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Nov 11

Lessons from Children’s Tales: Three Little Pigs

three-little-pigsThe Three Little Pigs.  We all know the story, don’t we?  Momma pig sends her three children off to make it on their own.  One makes it and two don’t.  Simple, right?

Two piggies were stupid and lazy, so they built their homes from the first pile of materials they could find, straw and sticks, with no thought about tomorrow or the durability of their shiny new homes.  The third piggy, knowing he might some day have to endure inclement weather (aka stinky wolf breath), took his time and found a supply of bricks to build his sturdy home from.

Sure enough, the big, bad wolf showed up and dominated the two houses built from straw and sticks, but couldn’t muster the lung capacity to knock over the brick house. In the watered down, safe-for-all-ages Disney version, the lazy pigs were fortunate enough to crawl from the rubble of their decimated shanties and find safety with their brother in his brick house.

But, just like the real story behind any Disney depiction, we all know what really happened.  Those lazy pigs were eaten.  It wasn’t pretty either. Think Hannibal Lecter dining on his friend’s liver.  That’s how it really went down.

So what lesson can we really glean from this story beyond avoiding being stupid and lazy? Since this is a sustainability blog, let’s focus on the houses.  That’s tangible, right?

In terms of the evolution of society, we are right up there with Mr. Brick House Piggy.  We learned ages ago how to make a building that would last hundreds of years.  We did it.  They’re still there.

Now, though, we build houses and buildings that are designed to last fifty years…maybe. Talk about a step backwards. What the heck happened?

Good question; I’ll tell you.  Somewhere between a long time ago and right now, we became totally aesthetically anemic and lost our imaginations.  We lost our value for things that leave a lasting impression.

No one wants to build a stone castle anymore because, well, what if we decide we don’t like it?  Why take a chance with something that will last when we can half-ass it and just tear it down if we change our mind about what we think looks good.  We can always have something new and exciting to look at.  Who doesn’t want that?

This problem goes way beyond people and their homes, though.  It’s infiltrated the way we do and think about business.  We build skyscrapers now to serve a sector of business that is there to make a quick buck and get out. The businesses funding this construction don’t have the capital to build something that lasts because, well, who knows how long they’ll be around.

Where did the long-term vision go?  Where did the decisiveness go?  We’ve built a world around us to allow all the options in life we could ever desire, yet we find happiness fleeting and lasting decisions are harder and harder to come by.  Business becomes faster and faster, yet shorter and shorter lived.

Now, we have the green building movement.  Awesome.  We’re starting to become conscious of the impacts of our habits.  Every day we’re getting closer to a world where buildings exist in a sustainable eco-system.  But here’s the rub – sustainable building materials are, by and large, less durable than their earth depleting counterparts. Bamboo, particle board, many forms of insulation – they’re recycled and renewable, but they just don’t last as long.

By all means, this is an improvement, but I have to wonder sometimes if durable might beat renewable.  Maybe we should bring back the stone castles and pyramids that still stand after hundreds and thousands of years.  Maybe we should spend more time planning and less time changing our minds.  Plenty of study has concluded that the more choices lead to less happiness.

What’s more important for the survival of Man and Earth?  Choice or happiness?  Is it really that black or white?

I lost the little piggies awhile ago, didn’t I?

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  1. ConsciouslyFrugal

    I blame the modernists (watch as they come after me, pitchforks in hand!) with their clean lines and worship of efficiency. Although I love the uncluttered look, I miss how design and construction used to mimic nature, which is a messy, curvy, intricate creature, no doubt.

    Wait! I’m not done blaming. The construction industry, particularly in North America, is all about repeat business and “efficiency.” Build it cheap, build it fast and build it to be easily replaced. We tear down classic buildings in this country all the time. Madness.

    Then there’s the transient nature of our population. If we don’t maintain our roots by living in extended family communities anymore, why would we care about physical structures? Hell, if yo’ mama don’t matter, a building sure as hell won’t either! And then there’s our general love of the disposable…on and on.

    ANYHOO–you make a very interesting point about renewable sources. I wasn’t aware that a great deal of these prized tools aren’t durable. Wowza. That’s really something to ponder.

  2. Alison Wiley

    Great post, great analysis and analogy. I also love Consciously Frugal’s comment above. I would just add that here in Portland, Oregon we’ve got lots of green building going on, including LEED certified, also green remodeling. Green building costs more. The energy costs of the building are then lower . . . but not necessarily in a way that pays back the higher construction cost. It’s still the right thing to do. My point is that green can’t and doesn’t always save money. That’s not the fault of green; we’re just spoiled from decades of doing things dirt-cheap. Or, in the piggies’ tale, straw and mud cheap. Humorously, a green building program here is called Better Bricks. :)

  3. Michael Thomas

    Hey Aldra & Alison,

    Thanks for adding to the conversation. You guys rock.

  4. erzebet

    I think that organisms that change a lot survive more than organisms that do not adapt. the world is a complex changing place so lasting things are not always better. I would always prefer a house made of modules that I can interconnect and change all the time than a house made of stones. the planet is also changing so I wouldn’t cling myself to things that last a lot.
    Did you hear about the concept of wabi-sabi? It is an aesthetical concept based on accepting transience and not durability. we are just mere thoughts in time so why build something that lasts?

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