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If this is your first time here…

The Village Effect: A Review

by Raven

Communes, in a sense, are villages (especially the larger ones, like Twin Oaks and East Wind, and to some extent, Acorn).  Susan Pinker, who is a psychologist and columnist, wrote a book describing the human need for face to face contact, called The Village Effect.

The subtitle is “How Face-to-Face Contact Can Make us Healthier, Happier, and Smarter”.  One of her main points is that texts, email, social media, the internet, and other forms of electronic communication cannot replace one on one real life interactions with others.  She uses lots of studies from psychology, sociology, immunology, and neuroscience to prove, among other things, that those with more human contact live longer.  She talks about how infants need contact to thrive, how replacing real connection with technology often brutalizes teens, and how meeting through social groups leads to better relationships than online dating.

What does this all have to do with communes and communities?  Communal living is very high on human contact.  Susan Pinker quotes studies that say that “between 12 and 23 percent of Americans say that they have nobody to talk to” and adds that “in 1985 that figure was 8 percent”.  She goes on to say that “What Hurricanes Sandy, Katrina, and Haiyan, as well as the Chicago and Paris heat waves, taught us is that surviving is often a matter of who cares enough to check up on you.  Who will come by to offer you a lift, some groceries, or a place to stay if you need it?  Research shows that those people most at risk of dying have no one nearby to ask for help.”  In community, there’s almost always folks to talk with and, more importantly, folks available to help when needed.  One thing that I will always remember is the day after Trump was elected and no one expected it.  It hit a lot of folks hard.  I was living at Ganas Community at the time and we had a meeting that morning.  The whole agenda went out the window and we simply listened to each other and were there for one another.  And I thought about what it must have been like for people who lived alone and had no one to talk with.  In a disaster, in the communes, people are there for each other quickly–for example, after the earthquake at Twin Oaks or the fires at Acorn.  In a community you are never alone.  Some people complain about this, but this book shows what a good thing that is.

The last chapter in the book, “Creating the Village Effect”, begins by looking at a co-housing community and looks at how life in that (and other co-housing communities) increases a sense of connection and belonging.  Apparently, for the folks building the community the “aim was to design housing that fostered social contact”.  She is careful to say, however, that “This particular community’s goals, though, are less about material sharing than about sharing social capital.”  She further notes in a footnote that “Cohousing residents own their own houses or condos and don’t pool their income.”  Of course I think that sharing houses and income leads to even more contact and connection. I’ve noticed it seems common to put in caveats like that, making sure people know that you don’t need to share income.  It makes me wonder, what’s so scary about sharing income?  However, I think that should be the subject of another post.

If you have any doubt about the human need for person to person contact, read this book.  It gives lots of examples (and scientific evidence) why human connection (and therefore communal living, where that connection is enhanced) is so important.

The Village Effect: A Review

Pruning, Celebrating, Installing, Delivering, and Supporting

by Raven

Yet another week from our Facebook page.

At East Wind, Richard, their garden manager was up a tree.

This was well liked and a lot of folks saw it.

I posted about Magnolia Collective’s tree celebration a couple of weeks ago, but that from a post by Living Energy Farm. Here’s their post about the celebration.

Six folks liked it or loved it, but it didn’t reach that many folks.

Living Energy Farm did a bunch of solar installations while they were in Puerto Rico.

This was also well liked and it did pretty well.

Twin Oaks posted about pizza.

Twin Oaks posts almost always do well on Commune Life and this was no exception.

I haven’t always been copying the comments, but a couple of these were notable–one remark and my response.

Communities like Twin Oaks survive because of their diversity. If you want an all vegan community, you have to create it that way. (Interestingly, Acorn started as a vegan community but didn’t stay that way for long.)

Finally, an introduction to Serenity Solidarity. I’ve posted things from them before but I thought this was a really good statement of what they are about and their need for support, and they are definitely a community I want to support.

I was very glad that this post did well.

Pruning, Celebrating, Installing, Delivering, and Supporting

Starting from Scratch #5

by Raven

5: Throwing Spaghetti

How do you find people for a community when there isn’t yet a community?  

I’ve been using a scattershot approach or what I’ve heard as “throwing spaghetti at the wall to see what sticks”.  I’d love to tell you a no-fail method for finding potential communards but I haven’t found one yet.  Having a functioning community with interesting folks is a good way to attract people, but you have to start somewhere and since my first step is always finding the people, the question is how do you find folks, and at this point, my answer is “any way that I can”.

It’s actually an approach that makes some sense.  Since I don’t know what will attract folks, I think that trying lots of different things means using a variety of ways to reach the people I’m looking for.  In particular, I think that this is a better method for times like now when things are less stable and what worked in the past may not be what works now.  I’ve heard it phrased as “If at first you don’t succeed, try something else”.

So, what have I tried? 

I’ve put ads on ic.org and in Communities magazine.  I’ve also written an article about my search (called “Starting from Scratch, Yet Again”) that was just published in Communities magazine (Spring 2023, Issue #198).  I’ve talked about it to visitors I met at Glomus, to folks I saw at Acorn, and to people I knew at the Ganas Community.  I put something on our regional co-op email list.  I went to the Collaborative Living Conference in Maine, and the Queer Gathering and the Communities Conference at Twin Oaks in Virginia.  I gave a workshop on Collaborative Community Design at the Communities Conference and later at Ganas.


From the workshop at the Communities Conference

In addition, I joined ICmatch, which is kind of a dating service but instead of trying to match up with a romantic partner, you connect with communities and people looking for communities. I also just joined Community Finders Connect, a Facebook page that tries to connect people with communities. And someone I know who runs a ‘clubhouse’ to talk about communities had me on to talk about income sharing communities.

And, of course, this blog and all that I write here (including this post) are more ways of getting myself out there.

Importantly, I have responded to everyone who has expressed interest to me and talked with them and tried to find out just how interested they were.  I met with anyone who was nearby and had multiple emails and sometimes phone calls with folks further away.  That included folks that were interested in what seemed to me off-the-wall things and the person who literally talked at me on a phone call for forty-five minutes and gave me little chance to respond.  It has been a lot of trial and error for what has not been very many results.

But I intend to keep trying to find other ways to reach out.  I’m still trying to think of different ways to attract folks.  What avenues haven’t I tried?  Who am I really trying to reach and is there a better way to reach them?

As I said at the beginning, I still haven’t found any easy ways to find the folks I’m looking for.  If there was, I’d share them.  But here’s the only way I know:  Be creative.

Starting from Scratch #5

Theremin, Solar Truck, Winter Farm, and Building Changes

by Raven

It’s Friday and time for another recap of the week’s Facebook postings.

At Twin Oaks, home schooling can mean you often get to learn what you want, including how to make exotic electronic instruments.

This post did pretty well, although not as well as some Twin Oaks posts do.

Living Energy Farm posted about one of their members driving a very full truck.

This one did really well on Facebook.

Glomus Commune hasn’t posted anything for quite a while, but I think I know why, so I reposted this old Instagram shot.

A simple old photo but it did very well.

While many of the communes aren’t posting much, Twin Oaks is posting a lot. Thus I began and ended the week with reposts from them. This is about changes to a building–both in terms of construction but even in terms of the building’s name.

This also did very well, but not as well as that old Glomus winter farm photo.

Theremin, Solar Truck, Winter Farm, and Building Changes

The Blog Tour

by Raven

WordPress informs me that this is the nine hundred and first post on the Commune Life blog.  Rather than waiting another thirty-three weeks for our one thousandth post (do the math), I am using this opportunity to give new (and old) readers a little tour of this blog.  I think of this blog as a treasure trove of information about communal living and, with over nine hundred posts, if you are interested in some aspect of commune life, I’m hoping you can find what you are looking for here.

I didn’t design this blog and I am sorry that it is so hard to navigate.  On the top right hand corner of this blog is a set of three lines.  If you click on them, a menu drops down.

I am going to show quite a bit of the menu and then I’ll explain some of it, before going on.

This is the first half of the menu.  The first link is to our welcome page.   Here’s a snapshot of the beginning of it.

It goes on to describe several of the communities featured in this blog.  (Some of this is older print from the days when we could have nice bright red links.)  It’s designed to orient new readers and covers some of what we will cover in this tour.

Below that on the menu is a list of almost all the communities that are covered here–and, unfortunately, many of them are long gone.  It gives quite a bit of communal history.  If you want to know more about any community that we have covered, all you need to do is to click on the link and you will see all the posts about that community.

If you look closely, you will also notice a subsection about various communal projects.  Many of these are defunct as well, although the Federation of Egalitarian Communities (the FEC) continues to network the communes and the four summer festivities (the Communities Conference, the Queer Gathering, the Quink Festival, and the Women’s Gathering) are still all happening in Louisa, Virginia, and I think they are currently (2023) being organized for this summer.

There are also links listed for posts on rural communes and urban communes.

The rest of the subjects beyond individual communities and communal projects are on the next list as a subsection of what I titled “What Else”–just to stick it at the end.  (Again, I didn’t design this blog configuration or I would have tried to come up with something less clunky.)

As you can see, there are a lot of subjects.  My hope is that if you are interested in only one aspect of communal living, say Children or Consent Culture or Finding Community or Technology, you can click on the link to find out more and read what has been posted on the subject.

Whether you are researching income sharing communities or interested in living in one or simply just curious, I hope that you can find what you are looking for here.  This post is a little break to bring readers up to speed on what’s available from this blog.  From here we go back to our usual posts.

The Blog Tour

House work, Flowers, Displays, Tree Celebration, and Busy work

by Raven

Another week with a variety of communal glimpses on Facebook.

Serenity Solidarity has been sponsoring volunteer work sessions.

This did pretty well with seven likes and loves, two comments, and a share:

It also got a decent amount of views.

Twin Oaks published a pic of someone watering the flowers.

Twin Oaks posts usually do well for some reason.

Acorn has been publishing pictures to promote their seed business.

This did very well.

Living Energy Farm posted about an event they did with the Magnolia Collective.

Unfortunately, for whatever reason, this post did poorly on our Facebook feed.

No comments, no likes, no shares, no engagements, and a reach of only fifty folks. I don’t know why.

I also don’t know why, after I just posted something from Acorn, I posted something else, but I did.

This did pretty good.

House work, Flowers, Displays, Tree Celebration, and Busy work

Strengthening Relationships

by Raven

I can’t say this enough.  Community is all about relationships. I can’t say it enough because there are people who still think that if you can get the place and figure out the right way to do it, you can easily create a community.  There are people who try to do this and can’t figure out why they can’t make it work.  Community researcher Katarzyna Gajewska.calls this the Techie Fallacy after folks who seem to regard community building as an engineering problem.

The first step in creating community is finding people, but once you’ve got a community up and going, the best way to make it last is to focus on relationships.  So the big question is how do you build relationships in a community and, maybe more important, how do you make those relationships stronger?

The communes have developed several tools to do just this.

Recently, much of the mainstream world celebrated Valentine’s Day.  While I am sure that there are people on the communes that send a card to their sweethearts, many of the communes have transformed this day into Validation Day.  Rather than sending a card to one person telling them how much you love them, on the communes, cards are created for all the members and most people write notes on them with positive things they like about the person.  Thus, on Validation Day, everyone gets a card with lots of lovely things on it.  Someone said these cards were natural antidepressants–if you felt down you could just look at your card and feel better.

The cover of my Validation Day card one year

Another tool for paying attention to relationships is the clearness process.  Like consensus, clearness is a process developed by the Quakers that was secularized by the group Movement for a New Society who put out a pamphlet about it which Acorn Community then used and later other communities, including Glomus Commune, have incorporated into their membership processes.  I see the clearness process as a social hygiene tool.  It’s important in busy communities because members tend not to talk about little irritations which then build up.  Communities that use this process often require at least once a year clearnesses with every other member.  (Which usually comes down to twice yearly clearnesses–once because member A needs to do a clearness with member B, and then again when member B is doing clearnesses and needs to do one with member A.)  Two members sit down together and make sure that they are “clear” with each other–and, hopefully, talk about any difficulties that they might have with each other.  And, if the members can’t work it out, the community as a whole may get involved.  I see this as a way of dealing with relationship problems before they blow up. 

Yet another tool that the communes have pioneered is a set of communication processes called Transparency Tools.  Paxus (who helped develop them) has made them available in a “fingerbook”.  They consist of several different exercises that range from simple ones like “If you really knew me” to more daring ones like “Hotseat” and “I have a story about you” and some that can be tricky like “Withholds” and “Unsaids”.  The point is that these are all ways to get to know someone better.  I’ve often seen them used at events like the Communities Conference but they are much more useful in a real functioning community situation.  To give a trivial example, if I meet someone in a workshop and they say “If you really knew me, you would know I love the color purple”, that’s nice but if I never see them again, it’s not really helpful, but if this same thing is said by someone you live with, that’s good information–and maybe helpful if you want to get them a surprise gift or do something nice for them.  And if someone says, “If you really knew me, you’d know I was abused by my father”, it’s tragic, but there’s not much you can do for someone in a workshop. However, that’s something important to know about someone in your community.  Warning, these tools seem simple but can be powerful.  Paxus warns about making sure that everyone is okay after going deep–they can be dangerous in the wrong hands, like letting someone who is drunk use a chainsaw.

Finally, I mentioned consensus earlier.  While consensus is a decision making process, it definitely has relationship strengthening side effects.  While voting creates winners and losers, consensus, when it’s done well (and it often isn’t), involves listening and trying to understand each person’s needs and points of view. People can end up feeling closer after making a difficult decision, especially if they feel heard and included.

Probably the most important thing that strengthens relationships is listening.  Listen to each person.  Seek first to understand, then be understood. Remember, relationships are the most important part of a community.

Strengthening Relationships