The Throw Away Society

The DC Chapter of Point A is moving rapidly towards the birth of the first commune. As we approach the moment of our launch we’re hammering out the foundational mechanics for our group. And arguably the most foundational, most essential policies are for membership and expulsion: how people are included and excluded. Thinking about expulsion is not a fun topic and many democratic and collective groups don’t really think about it. Some (like Kommune Niederkaufungen in Germany, apparently) seem to get on just fine for years. For other groups, not having thought much about expulsion eventually causes a conflict to blow up into an explosive crisis and, with an unfortunate frequency, destroy the group.

A community is a web of relationships, and a healthy community reinforces and weaves those relationships thicker and tighter. The complexity and strength of this web is the source of the value and power behind a vibrant community: it brings meaning to our lives, it enriches us socially, and it gives us access to support and assistance when we need it. It can include our closest allies, collaborators, audience, and friends. But it’s the very importance of our community that makes it that much more painful when an assault or serious breach of trust occurs within it. The bigger we are, as it were, the harder we fall.

When a member of our community hurts us or breaks our trust, it is common and reasonable to want them to leave and never come back. Maybe we fear that they’ll hurt us again, or maybe seeing them reminds us of the pain they’ve caused us, or maybe we feel like they’ve broken their side of the social compact and so don’t deserve membership any more. However, in a deep and vibrant community, and especially one with any history, ostracizing a member is messy because inevitably important relationships exist between other members and the perpetrator of the offense, relationships which are not destroyed by the offense. If the aftermath of a serious offense is not handled with sensitivity and care to all sides, it is all too easy for the community to divide into camps and begin to attack itself. If the perpetrator is ostracized and their remaining relationships are not honored, then damage can cascade through the web that is the community. That damage can cause other members to lose their faith in the community’s ability or desire to care for them and frequently results in an exodus of people from all sides of a conflict.

Additionally, although ostracism is sometimes appropriate, it often has the same problem as the throw away society that it resembles: it assumes that there’s an “away” where you can throw people where they won’t do harm (much like we assume there’s an “away” where we can throw trash where it won’t do harm). That’s not always true and if we don’t deal with the root cause of the offense and the perpetrator has not taken on the project of self-reflection and change we want them to then we might just be passing our problem on down the line to the next community they end up in. Similarly, this “throw away justice” assumes that the person who has committed the offense is no longer of value. They are trash and not worth saving.

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In light of all this serious thought about the process of expulsion is of obvious value. Especially knowing that often when an offense occurs emotions run high, people are in pain, and quick and skillful action is necessary to prevent harm from spiraling out of control. It can be difficult or even impossible to conceive of, design, and execute such a response if it has not been discussed by the community in advance. When we design such a process, then, there are a few deep questions we need to consider. If we choose to not just get rid of people whenever they harm someone, how do we respond to offenses in a way that takes care of the whole community and leaves us stronger and better people on the other side? When and why is the work to do that beyond our ability and how can we tell? If it is beyond our ability… what do we do then?

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The Throw Away Society

Communal Gratitude

Yes, it’s Thanksgiving week in the US, and while Thanksgiving is a very problematic holiday (where we give thanks for the land we stole from the native people and the prosperity we built on the backs of slaves), there is something very important about the act of giving thanks.

At Twin Oaks (and other communities) the highpoint of the Thanksgiving meal is going around the very crowded room and having each person say one thing that they are thankful for. One community I’ve been to starts every meeting with a time for appreciations.

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Thanksgiving at Twin Oaks

Being grateful, thankful, appreciative is a very useful community building exercise. Just as there are vicious (destructive) circles, this is an exercise that builds upon itself. I’ve pointed out things that don’t work in community–this is something that does. Many long running communities do something like this and it makes the commune a more pleasant place to live. This attracts people and contributes to the longevity of the community.

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We’ve had several posts here on what doesn’t work in community. Gratitude is something that does.

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Communal Gratitude

Communal Conflict

If you are looking for a nice peaceful life in a commune, forget it. I often tell people starting communities, that conflict is not a question of if, but of when.

This isn’t a design flaw of communities. Basically, whenever you have two or more people doing something together, at some point, there’s going to be conflict. This is because no two people are identical and no two people see things the same way. Add more people and there are more chances for conflict.

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And the important thing to realize is that conflict isn’t bad. In fact, working it through is a good way to reach a better solution than simply accepting what one person says. This is why consensus is more powerful than voting. In voting, the minority is overpowered. In consensus, you need to listen to everyone and try to learn from each side.

And I say all this as someone who is a chronic conflict avoider. Believe me, I am scared of conflict. But I’m even more scared of not dealing with conflict. Not dealing with conflict is one of the things that destroyed a community that I loved.

After it was all over, one of the folks I had been in community with asked me if I hadn’t been aware of all the conflict going on. I replied that I knew it was happening, I just didn’t know what to do about it. So I basically ignored it.

I still don’t know what to do with conflict, but I’ve learned a few things. The first is to actually say, “Hey, there’s conflict happening. We should deal with this.” It doesn’t go away by pretending it isn’t happening–in fact that generally makes it worse.

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Listening generally does help. If you can, don’t take sides. Assume there are good reasons for all positions and try to figure out what each person needs.

And sometimes a mediator helps–someone who is outside the situation and sometimes someone who is outside the community.

A few other things about conflict. What I’ve found is that the bigger the community, the less intense conflicts are. It seems counter intuitive until you realize that with a couple, for example, each of them will try to meet all their needs from the other person. The more people there are, the more points of view, the more different people who can meet folks needs, the bigger the buffer, the more likely there will be folks who can hear all sides.

And, for the last couple of years, I’ve been living in a community that embraces conflict. It’s been amazing to see people who will be screaming at each other in a meeting (this doesn’t happen all the time but it happens enough) and later be working together. These folks have lived like this for years.

And this leads to looking at one other thing about conflict. The goal isn’t to eliminate it, the goal is to make it safe to deal with. And something that makes it safe is commitment. If you know that you can disagree with folks, get upset with folks, even occasionally yell at folks, and they are not going to run away or never speak with you again, then it makes conflict more possible and therefore more manageable.

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So the commitments we have help us weather the conflicts and the conflicts make us stronger. If you want a commune that can last, learn to deal with conflict.

 

Communal Conflict

The Common Unity Project–Community Building Retreat

By Timber

Recently 13 members and prospective members of The Common Unity Project attended a weekend workshop titled “Heart to Heart Communication” created by an extraordinarily wise and highly intuitive community building workshop facilitator RoseMarie Pierce. RoseMarie’s innate ability to gently guide people inward to the route of their problems is confounding.  She has over 20 years of experience sharing these workshops which use the framework based on the principles identified by Dr. M. Scott Peck in his books: A Different Drum and The Road Less traveled.

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Members at TCUP originally sought out to find a solution to what we felt was a lack of communication process. We value living in community as a way to enrich our individual experience. We want to learn how to live authentically with one another; to build deeper, interdependent relationships; to heal past wounds and break free of our own egoic patterns.  Yet without a communication process and a common understanding of conscious communication we found that we were struggling to implement these ideals and bring them into our everyday being.

“True community is not simply an aggregate of people…but a people which have made a commitment to communicate more authentically, more intimately, more vulnerably.” — M. Scott Peck

The weekend workshop turned out to be a profound experience for everyone. The basic premise of Heart to Heart communication is that everyone has their own unique perspective in how we see the world, and how we see the world is a direct reflection of how we see ourselves within it. Our external likes, dislikes, judgements, blame etc, are all projections of our own individual experience. When we start to understand this we can learn to speak truthfully, taking responsibility for our feelings rather than trying to change or blame others.

The weekend began in complete silence. Slowly whenever someone felt comfortable they would begin to share themselves with the group. Layers began to shed. Feelings that have been withheld for some time were expressed. At times what one person said would trigger feelings in someone else. We learnt to acknowledge these feelings without identifying with them. What is this feeling?…  Where is it coming from?… What do I make it mean?…. Is it true?…

The workshop agenda was with no direction or goal. We were simply asked to “speak our truth at all personal cost.” We the participants took the wheel, it was a spontaneous journey that took us in all directions and gave everyone an opportunity to share their deepest selves. Past traumas, childhood secrets and withheld truths came up and new levels of understanding and connection were reached.

The workshop ended like it began… in complete silence. I felt a comfortable calmness in my body. Like I had let out everything that was keeping me distant from others and revealed my true self, I had nothing left to hide. I looked around the room and I saw everyone with new eyes, I felt no judgment being given or being received. I felt unconditional love and complete trust for everyone at that moment.

After the course we have had much time to reflect, there seems to be a general sense of empowerment from this new way of interaction. More and more we are taking responsibility for our perception of a situation, and our language we now use is starting more and more to represent that. We have continued weekly Heart to Heart circles without a facilitator and more layers are being revealed. There is still struggle, pain, emotions and there always will  be. We now have the tools to express and work through these feelings and because we are sharing them with each other, everyone benefits.

The Common Unity Project

RoseMarie Pierce, B.Sc.Pharm, is a holistic pharmacist with more than 40 years experience in both conventional and natural medicine. Currently, she counsels and lectures on holistic health and mind/body vitality, as well as offering group workshops in community-building. She has decided she would like to dedicate herself fully to facilitating Heart to Heart Workshops and she is eager to offer these workshops to more intentional communities in the future. You can find more about her @ http://www.holistic-pharmacist.com

 

The Common Unity Project–Community Building Retreat

Love of the Small

by Maximus

This video comes out of an ongoing conversation we are having at Cambia about minimalism and functionalism. The two ideas are not necessarily opposites, although sometimes a minimalist ethos can prevent things from being as functional as they could otherwise be. But is function always necessary? How much skill, and sophistication, and access to resources do we really need to live a good life? Perhaps, if we focus too much on function, we miss opportunities to connect with each other.

But, ultimately, it doesn’t matter if we build our community according to minimalist or functionalist principles. Either would be fine. What matters is that we take the time to really listen to each other, and develop robust empathy for each other’s values. That’s what community is all about.

Love of the Small

Gresham’s Law for Communes

by Paxus

There is a little known and not particularly important “law” in economics called Gresham’s Law.  It states that “bad money forces out good money”.  What it is referring to is important for coin collectors and sometimes for treasuries.  For example, in 1965, when they started issuing quarters which had copper cores in them, fairly quickly the all silver quarters disappeared.   Coin collectors and people predicting the increasing value of silver pulled them from the market.

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There is a much more important principle in communes, which is parallel.  Bad communards force out good communards.   Unlike the economic law above, this can be an extremely important and tragic situation.  People who live in income sharing communities, with some regularity ask themselves, “Should I return to the mainstream?” While there are lots of good things about living in communes, the mainstream for different reasons always has some appeal to most communards.  It might be the night life, or the higher disposable income, or the greater privacy, or the social acceptance or a larger dating pool.  (Some of these problems can be solved by living in an urban commune.)

This means when there is a serious conflict between people in a community, many people, at least fleetingly, consider the option of leaving.  For some problematic members, the community is by far the best option.  The mainstream life was perhaps not treating them well, they had limited options, and the commune is satisfying all their needs.  For some talented members, Babylon is offering all kinds of treats and rewards for leaving the commune.  For some small number of especially problematic members, this can means that they can get what they want (the other person leaving) by just digging in and being assholes.

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Communes hate to talk about this.  We are egalitarian, right?  We are all equal, right?  There are no good members and no bad members?

Bullshit.  We are egalitarian, certainly.  People have access to the same resources and people’s work is evaluated the same hour for hour.  But there are definitely “good members” who contribute to the community in lots of different ways: it might be their musical ability, or their ability to facilitate a meeting, or their marketing or plumbing skills.  They might simply make everyone happy when they are around.  There is certainly no “objectively good” member; it is a judgment call.  But talk to anyone who has spent time in a community and ask them if there are members who they were very sad to see leave, and they will confirm this for you because of the loss to the community when they departed.

Similarly, there are “bad” members.  And they can be bad for lots of different reasons.  They can be corrosive to the social fabric of the commune, they can be sexist or intolerant,  they can have under managed mental health problems which bleed out onto the community, or they can be pernicious gossips (something i am accused of occasionally). And they can just be assholes.

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This does not mean they should not live in the community.  It does not mean they should have any less access to our collective resources.   If we have selected them for membership, knowing these things about them then we have added them to our family and we need to be responsible for our choice.

But this dynamic is something to be aware of.  It is often the case that people come to Twin Oaks, for example, knowing that living at Twin Oaks would be very good for them.  Transformative, healing, giving them the chance that they always deserved.  And the right thing might be to reject them anyway.  Despite many people’s desires, we are not principally therapeutic communities.  And you need not have a mental health problem to benefit from being in one of these communes.  Often times living collectively, if done with an open heart and self-reflection can help cure you of being an asshole.  Because they are pointing it out to you, people are encouraging you to self-correct and play better with others.  [Commune life has not cured me of being a gossip. In fact, i am worse because there are so many strange and amazing people to talk about.]  It does not always work out this way but it can.

Communes need to ask themselves, “Is this person we are considering for membership good for us, collectively?”  If the answer is “no”, then it does not matter how good commune life might be for them, they should live somewhere else.    This does not mean everyone rejected from a community is a “bad person” hardly.  There are all kinds of reasons why it might not work for someone to be in a particular commune.

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But understanding the dynamics of Gresham’s Law of Communes is important to make sure that you don’t lose members who you really want to hold onto because they have other options when the person they are in conflict with might not.

 

 

 

 

 

Gresham’s Law for Communes

Live and learn in community

by Aviva Derenowski

I’ve lived in Ganas community for thirteen years now. It’s amazing how one year folds into another. I still feel as if I have so much to learn, and my friends will agree with me that I don’t always know when to speak and when to listen. I’ve improved much since I’ve arrived thanks to certain ways in my current community that encourage whoever is interested in getting feedback and change habits one prefers to alter.

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Ganas houses

I grew up in Israel in Kvutzat Kinneret, the second kibbutz on the land. We were about seven hundred sixty members. We had one member’s meeting a week, besides the scheduled committees. One could get lost in the multitude in those meetings. The person who wanted to speak had to get up and reach the mic. Those meetings seemed to lack intimacy. The interactions among members were minimal in order to keep the order. There was little emphasis on problem resolution and conflicts were not always addressed during the meeting. What wasn’t said was still present in the room.

I also spent seven years in East Wind Community in Missouri. It’s an established, colorful place that handles its meetings by counting majority vote. In this country it sounds sensible, but after living in Ganas I recognize that each person is a universe. Whenever a majority wins, there is a minority that didn’t get their way. Sometimes they are only slightly smaller than the people who got their wishes. If they feel strongly about their case, they will attempt to get the majority of votes. It is a see-saw system, where hardly anybody is satisfied with any decision for a long term. In Ganas we talk and listen till everybody is okay with the decision, and they choose not to block the process. Then we decide. Most decisions in Ganas take a long time to come to fruition, but we try our best to put the people before the bottom line.

Ganas is not an Egalitarian Community, but it has a lot to show. We treat people according to their needs, and encourage our members to contribute according to their ability. It amazes me how much communities have in common, whether they are egalitarian or not. We know that what we stand for is larger than the sum of the people.

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Walkway between buildings at Ganas

For example, members are encouraged “to do dishes” once a week. That means, cleaning up after dinner. Usually it’s a team of five people and it takes less than an hour. It can be a bonding experience, and very energizing since some of the people want to go home as soon as possible. Some other folks enjoy the experience so much they prefer to sit down, talk and work leisurely. In the end, the ones who want to finish early go home after the short shift, and the rest stay to hang out. But not everybody does dishes. Some people work outside of the community in the evening, others are not fit enough for this work. There are no consequences either way. People do what they can, and it’s okay.

Living in community can be practical and loving at the same time. In Ganas we meet five days a week for ninety minutes to talk about anything that comes up. One may need a ride, or somebody needs to mention a person who is interested to join us. At times people bring a conflict to the morning meeting. We value active listening in our community. Both sides listen to the different points of view, and the facilitator makes sure they all heard each other. Often the parties don’t change their views, but understand the other better.

‘No punishment’ is a value in Ganas. There are consequences to people’s behavior, but it is not to make them feel bad. If someone leaves the stove on, they may be asked not to use the stove again. It is not to make them feel bad, but to make sure they don’t cause a fire.

We are a community in progress. We strive to learn how to live together and grow in ways we wouldn’t be able to experience on our own. I bet you do too. I wonder if you use the tools of ‘no punishment,’ the one of ‘one case basis’ instead of the one of ‘one rule for all.’ When you are in conflict, do you listen to the other person’s point of view and let them know you do it?

Certain behaviors can smooth up the complexity of living in community. I’m sure you have tools that can enrich our life here. I’ll be happy to hear about them.

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Aviva!

 

Live and learn in community