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

Levels of Sustainability in Community

by Raven

Sustainability is a hot topic in communal living, but I think that there are several different types of sustainability.  I’d like to take this post to explore some various levels of sustainability.

The first level is what many people think of when they talk about sustainability, what some people call ‘eco-sustainability’.  Living Energy Farm is an example of a commune focused on eco-sustainability, as is the Stillwater Sanctuary, but even Twin Oaks, which has never tried very hard to be eco-sustainable, has a very low carbon footprint.  With the climate crisis we are in now, this type of sustainability is very important.

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Old fashioned sustainability at Twin Oaks

But it isn’t the only level of sustainability in the communes.  Twin Oaks is a model for a very different type of sustainability, the ability of a community to sustain itself, which Twin Oaks has done for fifty years.  Not only has Twin Oaks lasted, but it has provided a model that has influenced other long lasting communes (some of which have been around now for twenty to forty years) .

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There’s also a third level of sustainability to community living.  Dancing Rabbit (which is not an income sharing community but is an interesting model for community living and sustainability on many levels) refers to this as ‘inner sustainability’.  It is not enough to live ecologically sustainably and to sustain the community.  It is also important to sustain the individual members of the community.

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Sharing time at Dancing Rabbit

There are many tools to do this.  Two that are practiced at some of the communes are Transparency Tools and the Clearness process, but sometimes people use things like meditation, Nonviolent Communication, and Re-evaluation Co-counseling as well.  Some of this shades into interpersonal sustainability, where forms of conflict resolution are often helpful as well.  Good communication is an important part of sustainability.

So in community, we have the opportunity to learn to sustain ourselves as well as our interpersonal relationships, and the community as a whole as well as living in a way that is ecologically sustainable.  And this is how we create a sustainable world.

 

 

Levels of Sustainability in Community

The Blogs of Twin Oaks

by Paxus

bread formula winnie.jpg

I was surprised to discover that Winnie had a blog.  She is an amazing cook, so it should have not be a surprise that she blogs about cooking for 100 people at Twin Oaks.  Her blog called Sustainable Sustenance for Existence

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Winnie:  The baker is a blogger

It also begged the question:  What other blogs and social media presences are there in the community and shouldn’t i write a meta-blog about all of them?

Here’s the ones that i know of:

Also new to the scene is Reynaldo’s Dairy Instagram account, taking pictures of our most prosaic cows.

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It ain’t paradise, but on a good day you can see it from here.

Running in ZK is the name of the community’s unofficial blog.  It is ironically named, because one of the things you most often hear parents or primaries saying to our kids when they are in the dining hall (which is called ZK) “No running in ZK”.  About a dozen Oakers contribute to this blog, which has been running since May of 2013.

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Two of the Running in ZK contributors, adder and Keegan, have spun off on their own internet presence called Commune Dads which is actually a pod cast more than a blog site, but these things blur these days.  

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Commune Dads is up to its 6th podcast now (which is on the mixed blessing of grandparents).  And while the lessons are drawn from commune life experience, as with many of the things we find here, important elements are exportable to mainstream life.

Pam was the garden manager for 20 years.  She has written a book called Sustainable Market Farming and there is a blog site to support the book with the same name.

pams book cover

Last and certainly least is my blog, Funologist.  First off, it is only about 20% about Twin Oaks.  The other parts are on polyamory, the evils of nuclear power, Point A adventures to start new urban communities, impeding Trumps latest madness, or curious thought pieces on constructing super memes. This all said, I still get people who friend me on Facebook because they searched for communes and kept finding my stuff.

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Blogger and his muse

If Facebook is your preferred point of entrance to the world, we have several presences there, including:

Toms flowers

 

 

 

 

The Blogs of Twin Oaks

The O&I Board – too many options

by Paxus Calta

Around 50 years ago the founder of Twin Oaks decided that they were going to radically depart from conventional decision-making techniques.  They disliked voting, consensus had not been secularized by the feminists yet and waiting for everyone to agree seemed time-consuming, so they thought they would develop something new.

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Almost everyone in community makes decisions in meetings, but Twin Oaks was founded by writers.  They thought a dynamic writing-based decision system could get around some of the big problems associated with running a complicated community.  To this end they developed the O&I Board.  O&I stands for Opinions and Information.  Critics of this system occasionally quip that the name really comes from “Oh am I bored”.

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The way it works is pretty straightforward.  There are 2 dozen clipboards placed on a wall and anyone can put up a paper with a proposal for something new on one of them.  At the end of the proposal you have posted you leave blank pages of paper so that other members can make comments or suggestions.

There are several advantages to this system.  The first is that you don’t need to gather everyone in the same place at the same time to discuss something.  On our busy, large farm this is significant plus.  People can read everything that others have written, or skim it if that is their interest, or skip it completely if the topic doesn’t resonate with them.  Readers can comment in whatever length they feel appropriate, from multiple pages, to simply dittoing something someone else has written and signing your name (this is a pretty common practice).  Members can make alternative proposals or point out unaddressed problems and hopefully the proposal becomes stronger for all this input.  The pressure to agree with someone who is talking to you and who you want to make happy as well as some groupthink problems are decreased.

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Less groupthink on paper.

But there are problems as well.  Written communication is much more likely to result in flame wars than face-to-face communication.  If you can see how what your saying is upsetting someone, your humanity kicks in and you may tone down your words – the O&I looses this important control.   Because you are somewhat more likely to be attacked on the O&I than in a meeting, some members shy away from this format not wishing to be in the center of a controversy.   Written communication is difficult for some people.    If there are many comments on a proposal, the later ones do not get as much attention as the earlier ones and there is no notice that new important comments have been added, so you have to keep checking on papers with which you are concerned.

The real problem with the O&I board is none of these described above, nor is it a problem with the board itself, but rather with it as an entrance ramp to our decision-making process in general.  The real problem is once you have posted on the O&I board, if there are any significant number of comments your next steps are unclear.

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Sure, if everyone says “This is a great idea, lets do it!” then it is clear, but this very rarely happens. If your proposal is contentious or has several sets of recommendations on how you should change it, you as the author of the original proposal are at a crossroads. Should you push on with your proposal? Should you do a community survey? Should you call for a community meeting? Should you go talk with the people who seemed most upset about your proposal and see if you can find a compromise? Should you talk to the people who are most supportive of your proposal and ask them to help you advance it unmodified? Should you talk with the planner or the council about it? Should you just give up and drop it completely?

This is, for many members, simply too many options. Especially since, if the proposal is at all controversial, no matter which one you choose some critic is going to call “bad process” on you for not having done it the way they want it done. Perhaps this is why after 50 years no other community has decided to mimic the O&I board as their central decision-making tool.

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Pictured is Gil Cambia, photo credits Paxus

The O&I Board – too many options

Notes

by Rejoice

Notes help bring communities together. On the Acorn board, communards are told that they can help Living Energy Farm get their corn hoed, Cambia to build the foundation of their barn, their across-the-street neighbor Mike to find his cat, and the strawberries put to good use.
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The Acorn board of clarification of names and pronouns helps keep people informed about how to refer to each other.
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And what do you do if you forget someone’s new pronouns?  Don’t worry, Taiga made this simple chart to help you out.
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Notes are useful for communicating between parents and children.
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And sometimes they can simply be used to express appreciation of each other.
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Notes

Questions Groups Should Ask (But Probably Haven’t)

by Laird Schaub, from  Laird’s Commentary on Community and Consensus, Tuesday, June 16, 2009

I just finished doing a weekend Introduction to Facilitation Workshop at Heathcote Community in Freeland MD. Friday evening through Sunday afternoon I worked and laughed with 16 participants as we explored a wide range of group situations and typical challenges that facilitators face. As a student of group dynamics and a teacher of facilitation, I am frequently in the position of describing the pitfalls that groups fall into by virtue of not having discussed and made explicit agreements about how they want to view to handle certain things.

By Sunday afternoon the workshop participants were all over me to give them a list of these questions, so here goes.

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The main thing to understand about this is not there is one right way to address all of the questions (indeed, different groups come up with all manner of good answers). Rather, it’s to understand that having no answer is guaranteed to be a problem. Sooner or later, the ambiguity will to bite you in the butt, and it’s much worse to attempt to sort many of these things out when you’re in the midst of tension resulting from members proceeding from different assumptions—or guesses—about the group’s position.

Almost all groups have some basic agreements: for example, about common values, how one becomes a member, and how the group will make decisions. While that’s a good start, it isn’t nearly enough. Here’s a much longer list of things that groups should discuss—preferably before the water gets hot: Note that none of these questions is limited to residential communities: they are meant to apply to any group trying to function cooperatively.

Meeting Culture
1. What is the purpose of meetings? To what extent is it to solve problems, and to what extent is it to build relationships among members?

2. What topics are worthy of plenary attention? Absent clarity about this, groups tend to drift into working at a level of detail that is beneath them rather than effectively delegating. This is directly related to the phenomenon of meeting fatigue.

3. How do you want to work with emotions that surface in meetings? Hint #1: Ignoring them doesn’t work. Hint #2: You can allow expression of feelings while at the same time object to aggression.

4. How do you want to work with conflict? (This is the most volatile subset of working with emotions.) While asking conflicted people to “take it outside” can work some of the time, it won’t always. What’s more, at least some of the time progress on the topic that triggered the distress may be held hostage to resolution of the upset. It can be very expensive to not have an agreement about how to work conflict.

5. Under what conditions, if any, is it OK to speak critically of a member who is not in the room? Caution: Be careful here. You don’t want people to be able to control by their absence what gets examined.

6. How do you protect the rights of members to have an opportunity to have input on issues examined at meetings they missed? Conversely, how do you protect the right of the group to move forward on issues when members miss meetings? This is a balancing act, and a good answer here probably involves clear agreements about advance notification of draft agendas, advance circulation of proposals, and standards for minutes.

7. What authority do you give facilitators to run meetings? Hint: If they’re not explicitly allowed to interrupt people repeating themselves or speaking off topic, you’re in trouble.

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Communication
8. What are your standards for minutes? What should minutes include? Where will they be posted? Are they indexed? Are they archived? Do the same standards apply to committees that apply to the plenary?

9. Do you have protocols for how email is used? Hint: Email is great for posting announcements and reports; OK for discussions; dangerous for expressing upset; and downright thermonuclear for trying to process upset.

Membership
10. What are the rights & responsibilities of membership? While groups tend to be pretty good at being clear about financial aspects, they tend to be less good at spelling out labor, governance, or social expectations. Hint: It generally works better if you think of these two questions as being paired.

11. What does membership imply about how much you want to be in each other’s lives? How much does membership imply a social connection beyond a business connection? Big gaps in answers (or assumptions) here can really hurt.

12. What are the expectations around giving one another critical feedback about their behavior as a member of the group? Caution: Is a member allowed to refuse another member a request to discuss their behavior?

13. What are the conditions under which a member may involuntarily lose rights, and by what process will that be examined? Caution: While it’s hard to get excited about tackling this delicate topic before there’s a need, it’s a nightmare to attempt to clear it up once the need has arisen.

14. How much diversity can you tolerate? While most groups aspire to embrace diversity (in fact—given that human cloning is illegal—some degree is unavoidable), there is always a limit to how much a group can tolerate and it’s important to have a way to talk about it.

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Governance
15. How do you select managers and fill committees? Caution: Simply asking for volunteers can work fine for some positions, yet can be downright foolish in others, where a definite balance or skill set is critically needed.

16. How do you evaluate the performance of managers and committees? This includes how, how frequently, and overseen by whom? Hint #1: Have people self-evaluate before the group takes a crack at them. Hint #2: This will tend to work much better if it includes both a chance to identify what’s not been working well and a chance to celebrate what is.

17. What is the group’s model for healthy leadership? Absent an agreement, cooperative groups tend to be much more critical of leaders than supportive, suppressing members’ willingness to take on leadership.

18. Do you regularly discuss how power is distributed in the group? Do you have an understanding about how to discuss the perception that people are using power less cooperatively than the users think they are? Caution: Tackle the first question before the second. Absent a clear sense of the need to talk about power, and an understanding about how to go about it in a constructive manner, this topic can be explosive (think Krakatoa).

Questions Groups Should Ask (But Probably Haven’t)

Community Honeymoon

by Paxus Calta

In many ways starting a community is like going into a new romantic relationship.  There are as many styles and techniques as there are individuals, but there are practices and agreements which can help increase your chances of success.  In a romantic relationship, if you do it right you create a honeymoon.  If you do it starting a community, you create this experience we don’t have a single word for, but feels something like, “Wow. Together we really are greater than we are individually.  I was right to put all this work in.”

And like a deep rich romantic honeymoon, there is a tremendous premium to being clear and self reflective going in.  Communities are basically personalities plus agreements. On the personality side, we have a little bit of flexibility with many people (if they are happy they are more generous, if their needs are getting met they are more likely to go the extra mile).  On the agreements side we have huge scope, we can design whatever types of agreements will serve us and then edit them as needed.  When you are designing your communities communication culture there are several things to include:

honeymoon-1

Commit to deep listening:  I am guessing 75% of relationship problems could be solved if people really focused and listened to each other.  This means not getting stuck by our past scars and holding on to a compassionate mindset.  There is an art to deep listening and it is not enough to just sit quietly, committing to learning this skill and applying it regularly may be the longest lever you have for building community.

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Commit to self reflection and critique:  If there is a problem in the romance or the community, you have a part in it.  It might be an apathetic part, where you are not willing to help someone who you see struggling. In an intentional relationship we are all committed to fostering the well-being of ourselves and the others we are dancing with.  Part of this has to be admitting our faults and a willingness to work on them.

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Commit to not stewing: If you are upset with me, come tell me.  Don’t talk to someone else who might be struggling with me and tell them the thing that i did which frustrated you.  This is an anti-gossip norm thru fast remedial action.

The trick is how do we keep these types of agreements?  Getting together, face to face, creating a safe and comfortable environment and talking or doing other types of trust building exercises together.  My personal favorite flavor of this is transparency tools,  but other techniques include clearnesses, Nonviolent Communication, and Co-Counseling.

Different tool sets fit different cultures.  In the Point A work we advocate for the transparency tools, because most of them are “soft tools”, meaning that an amateur using them is unlikely to hurt themselves or others in the group.  This contrasts some more daring and powerful communication tools (ZEGG Forum jumps to mind) which can do amazing work, but if operated by people who are not yet experienced or are clumsy can result in people getting emotionally or psychologically banged up.  When considering a set of communication tools it is often wise to look for versatile tools like the Clearness technique used at Acorn, which serves both as a regular universal check in and connection building device and something to be used when there is an acute problem with a member.

You can’t make a honeymoon last forever, but good communication practices will provide resilience and functionality to your community and your relationships.

Community Honeymoon