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Issue #4: People, Walls, & The Rich Life

Good Neighbors
Welcome to the Good Neighbors Newsletter - except you 2020, you were a Terrible Neighbor - where we’ll explore the ways in which real estate development and entrepreneurship can combine as a force for good in our neighborhoods.
Below you’ll find 3 sections: (1) A Few Things Worth Sharing, (2) An Exploration, and (3) Parting Thoughts.
Dive into whatever looks interesting, and don’t hesitate to respond and say hi if you have a moment. Would love to hear what is getting you excited for 2021.
A Few Things Worth Sharing
  • If—, a poem by Rudyard Kipling. I read this in the middle of the mayhem this year and I’ve read it many times since. An excerpt:
    If you can dream—and not make dreams your master;    If you can think—and not make thoughts your aim;   If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster And treat those two impostors just the same; 
  • Storyworthy, a shockingly good book by Matthew Dicks, for anyone wanting to tell better stories and thus live a richer life. He recommends starting by spending a couple minutes each evening writing 1-2 sentences for anything in your day that made it a bit more interesting. For example, mine today was my 3 year-old son asking my 7 year-old son if his poop looked like a maze. I hope to use that in a story one day.
  • A few recent finds I’m enjoying: - Craft as a delightful alternative to Google Docs- Command-E as a fast way to find anything on your computer and cloud- Public as a way to follow other investors and trade stocks with no fees
  • The Carolina mountains are good for the soul
An Exploration:
A bit about the “why,” the reason for attempting to challenge the status quo in our neighborhoods and communities. My hope is it will provide a foundation for new ideas and new ways of connecting with people who have lived lives different from my own.
Be Wide In Your Embrace
To be human is to build walls.
It’s our natural response. If danger is perceived, our instinct is to protect ourselves.
We build walls in the form of our homes to shield us from the weather.
We lock the doors to guard against intruders.
We build families and join communities, which can protect us from real threats, as well as provide both camaraderie and joy. All of this is good.
But this is our base level of existence. It is instinct, much of it rooted in fear. We are capable of more than instinct. Our evolution has given us gifts, and it is through these gifts that the human experience comes alive.
What makes us exceptional in this world is our ability to choose. It is our ability and desire to walk through fear for what is right, to lower the barriers we have built around us. Yes, our instinct tells us this is dangerous and we should remain in our safe places. But it is our morality, our complexity, our higher calling that compels us forward in spite of fear. Most of what constitutes a life well-lived is a direct result of this higher calling. Think about what you are most proud of. Chances are it is directly related to overcoming an obstacle, achieving something that was extremely difficult for you, facing a fear, or some new unexpected experience that opened up doors you didn’t know existed.
I feel this way about parenting. I often don’t consider myself up to the task. Like I wasn’t built for continually changing the sheets upstairs at 3am or listening to brain-melting screams for 45 minutes straight. But no one was built for those things. It is simply a daily decision to love anyway and act accordingly.
I feel this way about the work I am doing in the real estate world, which is an uphill but worthy pursuit. My base-level instinct tells me to give up immediately. That it’s a terrible idea and it will fail miserably. This is the very current all interesting ideas face, but we need more people willing to swim against that current for change to occur.
The very act of writing this and making it public is something that goes against my instinct. Overcoming this fear, though, has brought great value, richness, and people into my life over and over again. This very newsletter, short lifespan and all, has directly led to more than $600,000 raised for Chapel. People I’ve been struggling to connect with for years are responding quickly and introducing me to their friends who want to be involved. Others invested directly into the crowdfunding campaign. There is so much power in pushing through these walls.
We must face the reality that our protectionist instincts are not to be trusted blindly. When left unchecked or unexamined, they give rise to fundamentalism. This is the form we take when we close ourselves off to new experiences, new learning, new cultures, and new people. It is the form we take when we dismiss an idea that sounds different as “dangerous” or “impossible.” In any form, the fundamentalist is the enemy of openness, generosity, acceptance, and “otherness.”
Ronald Rolheiser, author of a book called Sacred Fire, opened my mind to how we should think about this “otherness.” A better word for it is holy, which actually means “other” or “set apart.” The holy books tell the same story: God shows up as a stranger on the road to Emmaus in the Christian story. Buddhism teaches a major component of the “Holy Life” is detachment, a “mind well-released, not clinging.” Set apart.
In other words, the divine (or love, beauty, contentment) is found in direct opposition to our instinctual wall-building, closed-off nature.
But here’s the hidden truth: It is this very nature that makes our acceptance of others meaningful.
As Rolheiser puts it, “True acceptance of otherness and difference means something only if someone first has a strong identity, complete with real boundaries and cherished borders to protect.
Acceptance of others is so much more powerful when it comes from people who have strong identities to “protect.”
The best example I’ve encountered of someone overcoming this instinctual response is Victor Frankl, who wrote one of the most impactful books I’ve ever read, Man’s Search For Meaning. In the concentration camps during World War II, Frankl’s entire family was killed. His mother, his father, his brother, and his pregnant wife. And somehow he later wrote these words:
“Everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms—to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.”
“Love is the only way to grasp another human being in the innermost core of his personality. No one can become fully aware of the very essence of another human being unless he loves him. By his love he is enabled to see the essential traits and features in the beloved person; and even more, he sees that which is potential in him, which is not yet actualized but yet ought to be actualized.”
This has power because it is an example of a human rising above his instinctual response. He tears down the walls he’s built, at great personal cost, and in doing so releases something truly beautiful.
In the world today, we can see the walls we’ve built in the rising tide of protectionism and nationalism. Many of us are operating from a place of fear. We feel threatened. We want to protect our privilege — our wealth, our opportunities, our way of life. We want to lock the doors to keep the intruders out of our homes, towns, countries. Then reinforce the walls to make sure they stay out. This is natural, and demonizing this human instinct only increases its power.
Yet fear is not the way forward. We have a higher calling to move beyond our instincts. It is often our ability to deny our instincts that leads to meaning, revelation, and truth. As Frankl says, “Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom.”
Now is a great time to use our ability to choose, and choose our response.
I choose to be wide in my embrace of others. This means more than rhetoric about ethnic diversity, gender equality, religious tolerance, and alternative lifestyles. It means inviting others into our lives and into our homes (one day soon I hope). It means investing into our neighborhoods and expanding our definition of neighbor. For this to be possible we must include the stranger, those we disagree with, and those decidedly different from us.
We can only learn and grow by inviting in what is new or different. That is, in fact, at the very core of what learning and growth are, whether with people, skills, or experiences.
Scary as it may be, instead of building walls let us be wide in our embrace. For it is precisely through what is foreign to us that we will unlock a life worth living.
Parting Thoughts & Updates
Chapel crowdfunding: Success
A HUGE thank you to everyone who invested in the crowdfunding campaign for Chapel. It was a success and quite a journey, through which I learned so much. If you’re considering something similar now or in the future, please reach out and I’m glad to share more about the experience. You have a few good options, but I had a great experience with Vicinity Capital and plan to work with them again in the future.
  • We raised 138% of our minimum goal, from ~50 investors
  • It created a huge amount of awareness for the project in Greenville. Two birds with one stone: fundraising + marketing
  • It was also very hard. So don’t do it thinking it’s an easier way to raise money. If there are shortcuts, I haven’t found them yet
  • It also led to additional money raised outside the campaign, potential tenants for the project, and some great momentum that we are carrying into a new year
Final designs are underway, and construction will hopefully begin before the weather gets warm again. Can’t wait to share the progress soon.
Finally, the little share button below is the Good Neighbors version of bringing over a tin of cookies to someone who just moved in across the street. You want to be a Good Neighbor, don’t you?? :)
Until next time,
Did you enjoy this issue? Yes No
Matt McPheely
Matt McPheely @mattmcpheely

The Magic of Places and How To Build Them

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Greenville, SC