by Raven Glomus
I have written a bunch of articles on starting a commune or community, and we’ve published more here. In many of them, we talk about how hard it is and in at least one of them I stated that you should join and live in a community before starting one. And probably for the majority of community minded folks it’s easier to just join a community as opposed to starting one.
Yet with all the posts on the perils and promise of starting a community, I realize that there have been few articles on what’s involved in joining one.
This piece was inspired by reading a post by a disgruntled former Twin Oaks member where he (at least I think the writer is a he) talks about how the community treats new members as “peasants”. I’ve seen other things written about how communities build themselves on the labor of new members and that new members get less privileges than older members. And there is some truth to this, especially in the larger communes like Twin Oaks, East Wind, and Acorn (as well as non-income-sharing communities, such as Ganas and Dancing Rabbit) but I’ve also seen things like this happen on a smaller scale in smaller communities.
The biggest part of that is that new folks can’t understand how things operate really until they have been there a while. And it takes a community a while to understand and trust new folks. Just because someone has been through a three week visitor period (like they have at Twin Oaks) doesn’t mean that they truly understand the community or the community truly understands them.
I heard a long term member at Ganas say that a person would join them and within a day announce that they had finally found the community of their dreams and that they intended to stay forever and then a second person would come and say that the place seemed ‘okay’ and that they might stay a little while and see if they liked it, and generally the first person wouldn’t last six months while the second might end up staying years. It’s not always true, but it often is.
The thing is that almost every community has people coming and going–many people idealize communal living and try it out before realizing that it’s not perfect and it’s not for them. People who are willing to make compromises and don’t expect utopia and are willing to stick through with something they believe in, even through the rough patches, often do very well at Twin Oaks as well as other places. Seniority makes a difference and I think that it makes little sense to give full privileges to someone who just got in the door and doesn’t even understand what they are doing yet and probably won’t stay very long and I think that’s the way most communities feel.
So when you join, be prepared for a rough patch at the beginning. If you think that the community is what you want, try to stick it out. It will get better if you hang in.
Another thing that I’ve noticed is that you shouldn’t expect to get close with or even become good friends with the long term members. They have already built friendship bonds with each other and they probably don’t want to invest a lot of energy in you, if they have no idea how long you will be there. Instead, try to get to know the other new folks. They’re in the same boat as you are and they will be looking to build friendships as well. I noticed that when I was at Ganas I got close with a number of folks and they were all members who arrived around the same time as I did, or later. I did build one close relationship with one long term member, but that didn’t happen until I had been there well over a year. This same person basically ignored me when I got there.
So this is my advice to anyone joining an already established community. Hang in there. Be useful, be committed (as long as it makes sense), and seek out other new folks to make friends with. If you can stick with it, you can create a nice life for yourself in community–but it will take time.
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