Is Gossip the Fabric of Community?

By Paxus Calta-Star

I co-moderate a large diverse facebook group on intentional communities.  Recently someone posted:

Gossip gets embellished as it travels. Things heard second hand should be verified with the speaker. Beware words taken out of context, even if the context is the room next door. Good communities practice all that.

While this is true as far as it goes, it misses the tremendous complexity around the issue of gossip and how important it is to both the culture and success of a community venture.

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What is gossip?  It is certainly more than an opinion expressed about someone who is not in the room.  “Trump is a misogynist racist,” isn’t gossip, unless you are close to him.  It is just an opinion.  “Cindy is gifted at fixing cars,” almost certainly does not qualify either, as most people think gossip is a negative opinion.

“Paxus is a poor driver.” What if this is something I have said myself and you are simply repeating it?  Is it gossip if the target is the source?


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They did what?

Let me propose a harsher definition: Gossip is a critical judgment shared about a person or group, often in conspiratorial or secretive tones, while not directly communicating with the subject of the gossip.

Using this definition one might reasonably be concerned that gossip would have an acidic effect on the fabric of the community.  One of the common anti-gossip norms that exist in the communes is if you hear something critical about someone you could ask, “Have you told this to them?”  This is the antidote to gossip; being transparent with the subject of the rumor.


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Back in the 80s, as I was just becoming aware of community living, when I was making a critical comment about gossip, my dear friend and mentor Crystal replied “Gossip is the fabric of the community,” and it took me a couple of decades to understand what he was talking about.

Even when using the negative it turns out gossip is important for a community to be healthy.  Members need to confide in confidants about their frustration with others in the community.  Ideally, this is less about spreading rumors and more about seeking advice.  “How do I deal with this headachy circumstance?”  or “Do you understand their motivations for this strange behavior?” or “I was so upset and they were clueless, what is really happening here?”

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In the best light, gossip is the flow of self-critical and self-correcting messages which members share in the lead up to actually addressing the problems.  [Where the “self” here is the larger collective one, rather than the individual personal one.]  You talk about things which are on your mind with the people who you live with and they help you reflect back on what you should do about it.  Recognizing that if you are being critical of another member of your community, you are obligated to get back to them with your concern.

In this way, gossip within a community is different from what happens in the mainstream.  If I am being critical or concerned about another member, I have a larger obligation to do something about it than I do if it is a co-worker or random stranger.  If you have a substance abuse problem and we live collectively, not only can it blow back on me in a problematic way, but I have made some level of commitment to take care of you.  If we are part of the same intentional community and I am worried about your mental health, I can’t casually gripe about it to another member, we have to be considering what our course of action is regarding this problem.  Even less dramatic problems other members are experiencing a poor choice of romantic partners or headache with a boss are much more shared in a community setting than when living independently.  Gossip in community has more obligation to it.

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It is worth pointing out that Twin Oaks does not embrace this culture.  In my large commune, if you don’t want to deal with someone you can completely shut down communication with them.  This is terrible for clearing gossip but might make it possible for some people who really do not see eye to eye to be able to live together.  And because the community is so large these estranged members (including me) just try to avoid each other.

It is worth pointing out that when ex-Oakers founded Acorn with financial assistance from Twin Oaks, this was one of the most important things they wanted to do differently.  Acorn (and many other communes) have a communication covenant which makes it the community’s business when members are failing to communicate.  When you are designing communities one of the thorniest issues is when do you give power to the collective over the individual members.  And gossip is one of the few places you should seriously consider it.

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Is Gossip the Fabric of Community?

My Favorite Things

by Raven

Here are some recent photos from this blog of the joys of Communal Living:


The folks at Kibbutz Mishol

If you look carefully you can see god hiding

The pool at Cambia

EW Labor 1

Working together at East Wind

cotyledon crew

The Cotyledon crew

5003 (3)

Cooking at Le Manoir


Saturnalia at Compersia

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The Twin Oaks Feminist Zine


An overview of East Brook Community Farm

ChickensChickens at Acorn

And from communes yet to be:

DV Trees

The land at Donald’s View


A map of possible land for Full Circle

My Favorite Things

Art at Twin Oaks



Rock/Paper/Scissors statue by Lindsey (guest).  Displayed in  Kaweah.

24210091_1566844903375384_3751067670206167007_oPainting by Summer of Purl. Displayed in her room.


Art by Puma. Displayed at ZK.


Lindsey Hoffman’s homemade collage postcards and photography by Alexis (guest).  Displayed in upstairs MT.


Sketch by Lindsey of shrouded R E Lee statue in Charlottesville.


Woven basket by Ari made during recent stay at John C Campbell Folk School.  Displayed in upstairs Llano.


Iron work by Stephan made during his recent stay at John C Campbell Folk School.   Displayed in upstairs Llano .


Art quilt by Pam.  Displayed in her room .

Art at Twin Oaks

Getting Beyond Two, Three, or Four Folks

  by Raven


These are the early days at Cotyledon, the income sharing community we are forming in NYC.  We are not even two months old.  There were four of us but one person decided to live somewhere else, so now we will be three.  This is not a good direction to go in.

The building Cotyledon is in.

I helped build a commune in Cambridge, MA, in the nineties, that got up to six adults and two kids at one point.  It was after we dropped down to four adults that we fell apart.  A four person community is very vulnerable.  We lost two more folks and we were gone.  I’ve heard of at least one other community that fell apart for similar reasons.

As the manager of Commune Life, I’m hearing of a bunch of new communities–most at this point consist of three or four folks.  Many have a couple at their center.  I’ve written about how some communities with a couple at their center fail to work out.  I’ve noticed that some of these communities have different dynamics, some of which still may turn out to be problematic.

I’m, also acutely aware of the new communes that don’t work out, or are transitioning out of income sharing.  It’s hard to build these communities to last and, I think, growing them beyond a small number of people is an important part of the process.

in , , on Wednesday, May 11, 2016.  Sarah Rice
Acorn, now

I talked with someone at Acorn about how they survived.  They were down to six people at one point early in their history and down to two people at another.   I asked how they managed to get past that.   I was told there were two reasons for their survival.  One was Ira Wallace, a strong person, and the other was Twin Oaks, a strong community nearby.

And how did Twin Oaks survive?  In her book,   A Walden Two Experiment, Kat Kinkade wrote that in 1969 Twin Oaks was down to ten members and dropping.   They decided to get rid of the entrance-fee.  It meant that anyone could come and people started coming.

I find Kat Kinkade amazing.  She was part of starting three communes (Twin Oaks, Acorn, and East Wind) and all three are still going strong. Folks have told me that her philosophy was to build up communities fast and I figure that she knew something.


I don’t have an answer to this but I’m well aware that staying small is a barrier.   I’ve talked with GPaul at Compersia about this and they are working on growing.  They are up to six folks now.

I believe that having some openness and flexibility while remaining true to your basic principles is part of what is needed. It’s a balancing act but I think it’s what you need to do to get beyond being two, three, or four.


Getting Beyond Two, Three, or Four Folks

Full Circle Proposal

Dear Twin Oaks:

Corb here…   I’m an ex-member (circa ’79-84), former farmer, EC wizard, cook, meta and papa (Leah was born in Morningstar in ’82).  I was a planner when my partner, Linda announced she and Leah were leaving.   So I left, but part of me has never been the same.  TO has significantly shaped how I run one of the most envied teams of engineers at UVa Medical Center.  As I get ready to say goodbye to over 30 years at UVa, I’m determined to return to community.

This Spring, as I was caring for my 89 yr. old Mom who got a new hip, it dawned on me that here I am…

  •  a community-loving ex-hippie in love with a super-long-term T.O. member who’s vowed to always live in community
  •  a privileged white male with better than average earning/saving opportunities
  •  keenly aware that the outside world’s approach to elder care has major defects

…surely there must be others who resemble at least some of the above and are willing to pitch-in to build an intergenerational, elder-friendly community with the goal of becoming an FEC community?

I’m writing to propose that Twin Oaks and “Full Circle Community”,  (which Aurora DeMarco, TO member Jeli’s Mom, and I are founding), jointly purchase the Purcell property with the intent to:

–        allocate some land for the expansion of T.O.

–        allocate the rest of the land for “Full Circle”.

Full Circle can likely afford the property ourselves, but we understand that TO has interest in acquiring at least a buffer beyond the graveyard (perhaps more) and thus we hope to purchase the land in a mutually beneficial manner, with a deeded division.

The ~100 acre tract in question was logged last winter. It is adjacent to T.O., and drew several Twin Oakers’ interest in acquiring it. After a community meeting, the Planners reportedly did a survey of the community that found significant support for acquiring at least part of the property using a combination of donations and TO’s resources.

A group of members (Keenan, McCune, Trout, Paxus, Puma for Planners) and I have been meeting regularly most of 2017 to sort out the many facets of this opportunity. We hope to come to terms on a property boundary before any purchase takes place, and execute a contract to legally divide the tract as agreed, upon purchase.

Map #1 –  How the adjacent properties nestle…


The aerial above shows a proposed pond site, the “Emu neighbors” and accurately depicts Tupelo in-line with the northernmost border of Purcell/Full-Circle.  The county’s hand-drawn rendering on the next map doesn’t pretend to reflect accurate placement of TO’s existing buildings.

Map #2

Yellow, brown & blue dashes mark 3 possible borders between T.O and “Full-Circle” Communities.

Green shading = most level, Orange = next-most level, Burgundy = medium sloping

Blue proposed pond = ~3 ac.

Light blue ovals = possible construction sites. Larger = community site, smaller= 1-3 unit home sites.


The second map shows 3 possibilities for future boundaries between Twin Oaks and Full Circle, who is flexible about how much land Twin Oaks may choose to buy.


Here is a Twin Oaks member’s synopsis of the three scenarios for TO acquiring part of the land:

  1. 20 acres: This would buy us up to the crest of the ridge, and some of the best sunsets you will see at Twin Oaks. You can think of this is a buffer if you like.  This could also be used as agricultural land in the near future, as tree removal has already occurred. Perhaps a combination of hay fields or future increased whey spraying from increased Tofu production and/or pasture.
  1. 40 acres: From there, our land would sweep down the hill to a small, stream that originates on the property and tends to flow year-round.  Crossing the stream, the boundary would encompass a group of small, isolated knolls with a lot of forest still standing. With access to small timbers, sunlight, shelter, clean water, low and high ground, and being relatively isolated yet nearby, this area would be ideal for a future primitive living group. If a footpath were extended to this area, it would be approximately the same distance from the Courtyard as Tupelo.
  1. 60 acres: In this scenario, Twin Oaks would surround Full Circle on 3 sides. Additional open areas with some forest and some building potential on W. Old Mtn. Rd. Twin Oaks would border some larger tracts of neighbors’ land that may become available in the future as part of creating a larger “neighborhood of intentional community”. Possible recreation path from the river to W. Old Mtn. Rd. along the stream that divides us from our neighbors. Hold section for possible sale to future community venture.

There are, of course other possibilities, including “do nothing” and “buy it all”.

So that we are moving forward in a way that continues to be consistent with the desires of the community, and in order to narrow down to realistic possibilities, we are asking for

community comment at this time. Your thoughts will help this process along to a

reasonable conclusion. Clarifying questions are welcome, as this paper has skipped over many specifics that you might be interested in knowing.


A Recent “Help Wanted” sign seen in the area:

Wanted: Fun-loving, hard-working people, experienced with group/community governance, ideally current or former F.E.C. members with at least modest funding, who are interested in pursuing land acquisition adjacent to Twin Oaks with the purpose of building, governing, serving and sharing per a variant on the following:    (Here’s one vision… far from cast in stone!)

  1. Building:
  • Residences – private and shared. Over time, shift to all community-owned.
  • Common land, hopefully including:
    • light agricultural
    • recreational (i.e. walking trails)
    • pond to service both of the above
  • Income-sharing community, focused on supporting elders in their later stages of life, likely following the co-housing model with elements of a “Generations of Hope”-like mission to serve those in need.
  • Hybrid, off-grid energy production systems centered around solar electrolysis of hydrogen +fuel cells.
  1. Governing: Sociocracy seems one of the best models to guide us. We’ll build a three-tier structure to both participation and governance incorporating private, non-profit and income-sharing:
  • Private residences for initial land owners who contribute labor and capital to the above building efforts, and the following operational efforts. All members donate time in service of others.
  • A non-profit entity whose mission is:
    • Formally: to research, document and teach best practices regarding these community resources:

– Ourselves, including our elderly – supporting aging in place as long as possible.

– Our land, including sustainably providing food, energy, recreation and wildlife.

– Our residents and staff who provide the care for the above.

    • Informally: to maintain the standards of care, policies and cultural continuity as we provide for both out patients and the land.
  • An income-sharing community of:
    • Permanent members and floating residents from other FEC communities who comprise the staff that live and work together, caring for the community and each other.
    • Residents receiving care who, if from non-FEC communities, pay a sliding-scale entrance and monthly fees and if from FEC communities, enjoy a waiver of costs commensurate with their home FEC community’s participation in the labor pool.
  1. Serving and Sharing:

Sharing and caring feels good; growing old, in isolation and pain doesn’t. Living in balance with Nature is essential to survival. A caring and ecologically sensitive community that’s accessible to people of all ages and economic backgrounds sounds like more than a mission statement, it sounds like home.

I hope to build upon the best we’ve learned in community as we prepare to accommodate those that we’ll all become: our elders.  If you are interested, please contact Aurora Demarco and Corb Ardrey at:

There are over 23 (non T.O.) people eagerly waiting to read the next installment of the Full Circle update…  let’s give them something to talk about!


Thank you!

– Corb Ardrey

Full Circle Proposal