Communities as Living Organisms

by Raven Glomus

The post we published last Friday, by Katarzyna Gajewska, got me thinking about something I’ve been meaning to write about for a while.  People sometimes talk about communities like they were buildings that could be designed and built and they would remain the way the founders intended forever.

One of the things I’ve often said about Twin Oaks (and sometimes about Ganas, as well) is that no one in their right minds would design a community like Twin Oaks (or Ganas).  That’s because the Twin Oaks that exists now wasn’t designed.  It was planned one way and then it grew, changed, evolved.

A Twin Oaks anniversary picture

My view of communities is that they are living organisms, which grow, and change, and adapt, and often die.  In fact, many communities change in ways that frustrate their founders, often to the point that the founders leave.  Kat Kinkade left Twin Oaks and, in fact, came and went and came and went, and finally came back to die there.  Mildred Gordon also left Ganas, and didn’t come back until she, too, came to die.  Some people here have pointed out that Kevin and Sarah (the founders of East Brook/Glomus) are now gone (although Sarah may be back) and this has allowed us to grow in ways that I don’t think they had anticipated.

This phenomenon is so common that I have heard it called ‘founders syndrome’.  Whether the founder leaves or not, at some point they are faced with a decision, whether to let the community grow in ways they might not have wanted, or to be heavy handed and keep it to the path that they planned.  The thing is, you can control a community like that, but you will probably kill it in the process.

Looking at the six characteristics of living things, the cells of a community are the people.  As there are no animals or plants that do not have cells, there are no communities without people.  Communities certainly use and need energy–things happen in community only when people have the energy to do them and communities die without energy.  Communities don’t grow in isolation–they are forced to adapt to their surroundings.  And they certainly react to changes. They also grow and develop–as I have been saying.  

Finally, not all communities reproduce–the same way that not all people reproduce.  But communities certainly sometimes reproduce–Twin Oaks, for example, begat East Wind and Acorn.  East Wind begat Oran Mor.  And Twin Oaks and Acorn begat Living Energy Farm, Mimosa, and Cambia.

When you think of communities as living organisms, you realize the futility of trying to design and control a community.  You don’t build a community, you help birth it and you help it grow.

Communities as Living Organisms

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