Probably the most popular post that I have written on Commune Life is the one on Four Steps to Building a Commune. Recently I have started thinking that I missed a few steps.
When I wrote it, I wrote it with the assumption that someone who wanted to start a commune, had come with experience and checked out the alternatives. Now, I want to look at those things. Let’s call it steps zero and zero point five. (Or Step 0.0 & Step 0.5)
Let’s start with step zero. If you are thinking of starting any type of community, but especially an income-sharing community, you should at least have some real group living experience. How do you even know that you would even like living in a community if haven’t tried it first?
I know of people who have given lots of good reasons for why they thought that they would be great in community only to find out that they didn’t like it once they really tried it. You may be great at working with people. That isn’t the same as living with them. If you’re working with a group of people, no matter how difficult, you can go home at the end of the day. If you are living in a community, you are home. These are the folks that you are with, sometimes 24/7. If you don’t like that, you probably don’t want to live in a commune.
I would further suggest that if you are interested in starting a community, you actually live in one (even a co-op or collective house) for a couple of years first, and perhaps visit several others for at least a few weeks, before trying to start something. It’s really good to know how things are done at several places. The problem with only knowing one place before you start another, is thinking that the way that things are done in the place that you lived is the way things are always done everywhere.
The more places that you visit, the wider the range of what you see as possible. Three places I would particularly recommend people who want to start a community should visit are: Twin Oaks in Virginia, to see how a commune that has lasted over fifty years works (I have done two three-week visits there plus many shorter stays), Dancing Rabbit in Missouri, to learn the pieces of how to build community, especially an ecological community (I did their three-week program several years back), and Ganas in New York City, to look at a community that fearlessly embraces conflict (I lived there for two and a half years–I would particularly recommend going to at least several of their morning meetings).
Then there is what I would call step zero point five. Ask yourself why you want to start a commune or any other type of community. Is there already a community that would meet your needs? If so, why don’t you want to live there? Please be real. Starting a community is a lot of work and most new communities fail. At the very least (and this is moving into my Step One of my four steps), find someone else who wants to do this. Even better, see if there is anyone else who is already trying to do something similar.
As an example, I helped start Cotyledon because, first, I wanted to start an income-sharing community in the Northeast US and there wasn’t one at the point that I became involved. Ironically, I found some folks prior to this wanting to start a farming community in upstate New York, but after over a year working with them, I decided the way they were organizing wasn’t viable. I found out about Point A, so I would be working with a project out of the communes and after I was up here I met gil and DNA, so I now had a group to work with. (The irony is that a few years after I left, and by that time I was committed to working with Point A, the upstate farming community reorganized so that it was viable and became East Brook Community Farm. I am currently taking my own advice and planning on moving there as Cotyledon winds down.) And I had literally decades of community living experience, including having previously started a commune in the 1990s, and visiting all the places that I mentioned above, all of which proved very useful in starting Cotyledon. And, even that wasn’t enough when we weren’t able to attract enough people.
I am not suggesting that you need decades of experience, but I also think that someone who wakes up one day and says, “I want to build a commune” will not get far without, first, having at least some group living experience and perhaps visiting a bunch of communities, particularly places like the one that they are dreaming of, and second, having a really good reason for starting yet another new community, rather than simply joining one.
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