I wrote the following post in February 2005, shortly after I decided to focus this weblog on our journey towards simpler living. I expected that what I had to say would provoke at least some of my readers. That hasn’t happened, or at least those who were provoked chose not to say anything about it. But the post still accurately describes my motivations for writing, so I thought it would be worth repeating it here.
At Cumberland Books we are in the business of sharing our enthusiasms with others. However, we “share” them in a very specific and limited sense. We tell you about them. We tell you why we are enthusiastic about them. And we tell you a fair amount about ourselves, so you can decide whether it’s worth listening to us. But that’s about it.
Just because we tell you we’ve stumbled across a good thing doesn’t mean we think it is the only good thing of its type, or the best of all things of its type—if we think that, we’ll tell you straight out. There are just too many good paths to take, and too many people in situations different than ours, for us to be championing our way as the One Right Way.
Neither do we offer our suggestions as a veiled criticism of folks who take other approaches—if we think criticism is called for, we’ll criticise openly and directly. And it’s not often that we think criticism is called for. We usually don’t know enough about people’s circumstances to know why they are following a path we rejected, much less whether their way is better for them—or just better, period. All we intend to tell you is what we’ve chosen to do, and what we’ve chosen not to do, and why we’ve made those choices.
Joel Salatin discusses some of the pitfalls of building a customer list. He points out that you can’t please everybody, and to please some people costs more than you can afford. Potential customers will often present him with an “if only …”—if only you would bag it for me, or freeze it, or cut it up, or store it for me, or deliver it, then I’d love to buy chickens from you. He learned that it was better to decide what things he did and didn’t want to do, and only worry about the customers who fit within those bounds, leaving the others to buy their chickens elsewhere.
Just as Joel Salatin has an ideal customer, I write for an ideal reader. My ideal reader is going in more or less the same direction we are going, is probably not as far along the path as we are, and is interested in what we’ve discovered on the journey. Now, you don’t have to be my ideal reader in order to benefit from what I write. But you do have to understand that, if you disagree with what I write on a certain point, then what I wrote wasn’t written with you in mind. (And if what I write makes you mad, I definitely wasn’t writing for you, because I don’t enjoy making people mad.)
Those of you who disagree with me are welcome to read what I write, and I would be thrilled to learn that something I wrote changed your mind. But I don’t write to change people’s minds; I only write to let people know what I think.
And if what I write makes you mad—well, I encourage you to think about whether that is a proper response. H.L. Mencken once famously defined a Puritan as “someone who is desperately afraid that, somewhere, someone might be having a good time.” These days I think we’re more in danger from Purists, who I would define as “someone who is desperately afraid that, somewhere, someone might not agree with him.” Please don’t fall into Purism. Better for you and for me if you’ll just shake your head sadly at my apparent foolishness and move on.