by Raven East Brook

There is a dilemma that seems to happen often in communities, particularly the older communities, but it could happen in a newer commune after it’s been around a while.

Let’s take a guy, who I will call Aaron (only because it’s first in the alphabet).  Aaron has been with the community for a while and has done a lot and is well regarded, but Aaron has a problem.  Maybe it’s alcohol or drugs, maybe it’s just testosterone or anger management. Every so often Aaron says something that’s really inappropriate, perhaps it’s a statement that’s racist, or misogynist, or transphobic, or maybe just plain cruel.  The community knows this happens but many folks are fond of Aaron for one reason or another. Newer members are outraged and want to have Aaron kicked out but other members feel like they want to give Aaron another chance.

Or maybe it’s Barbara, who suffers from PTSD.  Again, she has been around a while and has folks that really care for her.  But occasionally she becomes triggered and screams at someone, or is abusive, or even throws something at someone.  Again the community is divided.

The dilemma is how much misbehavior to tolerate.  How much do we believe that people can change or that we don’t just “throw away” people?  How much do we believe in forgiveness and compassion and rehabilitation? And what are the rights of the victims?

Often the older members that misbehave are tolerated and newer members become disgusted and leave.  On the other hand, tossing out anyone who doesn’t behave the way we would like can be a formula for a very turbulent community where no one knows if they might say the wrong thing and be asked to leave next.

And who sets up the standards for behavior?  Who gets to decide what’s tolerated or not? A lot of things can seem obvious to outsiders but it becomes a lot more painful when someone that you care about is the person that misbehaves.  And how much do you take into account that they are dealing with an addiction or something like PTSD?

What do we do about Aaron and Barbara?  Do we treat them differently because they have different problems (and different genders)?  Do we follow some rigid rule? Do we only give x number of chances? Or do we decide everything on a “case by case” basis?

I am sure that some folks will have clear, simple answers for what the communities should do with Aaron and Barbara, but it’s not easy when you actually live in one of these situations.  These are questions that tear apart communities and result in accusations being thrown around. I don’t think that there are easy answers but I applaud the communes for struggling with these issues and caring about all the people involved.  Who knew that caring about people could be so difficult?


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