WHY HAVING A SENSE OF SHARED PURPOSE IS IMPORTANT

by Sky Blue

Every community has a purpose. Sometimes it’s stated, sometimes not. And even if the community has a stated purpose, its actual purpose might be something different. And its purpose tends to evolve over time, intentionally or not.

Many communities are founded around a vision or ideology. For others the founding purpose is more simple, say, to be a close community of good neighbors. Either way, the founding and building of the community is an exciting time that brings people together, cultivates relationships, and in itself provides a sense of purpose. 

At some point, successful communities achieve a certain level of stability and security, and the driving purpose of building the community falls away. In the absence of some other larger purpose at play, as communities become established, they have a tendency to default into maintenance mode. Even if there is a larger stated purpose, it tends to fall into the background. People start focusing less on the imminent shared project of building their community and more on living their own lives. 

Now, you could ask, what’s wrong with this? Isn’t this kinda the point? Aren’t we trying to create places where people are able to just live their lives in communities that are based on a different set of values?

On some level yes, but this can’t be it. I mean, it can, but it tends to create some problems.

Also, to be clear, I’m making massive generalizations here. I’m certainly not saying this is true for all communities, but I do think it’s true to some degree for most communities, at least most secular communities. Religious communities, like the Amish, Bruderhof, and Hutterites have large networks of large communities that all together dwarf the secular intentional communities movement and don’t run into a lot of these problems. I think there’s a lot to be learned there.

So, what are the problems? 

New people joining an established community tend to be attracted to the fact that it’s established, and there’s nothing necessarily wrong with this. Starting a new community certainly isn’t for everyone. The problem is the tendency to start taking the community for granted. It’s difficult to comprehend what it took to get the community to where it is if you didn’t live through it. There isn’t the same motivation to give it your all in the way that creating a community takes. Maintaining a community simply doesn’t take as much work.

But maintenance is deceptive. On a physical level, infrastructure degrades slowly enough that it’s hard to perceive. And whenever you joined the community, that’s what’s normal for you. You don’t see how much things might have changed over the years. The tendency is for standards to slip as things get more run down, and this can become a feedback loop.

On a social level, relationships also require maintenance. But if you don’t have a big project drawing you all together you’re not going to have as much reason to do that work, and the sense of intimacy and cohesiveness will also tend to degrade slowly over time in ways that are hard to perceive, especially for new people.

In the absence of a clear sense of shared purpose groups start getting into what I call lowest-common-denominator politics. If we’re not trying to do something together, other than just maintain things, the tendency is to have a more divergent set of reasons for living in the community. This can create very different, potentially conflicting priorities. As time goes on, the only thing the group can really agree on is the status quo, even if no one is particularly happy with the status quo. And the group doesn’t even really talk about it because they know they won’t agree. So people start focusing more on changing things in little ways to suit themselves, seek to meet their needs in more individualistic ways, make little decisions bigger deals than they need to be, and are more prone to engaging in petty drama. 

There’s also a moral imperative to not rest in simply maintaining a community. The world is burning. Business as usual is killing us. Simply doing more of the same, even if it’s a lot better than what’s happening in the mainstream, is not going to turn things around. There’s also the fact that it is a privilege to live in an intentional community. At this point in the world, any privilege we have is coming at the expense of an increasing number of other humans and non-humans. Not working to address oppression, injustice, and climate change is simply not a morally defensible position at this point in time.

So, why is having a shared purpose important?

When I say shared purpose, I don’t just mean something abstract. It may start there, as a vision statement, but it needs to get more specific. Mission statements take that a step further. But what’s the project? What are the specific goals and objectives? What are we actually trying to accomplish together? 

Humans are very narrative-based creatures. We always have a story in our minds about what’s going on right now, in our lives, in the world. Having a sense of meaning is a basic human need, and we will always make things mean something. It’s what motivates us. We need to have some sense of why it is we do what we do, why we get out of bed in the morning. 

We will also always have problems. Partly this is just the uncertain, uncontrollable nature of life. But it’s also because of our need for narrative. What are the struggles that define us and give us a sense of purpose? 

The question becomes, what story are we choosing? What are we choosing to make things mean? What problems are we taking on? 

It’s entirely possible to exist without any of this being anything particularly inspiring, but if it isn’t, then people aren’t likely to be particularly inspired. They’re less likely to want to extend themselves and put in effort beyond what is required. Having a shared purpose flips this. It creates an inspiring context that will be more motivating for people to engage and invest themselves. It will create deeper bonds. It will bring out creativity and innovation. It encourages us to look for collective solutions to individual problems and needs.

On a mundane level, having a shared purpose creates a context for our collective actions and decision-making. It makes lots of decisions easier because everyone has a shared sense of how they fit into the larger picture. It also gives us more motivation to work out conflicts and issues. 

Having a shared purpose can also help satisfy the moral imperative. But to do that, I don’t think the shared purpose can be just anything. Specifically, I think the shared purpose needs to involve building and leveraging collective capacity to correct injustice, decrease the harm we’re doing to others and the planet, extend the privileges that we have to others (to the extent they are sustainable, and give them up where they are not), and work towards cooperative governance, equity, and local resilience, not just on our particular piece of property, but in our local areas. 

Of course, building, maintaining, and developing communities has to be fun too. I know I can sound very doom and gloom. But I think we have to be willing to face the tragedy and crisis in order to really have the depth of joy and satisfaction that living in community has to offer. Even if it’s hard work with huge implications, getting to do it together, with people you enjoy and care about, building a vibrant culture is what makes it all possible and worthwhile.

So, for established communities that might be stuck in various ruts, how do they get out of this? There’s not an easy answer. Institutional self-evaluation does not tend to be a strong suit of mostly communities. Which is kind of ironic, because it seems like that should be a core aspect to being intentional as a community. 

There are lots of processes groups can engage in, and lots of people groups can hire to help them run these processes (myself included, though I promise this isn’t just an elaborate sales pitch). But there has to be a critical mass of people who want to come together to do this work, who recognize that even though it feels overwhelming and impossible and will be intellectually, emotionally, and spiritually challenging, it’s worth it. And there has to be a sub-critical mass of people who are checked out or actively opposed to doing this work. Because fundamentally this is about coming together. The process has to reflect the outcome or any result won’t really be a shared purpose and you’ll be in the same place you started. For many groups I think the reality is that they are simply unlikely to be able to take this on short of some kind of crisis that forces them, and this is part of why we need people trying to start new communities. Groups that do want to do this kind of work probably won’t know they do until some number of people in them are brave, vulnerable, compassionate, adamant, and persistent enough to start the conversation.

Because on some basic level, that’s how this happens. Through conversations happening in caring relationships. 

For me, as someone interested in helping start a community, the question is, can we foster the relationships and design the DNA of the community to be ongoingly self-reflective, to keep renewing it’s sense of shared purpose, and to keep showing up for each other and the world. I don’t know, but I’m excited to try.

WHY HAVING A SENSE OF SHARED PURPOSE IS IMPORTANT

If Only There Was A Twin Oaks On The West Coast

From IN COMMUNITY

By Sky Blue (Peacewithinchaos@Gmail.Com)

 

If I had a dime for every time someone said, “if only there was a Twin Oaks on the west coast…” well, I’d maybe only have ten bucks, but it’s been frequent enough that if it existed I’m sure it would be popular. For reference, I was a member at Twin Oaks for 14 years, and have been in its orbit for 22. Check out the photos.

There are lots of great intentional communities on the west coast. So, what does Twin Oaks have that communities on the west coast don’t? 

Twin Oaks is a 100 person, rural, income-sharing community. I’m not aware of any communities on the west coast that have those characteristics. But so what? Why does that matter?

Having no buy-in, and community businesses that provide most of the community’s income, Twin Oaks is one of the few non-religious communities that you can theoretically join with nothing but the clothes on your back and not need to find a job. This combined with a high degree of resource sharing means that the amount of money the community needs per person is relatively low, around $7500 per person per year. Labor quota at Twin Oaks is 42 hrs/wk, but the average member only has to spend about 15 – 20 hrs/wk working in the community businesses. The rest of your quota goes towards things you’d normally have to do on top of a 40 hr work week but don’t get paid for.

This has a number of benefits.

In many other communities you have to do anywhere from 5 to 20 hours a week for the community (there’s often an inverse relationship between how much you have to pay to live in a community and how many hours you have to do) on top of needing to figure out how to provide for yourself financially. This is especially challenging in rural areas.

The pervasive money-stress and vulnerability that exists in mainstream capitalism is mitigated by the collective responsibility the community takes for its financial needs. 

It also means more time for, among other things, care work. Childcare, eldercare, and caring for sick, injured, or struggling members all count towards your labor quota. Sick hours can be taken as needed. There’s about 4 weeks of free labor credits built in (basically paid vacation), with the ability to work extra and bank more. There are also hours budgeted for organizing community holidays, local relations, and movement support. 

Taking collective responsibility for the needs of its members makes it possible for Twin Oaks to be one of the most integrated intergenerational communities I’ve ever seen. Many babies have been born there, and many elders and others have passed away. People spend a lot more time socializing with non-age peers. Kids get to have lots of adults of different ages in their lives. No one has yet been born there and died there, but it could easily happen. Twin Oaks is an intergenerational community not only in the demographics of its members, but also in that it was designed to have a stable population and outlive its founders, which it has done.

The economics of the community also support a high degree of self-sufficiency. At its peak the community produces about 60% of its own food through gardens, herbs, orchards, chickens, and cows. It has a communal woodshop, auto/bike/machine shop, maintenance barn, a fleet of shared vehicles, and does the vast majority of its own building and maintenance. It maintains public offices and an internal computer network, including a large media library. There are also amenities like a music room, a pond and sauna, book library, and various multi-purpose spaces that can be signed out by anyone. It maintains 7 residence buildings, a large clothing library, a robust food system with a dining hall and small kitchens, and provides for all health, mental health, and dental needs.

There is no money exchanged internally. Working quota gives you equal access to the resource-sharing systems of the community, which everyone helps manage, and is paid for by the businesses the community runs. 

There are certainly trade offs with income-sharing. You give up a degree of autonomy and control, which can be very emotionally challenging for people. If you need to be able to do whatever you want with your stuff whenever you want, it’s not a good model. Collective finances can be complicated. But trying to have an economically involved community based on individualized finances can also be complicated. Treating the whole community as a collective operation can also allow for some degree of specialization, potentially freeing you up from things you might not like doing, like accounting or auto maintenance or cooking, and you get to do a bunch of those things if you do like them. But no one is stuck doing the same thing for 40 hours a week if they don’t want to. And you get the satisfaction of having the majority of your time going towards activities where you see immediate, direct benefit, both for yourself and others. 

Another thing that Twin Oaks has going for it is it’s size. Typically around 80 – 90 adults and 15 – 17 kids, with anywhere from 10 – 20 guests and visitors (pandemics notwithstanding), it’s large enough to maintain a robust social-culture. Support and activity groups are easy to organize, and it’s not hard to get people to show up for parties and gatherings. It can certainly be too insular at times, but it also allows for a level of cohesion that’s hard to maintain in communities where people are more dispersed, particularly because of the need to work outside jobs. 

There are also things about Twin Oaks that would be hard for a lot of people. All residences are shared. You get your own room, but personal space is minimized. But it doesn’t have to be this way. That’s just the choice Twin Oaks made. Things are fairly dirty, cluttered, and broken, but again, that’s a choice. Twin Oaks has also made choices around its businesses that have led to the community being relatively poor. The community could decide to put a little more time into income production, and make some different operational choices, and have more money without losing much of its flexibility around labor.

There’s also plenty of petty drama, gossip, and interpersonal conflict. To some extent this is just people being people and it happens in any organization. It’s exacerbated by being so intertwined as a community. You have 80 or 90 adults sharing a checkbook, working together, and living in shared residences. It’s like being married. There’s just more fodder for shit to happen. But there are also things that could be done to reduce it. Again, it’s a choice.

Another major challenge that Twin Oaks is not alone in facing is what the worker co-op movement has referred to as ownership culture. It’s very easy for people to relate to the institution of Twin Oaks as being separate from them, and feel disempowered, disengaged, and/or entitled. I think the combination of size and centralization make it harder to foster a culture of responsibility, commitment, and intimacy. Having the critical mass of people is nice, but better use of small affinity groups might help.

But in the end, it works. It’s one of the few working examples of how an anti-capitalist society could work. Iit has huge benefits and it would be great if there were more communities like it all over. And after 54 years Twin Oaks has probably found most of the pitfalls of this kind of system, which means there’s a lot to learn from.

If Only There Was A Twin Oaks On The West Coast

Built by Relationship

by Raven Glomus

I’ve written about this several times before, but I feel like I can’t say it enough.  Community is all about relationships.  I’ve written a piece about an imaginary community that is actually a composite of three communities that I’ve known–and why the founders couldn’t get it to work.  (Hint: they focused on the ecological goals rather than relationships.  Of the three real communities, one lost the alpha male founder and is currently very focused on relationships, one recently seems to be doing better–and likely because relationships are being nourished, and I don’t know what happened to the third–likely it’s not around.)  Polish communal researcher Katarzyna Gajewska wrote a post for us on why tech folks have a hard time building communities. (Hint: Techies focus on design, rather than relationships.)

So, how do you build relationships?  The first step to building relationships is to be gentle with yourself and with others.  That’s harder than it might sound.  Most of us (myself included) have a tendency to be critical, and justify it as being ‘realistic’.  The truth is, being critical alienates people.  It’s not that you can’t point out when something (or someone) isn’t working–or is hurting someone else.  The question is how you do it. (More on this in a moment.)

The next step is to listen.  Listening can be hard.  The problem is that most of us have had some kind of trauma in our lives.  I’ve talked about communities as laboratories for social change.  After spending lots of time living in community, I’ve come to the realization of why social change doesn’t happen (and why communities don’t happen–or do briefly and then fall apart).  My insight was “We trigger each other.”

There are tools to deal with this, whole books written on processes that help with listening.  The difficulty usually lies in actually doing what the books recommend.  I am going to focus on Nonviolent Communication (NVC), not because it’s the only or best way, but because I’m very familiar with it.  NVC is a very useful tool to help with listening and building connection–but only if it’s done right.  I’ve heard criticism of NVC and it usually amounts to people doing what they think is NVC–but not understanding what Nonviolent (also called Compassionate) Communication really is.  If you are telling someone that they are not doing NVC correctly–or at all, you are not doing NVC.  NVC is not a tool to change another person’s behavior, it’s a tool to help you to understand someone else, to listen better.

The goal here is to actually listen to another person and to listen to them first.  I like Stephen Covey’s formulation: “Seek first to understand, then be understood.”  It doesn’t mean that you don’t get to put your viewpoint out.  It means you listen first and make sure that they feel understood, before you try to explain. This is when you can point out, gently, problems.

Listening is really difficult to do when you are being triggered. If you aren’t able to listen, don’t try to get your point across.  Instead, go find someone who can listen to you enough to let you have enough free attention to listen first.  There are lots of practices people engage in to do this (NVC empathy sessions, Re-evaluation Co-counseling, Active Listening, Focusing, etc.) and using any of these can be helpful, but really just finding someone who can listen can be very useful.  

This is one of the advantages of living in a community.  If a community is big enough, generally there’s someone and often several folks who are not triggered by whatever is going on.  That’s not to say that they don’t have triggers, but in a big enough group of folks, different folks will have different triggers.

If there isn’t anyone that’s not triggered, or if the situation is difficult enough, don’t be afraid to bring in outside mediators–someone who is truly neutral and can listen to all sides.

The final thing that I want to suggest in terms of building relationships to build community is that making a real commitment to the community and the people in it, makes a huge amount of difference.  When folks know that they can disagree, and disagree strongly, and it won’t destroy the relationships, it contributes to the longevity of the community.

Building relationships builds community.  I’m suggesting at least three steps that help build those relationships–being gentle with yourself and others, learning to listen and listen well, and making strong commitments to the community and the people in it.  Relationships are not the only part of community building, but they are the glue that holds a community together.

Built by Relationship

Kat Kinkade, the anti-guru: her complex but enduring legacy

by Keenan Dakota

From each according to their ability, to each according to their need” Karl Marx

Kat Kinkade, the founder of three successful communal ventures, who re-defined contemporary utopian theory, and who spearheaded the rebirth of a communal movement, improbably spent her waning years living alone in a small house with just her cats and pet rabbits for company.

Kat Kinkade

I first met Kat in 1982, and remained her friend until her death. On December sixth, the day that would have been Kat Kinkade’s ninetieth birthday, I looked her up online. I knew Kat to be a towering intellect and a complicated person, but the Kat Kinkade that I knew, and the legacy that she has left, were not represented in the articles I found. So I want to try here to take a shot at setting the record straight about Kat Kinkade.

In 1967, at the age of 36, Kat Kinkade didn’t merely want to start a commune where she and her daughter could live, she wanted to build a communal movement. After starting Twin Oaks, she founded the magazine, Leaves of Twin Oaks. She edited Communities Magazine and made sure that Twin Oaks kept the magazine afloat by putting in a great deal of money and labor until, many years later, it eventually became self-sustaining. Communities Magazine annually produced a Directory of Communities—the sole reference source for seekers looking for intentional communities. Later, Communities Magazine went online, creating the web site ic.org, still the go-to informational center of the global intentional communities movement.

Kat wrote and published two books, A Walden Two Experiment, and Is it Utopia Yet, about the founding and evolution of Twin Oaks Community. Twin Oaks held the first communities conference a year after getting started. This enduring yearly event (between 100 and 200 participants each non-covid year) has been the birthplace of dozens of additional communal ventures. Kat helped found the network of income-sharing communities, the Federation of Egalitarian Communities. That organization provided the inspiration, template, and early staff for the much larger, more expansive communal network, the Foundation for Intentional Community.

Kat Kinkade approached her movement building with missionary zeal. Her mission: a society based upon absolute equality. Kat meant to forge a model of society that would manage to defy the central failure of societies world-wide—the gravitational tendency of wealth to concentrate; the rich get richer, the poor get poorer. So, how do you know if a society has attained equality?

Equality in a community is a relationship structured so that no member envies another. Simple. [Equality creates]a general feeling of fairness, a logical first step in the pursuit of happiness.

(Kat in “Journal of a Walden Two Commune,” from “Walden House Newsletter,” Aug, 1966, p. 14)

My attitude to every request for special privilege was always the same: “Why you?” In other words, what is there about you that makes you deserve to have more than other people? …

I was known as a hard-nosed egalitarian, and this is one of the reasons people called me “very idealistic.”

(Kat in Is It Utopia Yet? 1994, p. 46-50)

Kat read the novel, Walden Two, about a fictional utopian society written by the behaviorist B. F. Skinner. She became inspired, and wasted no time gathering a small handful of other idealists who saw this book as a how-to manual for starting an actual utopian community.

Even as those first eight pioneers unloaded their bags from a van in June of 1967, adherents arrived, eager to join, but, over the coming years, the community chose, to Kat’s enduring disappointment, to put new applicants on a wait list, allowing the community to grow only at a modest pace. In a few years, frustrated that her cohorts lacked appropriate enthusiasm for growth, Kat left Twin Oaks and founded East Wind community. Kat Kinkade’s goal was to gather up all of those eager young people seeking community being turned away by Twin Oaks and to quickly grow East Wind to several hundred members. Kat drafted East Wind’s initial policies in order to welcome open membership as a means to spur growth. Kat’s stated ambition was for the community to grow to 1,000 members. Yet, as East Wind stabilized at around fifty or so members, contentiousness escalated. Rather then fostering tolerance, strife from open membership caused the community to change direction, slow growth, and become more selective.

Disappointed yet again, Kat Kinkade left East Wind. Eventually, Kat rejoined Twin Oaks where, twenty years later, as Twin Oaks had a growing wait list, Kat set about starting her third communal experiment, Acorn community, essentially an anti-Twin Oaks, and an anti-East Wind. No longer focused on rapid growth, Acorn would remain small. There would be more commitment to interpersonal connection, less focus on written policy. At Acorn, financial rules would be looser than at Twin Oaks, so people could meet individual needs more easily.

All three communities, Twin Oaks, East Wind, and Acorn continue to thrive today.

Although all founded at different times and having differing premises, among these different communities there are structural commonalities:

–A commitment to financial and political equality among all members—no class divide.

–The structure of the community is a corporation. The corporation owns everything. No individual’s name is on anything—not a house, a plot of land, or even a car—therefore, no one person will control decisions.

–Equity accrues to the community—no draining of communal coffers for personal pay-outs if (when) members leave.

–In case of dissolution of the community, communal assets are not divided up among the members—no temptation to dismember the community once it becomes financially successful.

–Labor is valued equally—no tendency to develop a professional elite. This type of labor ideology also recognizes as valuable work that in other societies is devalued and done by the disempowered—often a racial minority, or women, or immigrants, or children—or all of the above.

–Members accepted on the basis of their ability to work and get along with others—no purchasing membership privileges.

Keenan and Kat

Kat Kinkade and I were, bizarrely, both in the same visitor group at Twin Oaks, applying for membership in 1982. Kat was returning from her stint living “in the wilderness” after leaving East Wind. (The wilderness, in this case, was Boston.) While living at Twin Oaks, Kat did not hold back on expressing her disappointment at the many failures of the community. I was surprised to hear the founder disagreeing with the entire premise of the community that she founded, and where she was living.

Part of my disillusionment came from watching the worst aspects of communism in action. I saw a larger and larger part of the community sitting around on the front steps of the dining hall smoking cigarettes and drinking their wake-up coffee at 11 in the morning, and heard them ridicule as “workaholics” the people who made the money and kept the organization together. There was gross exploitation, but in reverse. The proletariat was exploiting the manager.

Particular personalities are watchdogs to make sure that nobody else gets more than them. I just loathe this trait. So little by little I thought, “This is not merely an ugly trait in a particular individual.” Our rigid equality sanctifies envy. You know what I said when we first started this community back in 1967? I wrote, “Equality in our community is that state in which no one member envies another.

(Kat in Is It Utopia Yet? 1994, p. 87-89)

It took me about seven years and a fair amount of self-examination, as well as observation of the people I lived with, to discover some unsettling things about my equality theory. People will and do work for the common good…when the Community desperately needs to have a great deal of work done in a hurry, it relies about ninety percent on good will, personal conscience, the labor system, and community feeling…if we’re going to get the other ten percent, we need to add an incentive program of some kind, some method by which added effort gets added reward. I have learned that personal gain is, not a stronger motivation than the good of the Community, but a more reliable one. I no longer preach absolute equality. I live…a rough equality that doesn’t create gross differences or engender severe envy. Give people a little chance to serve themselves on the side, and they will give heartily out of their core efforts for the group.

(Kat in Is It Utopia Yet? 1994, p. 46-50)

Kat, in her later years, tried to gently moderate the extreme egalitiarianism embodied in Twin Oaks’ policies—the very policies that, years earlier, she had drafted. Kat, as a community planner, created communal labor budgets that allowed people to write music, articles, books and plays—as well as to perform music and plays. Kat was part of a group that re-worked the labor system to allow more individual flexibility (Members who worked more hours each week would gain more freedom from labor constraints.) Kat established a committee that offered labor and money grants to individual members for their personal hobbies or needs. To allow people to travel, Kat created a seniority-based vacation fund. Kat supported the community in creating an income incentive program that allowed a member or groups of members to work “off the system” for money to fund personal and group projects.

However, Twin Oaks was populated by idealists why had been drawn to Kat’s earlier writings about absolute equality—many had not kept up with Kat’s own evolving ideology. Each of Kat’s proposed “liberalizing” policies was approved only over resistance, or allowed only on a temporary, experimental basis. As Kat lost political influence these policies were re-examined, cut back, or canceled completely. Currently at Twin Oaks, every one of these policies that Kat favored has been undone.

Kat Kinkade eventually just wanted to live on her own. In 2005, at the age of 74, she moved into a small house near Twin Oaks, paid for by her daughter. Soon after that Kat was diagnosed with cancer. In 2007, once she began to seriously decline, Kat moved back to Twin Oaks, and died in July of 2008. Her daughter, Josie, a doctor, said that her Mom received Rolls Royce care those final months at Twin Oaks.

Online these days, uninformed critics of communal living refer to Kat Kinkade as a guru—they paint a fearsome picture of her as a domineering presence. Kat provided leadership, but she did not have the traits typically associated with a guru. She started a new community and, once it was on its feet, she left. By this means, Kat ensured that other leaders emerged, overcoming the problem of “founder’s syndrome.” Kat did not feel threatened when members aspired to leadership, rather, she sought out and encouraged leadership in others. Far from being the keeper of the ideological light, Kat was often critical of whatever community she lived in, this granted space for other members to step forward as the public face of the community. Kat actively disliked acolytes. She gave short shrift to anyone who could not engage in a lively intellectual debate—she was pleased by members who could cogently disagree with her.

Being willing to actually change her mind was the key attribute of Kat’s that allowed her to be so effective. Kat believed in honestly looking at her own beliefs—even deeply held beliefs—to see if they held up in the light of new information. Kat believed in trying things out—experimenting—then examining and accepting the results of those experiments. Because Kat Kinkade grounded her actions and policies in reality-based information, what she created endures—three thriving communities and a thriving communal movement. Thank you, Kat.

Kat Kinkade, the anti-guru: her complex but enduring legacy

Come Hell or High Water

by Raven Glomus

The two previous book reviews this week (books on sustainable community and collaborative groups) focused on books written about how to do collaborations (including communes and communities) well.  Today I want to review a book about what not to do.  It’s called Come Hell or High Water and is subtitled “a handbook on collective process gone awry”.  It’s published by AK press–“one of the world’s largest and most productive anarchist publishing houses”–that also publishes a bunch of other interesting books (including adrienne maree brown’s book on Emergent Strategy which I based two blog posts here on).

As the cover illustrates, this is a funny, cynical book that has a bunch of cartoons illustrating some frustrating problems.  It also has a lot of hard won lessons about how all these wonderful processes that we talk about here and which other commune building guides extol can go terribly wrong.  It’s written by a couple of anarchists who believe strongly in “egalitarian collectives” but have seen the pitfalls in the process and have looked at ways that form what the authors term “predictable patterns” that can lead well-meaning groups to things like “hierarchy, mistrust, looking out only for oneself, and sometimes even underhanded scheming.”  

Although this is a modest sized book (and a quick read–127 small pages) Delfina Vannuchi and Richard Singer look carefully at issues like misusing consensus, how not to do power sharing, the difference between politeness and kindness, character assassinations and banning, justice and due process and free speech, and how vagueness can lead to authoritarianism.

I’ve seen reviews of this book that complain that this book is overly ‘pessimistic’.  However, I think that it provides a nice counterbalance to all the books on the wonderful things you can do with group process.  (See my two previous reviews this week.)  The cartoons are also a nice touch that makes the emphasis on problems easier to take.

The authors end the book with a section that they entitle “There’s hope” where they talk about how “Virtually all problems in collectives can be overcome by applying compassion, and by being thorough and even-handed in our thinking.”  Sounds lovely but not easy to do, especially when things are tough.  

Here’s the last paragraph in the book, which is a nice summary of their thinking:

“An egalitarian collective is meant to accept and incorporate differences and heterogeneity.  The task is to create a productive, relatively peaceful community out of all the different and sometimes contradictory personalities that form the group.  No collective will ever be a perfect picture of unity, but it doesn’t have to be.  A working collective is more like a crazy-quilt of disparate styles, all stitched up by a common thread.  Frayed edges and all, that’s what a functional egalitarian collective looks like.”

It’s a nice reminder for people living in or trying to build communes.

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Thanks for reading! This post was made possible by our patrons on Patreon. The Commune Life team works hard to bring you these stories about our lives in community, and that work couldn’t happen without support from our audience. So if you liked this article, and want to help us make more like it, head on over to https://www.patreon.com/communelife to join us! 

Deep gratitude to all of our patron communards:

Aaron Michels

Brenda Thompson

Cathy Loyd

Colby Baez

Heather

Janey Amend-Bombara

Jenn Morgan

Joseph A Klatt

Kai Koru

Kate McGuire

Kathleen Brooks

Lynette Shaw

Magda schonfeld

Michael Hobson

Montana Goodman

Nance & Jack Williford

NorthernSoul Truelove

Oesten Nelson

Peter Chinman

Raines Cohen

Sasha Daucus

Suzi Tortora

Tobin Moore

Twin Oaks

Warren Kunce

William Croft

William Kadish

William Scarborough

Thanks! 

Come Hell or High Water

The Empowerment Manual

by Raven Glomus

Starhawk is a witch and a political activist and a permaculture teacher and the author or co-author of thirteen books.  She has also lived in a collective household in the Bay Area for decades.  In 2011 she wrote The Empowerment Manual, which she subtitles “A Guide for Collaborative Groups”.

Starhawk

I think that this is an incredibly useful book.  While Starhawk points out that there are many different types of what she calls collaborative groups, which are any group of people who are working together for common goals that are decentralized and egalitarian, she definitely includes communities in the mix.  One theme through the book is a fictional story that she tells about “an imaginary cohousing community”.  She uses this story to illustrate many of her points.  Unfortunately, I think the story is one of the weaker point of the book (I think that it’s both hokey and a bit soap opera-ish)  although it does provide useful examples of what she’s talking about sometimes.

The Empowerment Manual has whole chapters on group vision, power and responsibility, communication and trust, “Leadership Roles for Leaderless Groups”, conflict, and, particularly useful, “Dealing with Difficult People”. Information is interspersed with exercises to practice or use what she talks about.  There are two tables of contents, the second labeled “Table of Questions and Exercises”, so you can easily find some of the more useful exercises.

Starhawk ends the book with a chapter focusing on “Groups that Work” so you can see actual examples of successful collaborations.  After looking at three such groups (a cooperative grocery store, the 1999 Seattle blockade, and her own Reclaiming collective) she finishes by listing what she calls ‘Lessons from Success’.  I think that the points that she makes here are so useful for communes and communities that I am going to quote a few paragraphs.  (Italics are in the original.)

Ideals and values are important; they are the guiding force that drives people to organize together and work together.  But groups that survive find ways to balance the ideal with the pragmatic needs of the moment.  They are flexible, rather than rigid, and accepting rather than judgemental.  They value diversity rather than orthodoxy, problem-solving over toeing a party line.

Successful groups balance unity with autonomy.  They have a bias toward freedom and impose the minimal structure necessary.  But they do have structure and often hold a unifying vision and set of core values.

Collaborative groups that last over time reinvent themselves periodically.  They may need to  change their structure, organization and ways of working as they grow and develop.  They are not static, but dynamic, not artifacts, but living organisms.”

I think that, not only anyone who wants to start a community, but anyone who thinks that their community has begun to stagnate, should read this book full of both good ideas and useful processes.

Next, so what could go wrong?  On Friday, a book that looks at that.

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Thanks for reading! This post was made possible by our patrons on Patreon. The Commune Life team works hard to bring you these stories about our lives in community, and that work couldn’t happen without support from our audience. So if you liked this article, and want to help us make more like it, head on over to https://www.patreon.com/communelife to join us! 

Deep gratitude to all of our patron communards:
 

  • Aaron Michels
  • Brenda Thompson
  • Cathy Loyd
  • Colby Baez
  • Heather
  • Janey Amend-Bombara
  • Jenn Morgan
  • Joseph A Klatt
  • Kai Koru
  • Kate McGuire
  • Kathleen Brooks
  • Lynette Shaw
  • Magda schonfeld
  • Michael Hobson
  • Montana Goodman
  • Nance & Jack Williford
  • NorthernSoul Truelove
  • Oesten Nelson
  • Peter Chinman
  • Raines Cohen
  • Sasha Daucus
  • Suzi Tortora
  • Tobin Moore
  • Twin Oaks
  • Warren Kunce
  • William Croft
  • William Kadish
  • William Scarborough

Thanks! 

The Empowerment Manual

My Hopes for 2021

by Raven Glomus

Welcome to 2021!  The year 2020 is officially over.  One of my commune mates pointed out that nothing really changes as the calendar year rolls over, but there’s a lot of symbolism, especially this past year when so many (mostly not good things) happened all at once.

I will try to focus on commune related things in listing my hopes, but the coronavirus has had a major impact on the communes, and will need to be dealt with.  My first and biggest hope for this year is that, with folks getting vaccinated, we may be able to move somewhat beyond having to deal with the repercussions of the pandemic.  In terms of this happening, I’ve heard everything from late spring, to the summer, to sometime in the fall.  This will mean a lot for the communes.

The only good thing out of all this is that I think that the pandemic has increased interest in communal living.  It’s also made it hard to join communities.  So when some of the pandemic restrictions are lifted, I am very hopeful that many of the communes, which are at low populations now, will be able to bring in some good folks and increase their membership.

I also hope that this encourages some folks to decide to actually create communities.  There’s certainly enough interest in it–maybe with restrictions being lifted, some folks will decide to just do it.  I know that I am often discouraging of people simply starting communities, but if someone is really willing to begin the work (and a lot of this work is outlined on the blog) and reaches out and knows others who are also interested–and especially if they have some communal living experience, goodness knows we need more communes.  And I believe that if 90% of new communes fail, and we want to get at least ten new communes up and running, we’re going to need to start a hundred communes to get there, so I am actually in favor of folks starting communes, particularly if they are willing to do the research and networking they will need to do.

A big, pandemic related, hope for this year is that if the restrictions can be eased on time, there can be the usual August gatherings at Twin Oaks this summer.  I have never been to the Queer Gathering and I was planning to go last year but TO canceled all three gatherings.  My hope for this summer is that the Queer Gathering and the Women’s Gathering and the Communities Conference can all happen again.  I mentioned networking earlier and these are all great networking events.  If they happen (I hope, I hope, I hope they do) I would strongly encourage anyone interested in communal living to attend at least the Communities Conference, and if you identify as queer, the Queer Gathering, and if you identify as a woman, the Women’s Gathering.

Another hope for this year is that the communes continue to look at and figure out how to embrace racial justice, whether that’s by figuring out how to become more diverse or by figuring out how to support communities of color.  For horrible reasons, there was a large upswelling of interest in this over the course of 2020.  My hope is that this wasn’t another political phase but the beginning of some sustained work in all of our communities.

And my final hope for this new year is that folks find fun in all of this.  A lot of 2020 was grim and we have a lot of work to do, building back community membership, creating new communities, and continuing to work on racism (and classism and sexism and homophobia and transphobia and creating access for people with disabilities and…) and that we find a way to be joyful and even playful in all this because we will never attract anyone if we are all too damn serious.

What are your hopes for 2021?

My Hopes for 2021

ic.org: A Review

by Raven Glomus

I said that I wanted to review stuff other than books this week.  So far I’ve reviewed an academic article and a deck of cards.  Today I want to look at a website: ic.org, the website of the Foundation for Intentional Communities (aka the FIC).  If you are interested in any type of community, from communes to cohousing, or any aspect of community living, this is an incredible resource.

The first and perhaps most important aspect of the website is the online Communities Directory.  (There is also a print version of The Communities Directory, published by the FIC.)  This is the best known and probably most utilized part of the website, but it is so important to know about, particularly if you are looking to join a community.  You can look up communities by location of country and state or province or you can look up communities by type (including ecovillages, cohousing, communes, co-ops–including student co-ops, and spiritual communities–including Jewish communities and Christian communities).  This is also an important resource if you already have a community and want to list it–particularly if you are looking for folks.

But I also want to point out some of the other resources that they offer–that even frequent users of ic.org (particularly for the Communities Directory) might not know about or think of. 

First of all, since I was reviewing books here a few weeks ago, the website has what used to be called the Communities Bookstore.  They offer all sorts of useful books including two sets of books culled from some of the best articles in Communities magazine: The Wisdom of Communities and The Best of Communities.  (The FIC used to publish Communities magazine until last year.  Unfortunately, they lost a lot of money.  Now the magazine is published by GEN-US –the Global Ecovillage Network – United States.)  Three of the books that I reviewed (the two by Diana Leafe Christian and The Token by Crystal Byrd Farmer) are featured–by links, because they are better purchased directly from the authors and the ic.org folks assist you in doing that.  But they also offer books on ecovillages, group facilitation, a book called The Encyclopedic Guide to American Intentional Communities, and, of course, The Communities Directory.  

Plus, beyond books, they have a section devoted to videos and virtual events.  And, perhaps best of all, they have a couple of pages listing ‘free resources’ that they offer.

They also have a store resource directory that organizes the resources by category, starting with Finding Community, Creating Community, and Living in Community, with several subcategories under each.

Plus,they have a list of classified ads (including from communities actively looking for folks), a list of events, and a section with ways to get more involved.  The Foundation for Intentional Communities that manages all this is still struggling financially, so (particularly if you are a frequent user) perhaps you should become a member and put in a little cash that way, or at least buy some of the books through their online store.  

This website is an amazing resource so if you are even slightly interested in communes or other communities, I think you should take advantage of it–and support the folks who are doing it.

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Thanks for reading! This post was made possible by our patrons on Patreon. The Commune Life team works hard to bring you these stories about our lives in community, and that work couldn’t happen without support from our audience. So if you liked this article, and want to help us make more like it, head on over to https://www.patreon.com/communelife to join us! 

Deep gratitude to all of our patron communards:
 

  • Aaron Michels
  • Brenda Thompson
  • Cathy Loyd
  • Colby Baez
  • Heather
  • Janey Amend-Bombara
  • Jenn Morgan
  • Joseph A Klatt
  • Kai Koru
  • Kate McGuire
  • Kathleen Brooks
  • Lynette Shaw
  • Magda schonfeld
  • Michael Hobson
  • Montana Goodman
  • Nance & Jack Williford
  • NorthernSoul Truelove
  • Oesten Nelson
  • Peter Chinman
  • Raines Cohen
  • Sasha Daucus
  • Suzi Tortora
  • Tobin Moore
  • Twin Oaks
  • Warren Kunce
  • William Croft
  • William Kadish
  • William Scarborough

Thanks! 

ic.org: A Review

Finding and Creating Community: A Review

by Raven Glomus

Diana Leafe Christian has written two books that are often found on the shelves of many community folks and are very useful for anyone interested in community.  The first, and oldest, is called Creating a Life Together (subtitle Practical Tools to Grow Ecovillages and Intentional Communities); the second is just called Finding Community (How to join an Ecovillage or Intentional Community).

As you might guess, Creating a Life Together is about how to create and build communities, Finding Community is about how to find and join the community that is right for you.  Both books are filled with useful and practical information.  Obviously, if you only want to get or borrow one, whether you want to try to start a community or just join an existing one should determine which book you look at, but if you are just interested in the subject of community, they are both useful.

A warning, however, for commune interested folks.  Diana Leafe Christian is not overly fond of income sharing communities.  In her first book, Creating a Life Together, she devotes all of one very long paragraph to “income-sharing economies”.  She points out that “Relatively few communities do income-sharing…”  In Finding Community, the more recent book, she devotes a whole chapter to Income-Sharing Communes.  Here she starts off by saying that “About ten percent of intentional communities in North America… are income-sharing communes.”  Later in the chapter she asks the question, “Why Are Income-Sharing Communities so Well Known?”  She mentions that “income-sharing communitarians tend to be activists, if not enthusiastic proselytizers, for their radically non-competitive way of life.”  (Doesn’t she sound a bit annoyed?)  But even here, she tries to give good information and points out that income-sharing communities will appeal to people who have a passion for economic justice, want to learn a variety of new skills, and are comfortable with living simply; conversely, they are not likely to appeal to folks that are interested in financial autonomy and independence or who are looking for a greater degree of comfort or amenities.

As I said, the books offer a lot of useful and practical advice.  I will pass along two of my favorite pieces of wisdom.  The first, from Creating a Life Together, is a warning about “‘Magical Thinking’ and the Anti-Business Attitude”.  Her point is that if you are trying to create a community, no matter what you think about our legal system and our corporate culture, you can’t form a community in this society unless you deal with the financial and legal aspects for the way that they are (and really and carefully learn the pieces), and don’t try to pretend that they are the way that we might want them to be.

The other is a quote that I love which she uses for the title of her closing chapter in Finding Community.  She attributes it to Zev Paiss.  “Community–the longest, most expensive, personal growth workshop you will ever take!”  It is true that community is less expensive in income-sharing communities–but sometimes (as she points out in several places) they are even more intense.  This is a good warning for anyone who hasn’t looked carefully at the pros and cons of communal living.  The ideals are great, but the price might well be higher than you might expect.

I’m not saying that you should run out and buy these books, but if you are seriously interested in community, I suspect that you should also have one–or both!–of them on your bookshelf.

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Thanks for reading! This post was made possible by our patrons on Patreon. The Commune Life team works hard to bring you these stories about our lives in community, and that work couldn’t happen without support from our audience. So if you liked this article, and want to help us make more like it, head on over to https://www.patreon.com/communelife to join us! 

Deep gratitude to all of our patron communards:

Aaron Michels

Brenda Thompson

Cathy Loyd

Colby Baez

Heather

Janey Amend-Bombara

Jenn Morgan

Joseph A Klatt

Kai Koru

Kate McGuire

Kathleen Brooks

Lynette Shaw

Magda schonfeld

Michael Hobson

Montana Goodman

Nance & Jack Williford

NorthernSoul Truelove

Oesten Nelson

Peter Chinman

Raines Cohen

Sasha Daucus

Suzi Tortora

Tobin Moore

Twin Oaks

Warren Kunce

William Croft

William Kadish

William Scarborough

Thanks! 

Finding and Creating Community: A Review

When do you dissolve a commune?

I asked this somewhat provocative question on Facebook, but with a real purpose. Unfortunately, many and perhaps most communities that are formed don’t make it. When is is time to pull the plug?

We got a bunch of comments–here’s most of them, including mine (Raven’s) and the reply that I made to someone who I chose to see as not understanding why I wrote this.

When do you dissolve a commune?