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.

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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.

Conflict-photo

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

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.

Double Rainbow
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.  

commune dads

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.

lots-of-possible-thoughts

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