Interpersonal conflict

Communal living isn’t for everyone. There are some definite trade-offs that need to be made. Theresa put this very personal piece on Facebook toward the end of August:

I appreciate her honesty but, unfortunately, it only received three comments, unfortunately. Here they are:

We talk a lot about sharing in the communes. We don’t talk as much about conflict and emotional processing but that’s also an important part of community living, and something many people are not prepared for.

Interpersonal conflict

My Commune Life Goals

by Raven Glomus

In searching for something to write for Facebook, I got a little nostalgic. In this post from our FB page, I give some of the history of this blog, as well as my reasons for working on Commune Life, both this blog and the Facebook page.

As you can see, I called for responses (including from other members of the Commune Life team) and I got a few comments. The first was from Theresa who explains why she is involved with the Commune Life work:

Because this is a picture of the content on our Facebook page, that link won’t work. Here is a link to our patreon page that will: https://www.patreon.com/communelife

We also got a lovely comment from Cathy Loyd, followed by a comment from someone who has been following us from Saudi Arabia, who wanted to know something.

I responded with some of my story:

And Zamin K Danty responded with some of his:

My Commune Life Goals

Talking and doing

This is sort of a follow up to my Facebook post asking How Communist are the Communes? I didn’t want to keep harping on Communism, but I realized that I had one more thing that I wanted to say and wanted to ask. Here is my stories and rather pointed questions.

I got a bunch of interesting responses:

Thank you, Cara–such a good place to end. In building community, shouldn’t the point be about improving life?

Of course, I should ask this of you, my blog readers, whoever you are. Why are you reading this?

Talking and doing

It’s about Relationships

by Raven Glomus

I’m into systems theory, which I see as related to community since I see communities as systems.  One way I introduce systems is by asking the questions: What is the difference between a pile of rocks and the solar system?  What is the difference between a random group of people on an office skyscraper elevator and an intentional community?  The answer is basically about relationships and connections.

The planets in the solar system affect one another by means of gravity–literally pulling on one another.  A couple of the planets were found by astronomers because their gravity was affecting the orbit of another planet.  They are literally in relationship to each other.

Communities are truly all about relationships.  There is no community without relationships.  I will repeat that.  There is no community without relationships.  It’s surprising but many people don’t seem to know that.  You can have lots of lovely buildings, all sorts of eco-friendly technology, and plenty of people, you can design what might seem to be the perfect community, but without working on building and maintaining relationships, there will be no lasting community.

Unfortunately, building and maintaining relationships is hard work.  It takes time and commitment and lots of effort.  There is no easy answer about how to do it, but probably the most important thing that you can do is to commit to staying with the relationships and staying with people.  

Getting lots of support for yourself is also very important.  Find people outside the community that you can talk with about what’s going on.  Thinking with someone outside of the community who will just listen to you, who will help you when you need to have difficult conversations with community members. You don’t need advice, you just need a neutral person to think with.

The next most important skill is being able to listen.  Stephen Covey states it as “Seek first to understand, then to be understood”.  Learn all that you can about consensus decision making ( or sociocracy or some other decision making process) and conflict resolution. Finally, don’t be afraid to bring in outside mediators if things get stuck.  

The point isn’t to win all the arguments or make sure that the community goes in one direction or another, the point is to make everyone in the community feel heard and taken care of.  More than anything else in community (and there is a lot else) relationships matter.  If you can keep all the relationships in the community strong and healthy, the community will, most likely, be strong and happy.

I am not saying that you don’t need to worry about finances or the goals of the community or your infrastructure, but I am saying that these are things that the community needs to deal with together, and the better the relationships are in the community, the easier it will be to deal with all the problems that you encounter.

It’s about Relationships

Community and Techie Fallacy

by Katarzyna Gajewska

Have you met him already? It is usually a man, an engineer or other type of techie, who has understood it all. He has seen through and does not want to submit to the systemic absurdity anymore. He has started to think about how to get out of it. He has read. He has figured out that the current production system does not make sense. Now he is thinking what he can do about it. He may have joined groups interested in these topics or created his own group. The next natural step would be to create a community.

If you want to create an alternative to the current dysfunctional system, you need to understand the fallacy that brought us here, which affects our mindset. The major problem is that economy has been designed by a handful of detached individuals rather than co-created by all affected. Those who have worked as programmers or engineers may bring this policy into their alternative project. Design will not build a community, neither a well written plan or a website with fancy videos. Only people can build a community and this is where the difficulty begins and most stories end.

Developing technology requires highly advanced skills. It takes time and specialization. All these hours spent on honing this expertise may appear as a hard work in comparison to hanging out with people and being in relationships. This long quest may lead to a conclusion that what one needs is the right architecture.

It is worth observing the seduction of technology. It flatters with measurable results and the feeling of achievement. There is something exciting about sketching a model and implementing it. Simplicity feels comfortable.

Have you ever wondered why it hardly ever works? In reality, there is a difference between building a software and building a community. There are some aspects that you need to define in advance like a code. However, your code’s most important element is the space and time for collective processing. Design without a process is garbage hardly usable by anyone except for the one who prepares it and has good time fantasizing and keeping his mind occupied. A collective process may result in a design that exceeds the limits of an isolated mind. Just to give you a an idea, Kommune Niederkaufungen spent years on preparation. The entire project took off because a group of friends met regularly and started dreaming together. If you do not want to waste your time on waiting for a community to develop organically, then consider the comfort of computer work.

No matter how great technological solutions will not sustain any community. Without good vibes, any infrastructure will stay hollow. What is the point of optimization and improvement if you are surrounded by people you do not like to be with in the first place?

There is no such thing as a community without communicating. Learning hard science may create an expectation that a feedback or argument should be logical. For someone who thinks he knows it all because he studied a lot, something that falls outside of his expertise may appear as illogical. There is a difference between knowledge and wisdom. You can acquire knowledge by reading and learning. Wisdom requires going out there into the discomforts and risking being hurt.

A community needs a marriage of knowledge and wisdom. However, our society skewed towards recognizing knowledge rather than wisdom may have thwarted your ability to see them as equal partners. There are some things about community that cannot be formulated as scientific proof. If you have been socialized in scientific way of thinking, you need to be particularly careful to be able to hear the wisdom. It is so easy to dismiss something which is outside of our comfort zone.

In my book “Imagine a Sane Society,” I point to the fact that feminine values and logic are marginalized by our society. When I say feminine, I do not mean gender. It goes beyond biology. Usually techies are more in their masculine essence. Therefore, they need to be careful to be able to hear and even ask the feminine to talk.

The moment when polarities are coming together feels exciting. This is why we keep falling in love, agonizing over breakups, and daydreaming about a stranger. Why not fully embrace the fact that we need each other. And even if we don’t, things are simply more interesting when spiced up by the differences.

It may sound debilitating at first to see that all these hours spent on developing your skills will not suffice to create a community or an alternative production system. However, this is not a wasted time. The fact that something prompted you in the past to invest in this knowledge is the gift that you were meant to give to the world. But it can be given in the best way if it is embedded in a community and human relations., which is an opportunity to step into a life much richer than you designed at the outset. Your design will not spell magic on people but there is a magic in seeing your limits and seeing others. This enables your knowledge to become a gift. A community can rescue it from your lopsidedness.

Help to push Katarzyna’s work to the masses. The entire book will be available for free (digital text + audio) once we collect enough money for production. Donate here!

Listen to an excerpt from this book HERE!

For updates on her publications: Katarzyna Gajewska – Independent Scholar

Her recent publications:

On crowdfunding with Cambia community to complete a feminine utopia and boycotting Amazon

Robot as a Teacher: The Perils of Digitalized Progress in Education

Of Viruses and the Limits of Masculine (Dys)topias

The Cultural Preparation for Crisis

Naming the Alternatives

So you want to leave it all and create a community?

Community and Techie Fallacy

For now…

Yes, it’s Thursday. But this is to let you know, as of tomorrow, I will be returning this blog to its previous Monday/Wednesday/Friday schedule, except, most of the content, similar to what I did in June, will be reprinted Facebook posts

On one hand, this means that I don’t have to work so hard creating new content (or trying to get stuff from overworked communards) for what, at this point, is a very small audience. On the other hand, I am not abandoning you entirely. If you do not want to go on to Facebook to have to see Commune Life content, I totally understand. I am only on Facebook because Theresa worked hard to persuade me that we would reach a much larger audience there.

So this is my compromise. I won’t say how long we will be doing this, but reposting daily for the month of June wasn’t that difficult, so I think that this is something that I can keep doing.

See you tomorrow.

–Raven

For now…

Twin Oaks on Reddit

At the end of February, something interesting and unusual happened. Keenan Dakota, who lives at Twin Oaks, got on Reddit, which has an “Ask Me Anything” (abbreviated AMA) track, and said that he lived in an “…egalitarian, income-sharing community…” and was open to questions–and boy, did he get comments–well over nine thousand! This was the best educational opportunity that I have ever seen for the communes.

I did a post on here about it focusing on all the questions that he got that asked if the communes were cults, but I realize that I never posted anything directly about it here–although there were a couple of Facebook posts. So here are some bits from the FB posts, which give a little of the flavor of Keenan’s Reddit comments. First of all, the original FB post, which doesn’t say much:

It’s interesting to note that although this post reached 950 people (!) and got 290 ‘engagements’, there was only one comment.

I decided that it was so interesting that I published a second post with a few bits from Keenan’s actual Reddit comments:

Of course, this is only a very few of the comments, but at least it gives a flavor of this ground breaking bit of social media.

Twin Oaks on Reddit

We’re baaack… for a month…

by Raven Glomus

For those of you who might have been missing this blog, we will be back and very active for the month of June.  How active?  I intend to have something every day this month.

How can that be?  Wasn’t I complaining about burning out from having to put stuff out three times a week?  Well, yes, but this is completely different.  I have been making sure (with a lot of help from Theresa) that there is content every day on Facebook.  This will continue.  What I am doing on this blog will be just (mostly) reposting stuff that is on Facebook (going back to February) that seems interesting and hasn’t been on this blog.  In a sense, this is a continuation of what I had been doing with the Friday posts (the Facebook question reprints).

So this is a labor of love almost totally for all of you who follow this blog and are not (and very probably don’t want to be) on Facebook.  I am totally sympathetic with this.  I hate Facebook.  I am only on it because it offers a platform that has a much higher viewing rate than this blog.  So it is my pleasure to feed back the work that we have been doing there to this blog so anti-Facebook folks can read it, enjoy it, and learn from it.

I am only promising this for the month of June.  We will see where this blog goes from there, but, hey, enjoy this month–as well as the warmer weather (at least for those of us in the northern hemisphere).

(PS I will not be signing all these posts, but when I say, “I”, I mean me, Raven.)

We’re baaack… for a month…

The Art of Maintaining Good Vibes

The Art of Maintaining “Good Vibes:” lessons on practices and skills from two egalitarian communities

from the P2P Foundation

If you can make it there, you can make it anywhere. Egalitarian communes create an alternative to capitalist individualist lifestyle and values. The add communal organization of life and sharing living space to the self-managed enterprises that they operate to generate income. Living in such setting means agreeing to be challenged and confronted with the conditioning of modern upbringing. They developed practices that help to create an alternative to the socialization in the capitalist system. Maintaining “good vibes” does not come naturally as we may assume but requires structure, regular practices, and group effort. In a community, a two-person conflict is a community affair because the entire community may be affected.

Creating an alternative economy and organization of production implies a transformation of the relations and ways of inter-personal functioning that have been inculcated into hierarchy culture and the capitalist system. The following analysis will give some insights into intentional ways of creating a new culture that can serve as an inspiration for the organizations that want to create an alternative to the mainstream. We can learn from these advanced forms of cooperation for other co-operative projects.

I interviewed dozens of members of two egalitarian communities (also called communes), rural Acorn community in Virginia, US (consisting of 30 adults and one child at the time of research in 2014) and suburban Kummune Niederkaufungen near to Kassel in Germany (consisting of 60 adults and 20 teens and children in 2016). Egalitarian communities constitute a more advanced version of experimenting with alternative economy than ecovillages. They share labor, land, and resources according to one’s needs and everyone contributes in a chosen way to reproductive and income-producing endeavors. They apply the principle of consensus to their decision-making.

How the communes maintain good vibes?

In both communities, there are weekly meetings to discuss and make decisions. They are also an occasion to get updates on the lives of individual members and communal affairs. In Niederkaufungen, there is a general meeting once a week and working groups that discuss specific topics meet according to their own schedules. In Acorn, another weekly meeting is scheduled to discuss a proposed topic with a moderator. This may serve as a preparation for decision-making during weekly General Assembly.

In both communes, all kinds of conflicts, all kinds, including romantic breaks-ups are seen as a communal affair. There are several people who volunteer to be mediators in such cases and help the conflicted to communicate. One of Niederkaufungen’s enterprises is a training center for non-violent communication (it is a method and theory developed by Marshall B. Rosenberg1). Therefore, the community has experienced trainers and many of the members are familiar with the method. This, however, does not mean that there are no conflicts. Some people have not talked to each other for years as a consequence of a conflict. Some resentments are held for a long time, which is often caused by not knowing and understanding the other. They may avoid the resented person and gossip. Some people feel frustrated because decisions and changes in the life of the commune take such a long time. Discussions in groups to understand different standpoints on an issue causing a conflict also may take time.

Living in a commune is not easier than in the mainstream society – it is challenging in a different way. It involves a lot of talking: in assembly, in smaller groups, informal exchanges. Gossiping is a form of dealing with frustration. Talking seems to be a crucial factor in maintaining togetherness and self-insight.

Both communities recognize that being closer and more inter-dependent than it is usually the case in the relationships outside one’s family is a challenge. The communes have developed their own ways of maintaining community spirit and good relations among communards.

Acorn:

  • regular personal updates, so called “clearness process” : “This measure consists of weekly check-ins – short sharing of how one feels during a weekly meeting, presenting one’s wellbeing and plans towards the community once a year, and obligation to talk with each community member in a one-on-one conversation at least once a year. The latter one is reported during the weekly community meeting. For example, someone shared that the obligatory conversation made her realize that she had a lot in common with someone she hardly talked to all the year.” (Gajewska 11 October 2016)
  • principle of no “withholds”: “The principle of “no withholds” bases on the premise that long-term frustration may result in explosion or bad atmosphere. Members schedule an appointment to share their frustration. The addressee of this revealing is supposed to abstain from responding during certain time and integrate the feedback.” (Gajewska 11 October 2016).

Niederkaufungen:

  • therapy groups: Some members choose to meet regularly in meetings, for example, men’s group, to provide each other support and more insight. There is no leader or expert. Meeting and exchanging in the group aims at therapeutic effect.
  • individual therapy: Some of my interviewees participated in individual psychotherapy sessions during their stay in the community. One of them reduced working hours to allow time for processing the insights from the therapy. They considered it to be helpful to change their functioning in the group. One of my interviewees observed that thanks to individual intense therapy, which was made possible by lowering work load for this period, this person started to perceive other members differently, with less projections and blaming others.
  • practicing non-violent communication: the members that I interviewed seemed to have internalized the principles of Rosenberg’s method. They process their emotions and ask what is behind a conflict. Also other members may step in to talk about a disagreement and help conflicted parties understand their needs better.
  • rules regarding the use of mobile phones and similar devices: they are allowed only in private spaces and they shall not be used in the common area such as communal dining room.

Cultivating communal skills in the mainstream world

Creating an alternative reality to the one imposed by neoliberal agenda requires capacity to organize, be part of a group, commitment to collective efforts. These skills are a base for cooperative enterprises, consumer self-organizing, and other forms of collective autonomy. Many of my interviewees mentioned that work is different in their communes because they can show up the way they are. There is less pretending. I am convinced that culture can be shaped despite our conditionings. It is an interesting human adventure to look into the mystery of inter-personal relations. Many of the communards that I interviewed revealed intentional personal and group work on this very aspect. They undertook practical steps to make it work. So can we.

Short description of Acorn and Niederkaufungen

Acorn community is a farm based, anarchist, secular, egalitarian community of around 32 folks, based in Mineral, Virginia. It was founded in 1993 by former members of neighboring Twin Oaks community. To make their living, they operate an heirloom and organic seed business, Southern Exposure Seed Exchange (“SESE”), which tests seeds in the local climate and provides customers with advice on growing their own plants and reproducing seeds. They work with about 60 farms that produce seed for them, which they test for good germination, weigh out, and sell or freeze for future use. The seeds are chosen according to their reproduction potential so that gardeners can reproduce seeds from the harvest instead of buying them every season. The enterprise conducts and publishes research on the varieties so that customers take less risks when planting them. Acorn is affiliated to the Federation of Egalitarian Communities, a US network of intentional communities that commit to holding in common their land, labor, resources, and income among community members.

Kommune Niederkaufungen consists of about 60 adults and 20 teenagers and children. It was founded in the late 1986, after three years of preparing and campaigning. Meanwhile other income-sharing communities have been established in the region of Kassel. They are a left wing group, with positions that range from radical and social feminist, through green/ecologist standpoints, over Marxism and communism, to syndicalist and anarchist positions. Many communards are active in political groups and campaigns in Kaufungen and Kassel. Nowadays, they are economically autonomous. Their enterprises include elderly daycare, child daycare, training in non-violent communication, a seminar center, catering and food production, carpentry. Some members are salaried outside of the commune. To become a member, one needs to give all the property and savings to the commune. However, it is possible to negotiate a sum of money in case of exit from the commune to start a new life. The commune is a member of German network Kommuja. To read more about the commune, see: https://www.kommune-niederkaufungen.de/english-informations/

Authors’s articles on both communities (you can find references included in this article)

  1. Gajewska, Katarzyna (Autumn 2018): Practices and skills for self-governed communal life and work: examples of one US and one German egalitarian community. Journal of Co-operative Studies 51(2): 67-72.
  2. Gajewska, Katarzyna (25 June 2018). How to Start and Maintain a Micro-Revolutionary Project. Grassroots Economic Organizing (GEO). http://geo.coop/story/how-start-and-maintain-micro-revolutionary-project
  3. Gajewska, Katarzyna (2017): Kommune Niederkaufungen – jak się żyje w 60-osobowej wspólnocie. [Kommune Niederkaufungen – on living in a 60-person commune], quarterly Nowy Obywatel [New Citizen].
  4. Gajewska, Katarzyna (9 October 2017): Raising children in egalitarian communities: An inspiration. Post-Growth Institute Blog http://postgrowth.org/raising-children-in-egalitarian-communities-an-inspiration/
  5. Gajewska, Katarzyna (11 October 2016): Egalitarian alternative to the US mainstream: study of Acorn community in Virginia, US. PostGrowth.org http://postgrowth.org/egalitarian-alternative-acorn-community/ , first published in Bronislaw Magazine
  6. Gajewska, Katarzyna (21 July 2016): An intentional egalitarian community as a small-scale implementation of Post-Capitalism. P2P Foundation Blog https://blog.p2pfoundation.net/an-intentional-egalitarian-community-as-a-small-scale-implementation-of-postcapitalist-peer-production-model-of-economy-part-i-work-as-a-spontanous-voluntary-contribution/2014/12/27
  7. Gajewska, Katarzyna (10 January 2016): Case study: Creating use value while making a living in egalitarian communities. P2P Foundation Blog, http://blog.p2pfoundation.net/an-intentional-egalitarian-community-as-a-small-scale-implementation-of-postcapitalist-peer-production-model-of-economy-part-ii-creating-use-value-while-making-a-living/2016/01/10
  8. Gajewska, Katarzyna (27 December 2014): An intentional egalitarian community as a small-scale implementation of postcapitalist, peer production model of economy. Part I : Work as a spontanous, voluntary contribution. P2P Foundation Blog, http://blog.p2pfoundation.net/an-intentional-egalitarian-community-as-a-small-scale-implementation-of-postcapitalist-peer-production-model-of-economy-part-i-work-as-a-spontanous-voluntary-contribution/2014/12/27
    This is a shortened and modified version of the article : Katarzyna Gajewska (Autumn 2018): Practices and skills for self-governed communal life and work: examples of one US and one German egalitarian community. Journal of Co-operative Studies 51(2): 67-72.
    This article contains excerpts of already published texts in Creative Commons and is under Creative Commons licence.

Katarzyna Gajewska, PhD, is an independent scholar, workshop leader, and transformational guide. She has published on alternative economy, universal basic income, non-digital peer production, collective autonomy, food and health. You can contact her at: k.gajewska_comm(AT)zoho.com.
List of publications here
Facebook: Katarzyna Gajewska – Independent Scholar

1 Marshall B. Rosenberg was the founder and director of educational services for The Center for Nonviolent Communication.

Header image: “The Poop Deck is a humanure toilet with two seats. The sign adjusts that way in case you want company while you do your business.” – The picture was taken in Twin Oaks egalitarian community. Picture and picture description by Raven Cotyledon from Commune Life (creative commons)

WRITTEN BY Katarzyna Gajewska

Katarzyna Gajewska is an independent scholar and a writer. She has a PhD in Political Science and has published on alternative economy and innovating the work organization since 2013. She is also interested in preventive health and emotional and psychological aspects of economic change. You can find her non-academic writing on such platforms as Occupy.com, P2P Foundation Blog, Basic Income UK, Bronislaw Magazine and LeftEast. For updates on her publications, you can check her Facebook page or send her an e-mail: k.gajewska_commATzoho.com. If you would like to support her independent writing, please make a donation to the PayPal account at the same address.

The Art of Maintaining Good Vibes