they're all over the Internet for cheap prices (you already have the advantage of a fifth-wheel trailer you can move onto it). Scratch for a living. Make mistakes. Grow and learn. Trade up. Trade up again. Take pride in your fight, your journey, your struggles, your victories – and defeats.
And eventually you'll look back with rueful shame on your original desire to have someone prop you up with "grants" to follow your dream … because you will have achieved your dream through the sweat of your own brow.
There is no sweeter feeling.