Positive thinking

Diné in-law writes a handbook for 'rebuilders'

By Cindy Yurth
Tséyi' Bureau

WASHINGTON, June 19, 2012

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W hen Wahleah Johns of the Black Mesa Water Coalition married and moved to California a few years back, the Navajo environmental community must have thought it was losing one of its clearest and most persuasive voices.

Instead, they have gained a promising in-law, as Johns' husband, Billy Parish, proves in his book "Making Good: Finding Meaning, Money and Community in a Changing World" (Rodale, $15.99), co-written with DreamNow founder Dev Aujla.

The two young activists (Parish cofounded the Energy Action Coalition and his present company, Solar Mosaic) have produced an unrelentingly positive book about the end of the world as we know it.

In their view, the infrastructure of our global society - everything from health care to industry to education - is either crashing and burning or has already crashed and burned.

They don't waste a lot of time trying to prove this; if you don't buy into that scenario, you are probably not buying their book.

The future of this scorched battleground of a planet belongs to what the pair calls "rebuilders" - people who have thought of a new, more humane, more sustainable way to do anything from make a hamburger to build a house to redesign health care delivery.

"Making Good" is a handbook for potential rebuilders who have the seed of an idea, but are still chopping through what Parish and Aujla call "the wilderness" - a tangle of information overload, self-doubt and economic uncertainty that prevents them from realizing their goal.

While there are literally thousands of books on finding yourself - and if you've read one, you've probably read 20 - "Making Good" plows some new ground while incorporating ideas the authors have admittedly co-opted from others, seminars they have attended, and techniques they've gleaned from the Internet. (Indeed, each chapter has a section called "Resources" and another one called "Books We Love.")

In addition, the authors each share their own triumphs and failures with surprising candor, as well as case studies from what they say are hundreds of interviews they've conducted with other rebuilders.

One refreshing thing about "Making Good" is that it encourages the reader not only to save the world but to make a living at it. Parish and Aujla are emphatic that rebuilders deserve compensation, and it should be built into their plan - otherwise, it's too easy to burn out trying to support your world-saving habit.

They do, however, advise that you learn to live simply and not take more compensation from your humanitarian enterprise than you truly need.

Unfortunately, the money part of the book is a little thin. Their advice is basically to hit all your friends and family members up for start-up capital and knit together a series of consulting gigs until your company takes off.

(On the other hand, if there were an easy, foolproof way to fund a start-up nonprofit, everyone would have one.)

"Making Good" is heavy on the spiritual and psychological side of the equation, with simple (if not easy) steps to free yourself from doubt, elbow aside the naysayers and visualize your dream. It pulls heavily from what we used to call the "positive thinking" school: "Each day, we have the power to choose how to show up to each individual situation - each experience is a new chance, no matter what happened yesterday."

But of course, good advice needs to be repackaged for each new generation, and the young authors are unapologetically aiming at their own. They even shoot an occasional spitball at the boomers for selling out (not that we don't deserve it, but the whippersnappers would do well to remember who invented environmentalism and feminism, among other concepts rebuilders endorse).

Nonetheless, "Making Good" could be as much a manual for a midlife career change as a signpost for a young college grad still mapping his future.

It packs a ton of good, clear advice into a surprisingly concise format, with plenty of follow-up resources listed for any given topic that strikes the reader as worth pursuing.

But mostly, it's a blast of contagious enthusiasm that's much needed in these times.

"We face two clear visions for the future on the horizon," Parish and Aujla write in their conclusion. "One shows us systemic breakdown, desperation, an unmet need wherever we rest our gaze. And another shows us recovery, reinvention, the efforts of thousands who have countless brilliant ideas and who follow through on them."

Hard to argue with that.

Parish and Aujla, who largely built their nonprofits through social networking, also follow through on that aspect, with a "Making Good" website (, Facebook page and Twitter feed, along with an electronic newsletter.

"Making Good" is available through these venues, as well as and bookstores.