Agreements

by Raven Cotyledon

I have written a post that is quite popular here (58 views just this week, 1708 views this year–really, it’s the most popular post on the blog) called Four Steps to Building a Commune. In it I say: “Step Two is about working on vision and agreements together.”

This post was suggested by Warren Kunce, who lives in Sweden and has been visiting us this week at Cotyledon and has been an avid reader of this blog. When I asked him what I should write about that hadn’t been talked about on the blog, his suggestion was “agreements”.  I realized that, while I had strongly suggested it in the post, I don’t think we have talked much about how to actually work on agreements on this blog, and I think it’s very important.

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Warren and Raven (picture by Warren)

The substance of the paragraph I wrote in the article about Four Steps was focused on what can go wrong if you don’t have agreements in place.  Here I want to talk about how to create agreements. First, it isn’t as easy as it may sound. We have been working on a Membership Process agreement at Cotyledon for over a year and we still don’t have all the details in place.

We use consensus decision making in our community and that means that you have to have buy in from everyone, at least on some level, for every decision. With agreements, it’s the details that are difficult.

And you really do want everybody’s buy in on your agreements, otherwise members are less likely to stick to them. So that means having many meetings to work through all the details. One thing that might make things faster, especially in a large group, is if there are two people in particular who disagree on some details, have them get together outside of community meetings and figure out a compromise that they can live with, and then bring that to the group for discussion and decision making.

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One really useful resource for making agreements, especially for new communes, is the Systems and Structures page on the FEC website.  Why try to reinvent the wheel?  Here you can see what other income-sharing communities have developed over the years. You don’t have to copy what they have done, but you can see what they have tried, and pick and choose what your community likes, and try it yourself.

And a good thing to remember is that agreements are experiments. You are not coming up with agreements to lock yourselves into doing things the same way forever. You are trying things to see what works for your community.  Agreements can and should be able to be changed if they don’t seem to be working for you. Some communities write an agreement with a “sunset clause”. Because consensus, honestly, tends to be conservative, in that once something is in place, it can be difficult to change it, there are communities that write some of their agreements with an expiration date. Once the experimental period has passed, the agreement becomes null and void unless the community agrees to renew it.  This makes the default, which the community needs to fall back on in the event that they can’t reach agreement on the agreement, that they need to start over, rather than they need to keep the agreement in place.

Agreements are mostly written for the difficult times, when there is a lot of conflict or turmoil. You don’t want to have to come up with an agreement or policy when things are rough.  Agreements are a support when times are difficult. But they can actually be ignored or discarded if everyone is able to decide on something different in a situation. For example, Common Threads early on came up with an agreement on what we would do if or when we dissolved.  However, when we did dissolve the community, we did something quite different, which made more sense to everyone at the time. It was still good to have the agreement, because if there had been a lot of disagreement, it would have been something we could fall back on. As I said, agreements are there to support the community, not control it.

So, the best advice I can give your community if you are making agreements, is to listen to each other. That’s what consensus is about, anyway.  Try things. Be flexible. Use agreements but don’t be ruled by them. They are there to serve your community. If they are used well, they can be very helpful. They can make things a lot smoother when you don’t have to make the same decisions again and again. And they can be changed when it’s needed. Be willing to toss out what isn’t working and start over.

And, above all, have fun with it all.

Working+Agreement

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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 patrons:  

Communities

  • Acorn Community
  • Compersia Community
  • Cotyledon Community
  • East Brook Community Farm
  • The Federation of Egalitarian Communities
  • Twin Oaks Community

Communards

  • Aaron Michels
  • Brenda Thompson
  • Cathy Loyd
  • Em Stiles
  • Jenn Morgan
  • Jonathan Thaler
  • Julia Elizabeth Evans
  • Kai Koru
  • Kathleen Brooks
  • Laurel Baez
  • Lynette Shaw
  • Magda schonfeld
  • Michael Hobson
  • Nance & Jack Williford
  • Peter Chinman
  • Sumner Nichols
  • Tobin Moore
  • Warren Kunce
  • William Croft
  • William Kadish

Thanks!

 

Agreements

Thinking about Needs

by Raven Cotyledon

This may seem a bit off topic, but I think it’s very important. For people who want to start communities or folks who want to know why they can’t keep people in their commune, I believe that no one will be interested in a community or stay in one if their needs aren’t being met.

I have my own blog, which I have mentioned before, and which is now being neglected while I focus on Commune Life and commune building in New York City. I have thought about the concept of needs for a long time and, just a bit more than ten years ago, I wrote a post that inaugurated a series that lasted four months and involved something like forty-five posts, all focused on human needs.

I began by using, as a framework, psychologist Abraham Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs and Chilean economist Manfred Max-Neef’s Fundamental Human Needs. Even though Max-Neef made his list in opposition to Maslow’s Hierarchy, I saw the two lists as compatible and created my own list, combining them, listing categories beginning with physiological/subsistence needs and finishing off with artistic and creativity needs, identity needs, and freedom needs. I followed this with forty-three posts, each talking, in some detail, about what might be needed to meet each of forty-three needs. I think this all is important to try to think about what the needs of each person in community might be and how to meet these needs. As I said in my wrap up post, these were all real needs and did not include things the advertisers claim you need.  There is no human need for SUVs or McMansions.

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Maslow’s Hierarchy

Since then I have encountered two other ways of looking at needs that I think are worth mentioning, from the perspectives of Nonviolent Communication and Permaculture.

One of the concepts in Nonviolent Communication (aka Compassionate Communication or NVC) is the difference between needs and strategies. An example is that I come from Boston and live in New York City. Most of the people I love are still in Boston. If something happened to one of them, I might have a real need to get up to Boston. (A need not on any of the lists, but a need just the same.) If I came to you and said that I needed to borrow your car, that would not actually be a need. It’s a strategy. I could get to Boston by bus, train, ship, plane, biking, walking, hitchhiking, and on and on.  There usually dozens, if not hundreds of strategies to meet a need. When needs seem to be in conflict, NVC claims that it’s often really about conflicting strategies.

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Where Maslow and NVC look at needs from a psychological and often individual perspective, Permaculture looks at them from a system perspective. In permaculture, they look at “elements” in a system, which could be plants in a garden or people in a commune.   Each ‘element’ has both needs and products or behaviors or yields or, I would say, gifts. The system part goes beyond the individual needs to looking at how one person’s gifts can meet another person’s needs, and with things in right relationship, the whole community can meet everyone’s needs. I love thinking about how person A’s needs can be met by person B’s gifts, and person B’s needs can be met by person C’s gifts, and then person C’s needs can be met by person A’s gifts. (This is oversimplified, but hopefully you get the idea.)

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Needs and gifts of a chicken

Maybe someday, the communes will figure out, not only how we can each meet other member’s needs, but we can do so effortlessly. Truly then we would have something that could transform this society.

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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 patrons:

Communities
● Acorn Community
● Compersia Community
● Cotyledon Community
● East Brook Community Farm
● The Federation of Egalitarian Communities
● Twin Oaks Community

Communards
● Tobin Moore
● Kai Koru
● Jenn Morgan
● Jonathan Thaler
● Nance & Jack Williford
● Julia Evans
● William Croft
● Aaron Michels
● Cathy Loyd
● Laurel Baez
● Magda schonfeld
● Michael Hobson
● William Kadish
● Em Stiles
● Laurel Baez
● Lynette Shaw

Thanks!

Thinking about Needs

What can we learn from lasting communities?

,by Raven Cotyledon

I was interviewed recently about the time I lived at Ganas, which is not an egalitarian community, but is an amazing, thriving community of a different type. Ganas has been around for forty years as of this year and that got me thinking of other long lived communities and what people who are  trying to start (or keep going) new communities can learn from them.

Twin Oaks, of course, is a big example, since they hit fifty in 2017 and will be fifty-two this year. Another obvious candidate is East Wind which is clocking in at forty-five this year, as is Sandhill in northeastern Missouri.   But I want to even include somewhat younger communities like Acorn (26) and Dancing Rabbit (22). I think that any community that is over twenty is worth studying, since so many communities never even reach ten.

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Twin Oaks 50th Anniversary

 

What is the secret to their longevity?   One obvious thing to me is their size. Twin Oaks has ninety something adults (I often just say a hundred members but they have never reached that), East Wind, Ganas, and Dancing Rabbit all have in the neighborhood of sixty people, and Acorn keeps itself at around thirty.

Sandhill is the outlier here. It has never had more than ten adult members and often less. They are currently down to three adults and have put themselves in a reforming status. Things seem touch and go there, but I certainly wouldn’t count them out.

I found out that Acorn had been down to two members early in their history. I asked a long time member how they survived. He suggested it was due to two things: Twin Oaks and Ira Wallace.  Having a big, stable neighbor like Twin Oaks, I am sure was helpful, but having someone as tenacious and persistent as Ira, who is an amazing person, I believe, was essential.

Which brings me to a first factor in longevity: persistence, basically not giving up, even in the face of adversity. And with that, I would also add, having a commitment to the other people in the community. I have seen this modeled at Ganas and I am sure this is a big piece of why they have lasted so long.

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Houses at Ganas

A third major piece is flexibility, or perhaps, adaptability. Allowing a community to change and evolve is key.  Both Twin Oaks and Ganas are quite different from when they started. I would say that there is an essential core that has never changed (for Twin Oaks, I would say, it is a belief in income-sharing and equality, for Ganas, a belief in the importance and healing power of feedback), but the communities grew and changed as people came and went and the community aged.  Interestingly enough both communities went through a similar process with their founders. Both Kat Kinkade (Twin Oaks) and Mildred Gordon (Ganas) were key in founding their respective communities, both left after many years because the community had changed in ways they didn’t like, and both returned to their communities to die.

So here are at least three important things we can learn from long lived communities: persist, even when things get hard, commit to each other, and figure out how to adapt while holding on to your key principles. These don’t guarantee success, but little in life does.

There are lots of new and young communities out there.  I’ve written about why communities fail and how fragile they are; now I am thinking about how communities can last.

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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 patrons:  

Communities

  • Acorn Community
  • Compersia Community
  • Cotyledon Community
  • East Brook Community Farm
  • The Federation of Egalitarian Communities
  • Twin Oaks Community

Communards

  • Tobin Moore
  • Kai Koru
  • Jenn Morgan
  • Jonathan Thaler
  • Nance & Jack Williford
  • Julia Evans
  • William Croft
  • Aaron Michels
  • Cathy Loyd
  • Laurel Baez
  • Magda schonfeld
  • Michael Hobson
  • Sasha Daucus
  • William Kadish

Thanks!

 

What can we learn from lasting communities?

How to Start a Commune

by Raven Cotyledon

I was just looking at the statistics for this blog.  By far the most popular Commune Life posts were my piece on “Four Steps to Building a Commune” and the article Paxus wrote on “So You Want to Start a Community”.

I had been wondering why they were so popular until I realized that WordPress also gave statistics on search engine terms that found us.  For 2018, the most common were “how to start a commune”, followed by “starting a commune”, “building a commune”, and “how to create a commune”.  For this year, they were “how to start a commune”, followed by “how to set up a commune”, “starting a commune”, “where to build a commune”, and “how to make a commune”.  

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Literally building a commune

So the title of this post can be seen as a shameless attempt to drive up traffic.  It can also be seen an attempt to answer a question a lot of folks seem to be asking.

For folks wanting to start a commune, reading the two posts that I said were so popular would be a good first step.  Here I want to expand on what is in the two posts and reinforce some things.

But first, make sure that a commune is what you want to start. Various web dictionaries define a commune as a group of people “living together and sharing responsibilities”.  Some say “live and work together”, some say “sharing possessions and responsibilities”, a few say “share everything”. As usual, there is some truth in all of it.

In the communities world, communes are income-sharing communities.  In this blog, we focus on “egalitarian, income-sharing communities” (as opposed to hierarchical ones where the money often flows upwards). As I wrote in a recent post, communes are only a small percentage of the communities movement. If you are interested in learning about communities in general, my advice is to start at ic.org, the Fellowship for Intentional Communities website. On the first page they have a section of a “Diversity of Models” that will help you learn about the various types of communities.

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There is a lot of good advice in both of our popular articles, regardless of the type of community that you want to start. Paxus begins his piece by saying, “Before you start a new community you should: 1) See if there is an existing community which meets your needs, [and] 2) Live in an existing community before you start one”.

I want to expand on this. Indeed, starting a new community of any kind is “crazy hard work” (as Paxus points out), but if you really want to start one, I think that you should visit a few and then live for a year or two (at least) before you go off to start one.

More specifically, look for communities of the type that you want to start. If you really want to start a commune, check out the Federation of Egalitarian Communities and read through this blog carefully (especially the posts on Creating Community).  I recommend that you visit some established communities first (like Twin Oaks, East Wind, and Acorn, something that has been around for at least ten years), and then join a small, relatively new community.  (Also, if you are interested in building a community with a high emphasis on eco-sustainability, I strongly recommend that you at least do a brief visit to Living Energy Farm and do the visitor’s program at Dancing Rabbit, both of which will give you a good deal of useful tools for building ecovillages and other types of sustainable communities.)

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Visiting established communities will give you some idea of how a community can function and work in the long term, but joining a fledgling community will teach you the nuts and bolts of what it takes to get a community up and running. Also, you will make a lot more difference to a struggling community than one that has been going for a while and you will see more clearly the underpinnings of communal living that often function so well in a long running community that they can be missed.  And it will be much more of an adventure, since it often isn’t clear whether the community will survive and how it will actually turn out. (Here’s a shameless plug: if you are interested in living in New York City, Cotyledon, our little commune, could use some people interested in building community.)

As I said, stay with the community you choose to live at for a year or two and learn what you can.  Then turn to the advice I gave in my post: find people, make agreements, find an income source, and, only then, find a place.

I can’t emphasize enough starting by finding the people.  I know so many communities floundering because they don’t have enough folks. Kat Kinkade is one of my idols. She helped start three communes that are all still running (Twin Oaks, East Wind, and Acorn). I asked someone who knew her what she knew. He said her advice was to build up the population of a community quickly.

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In her book, Is It Utopia Yet, Kat claimed that thirty people was “the minimum for security”.  I think that you need at least ten. Small communities are fragile and brittle, and I believe that you need to have at least four to be even really functioning as a community.  Thus, the more people that you have (that are in agreement and working together), the better a community’s chances for survival.

We need more communes and we need more communities. If you found this post because you wanted to know how to start a commune, I hope that you follow through. If you have interest, the tools are available. Check out various communities, try living in one, then look for people. It is lots of work, but there’s support available, and there are others looking as well. It’s the work I am doing and I think that it’s really important.

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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 patrons:  

Communities

  • Acorn Community
  • Compersia Community
  • Cotyledon Community
  • East Brook Community Farm
  • The Federation of Egalitarian Communities
  • Twin Oaks Community

Communards

  • Tobin Moore
  • Kai Koru
  • Jenn Morgan
  • Jonathan Thaler
  • Nance & Jack Williford
  • Julia Evans
  • William Croft
  • Aaron Michels
  • Cathy Loyd
  • Laurel Baez
  • Magda schonfeld
  • Michael Hobson
  • Sasha Daucus
  • William Kadish

Thanks!

How to Start a Commune

Crafting Community: Do’s and Don’t’s

by Raven Cotyledon

I have said all this before but here are what I see as the most important ways to successfully  craft community, broken out into a list of Do’s and Don’t’s:

DON’T start by buying land or getting a place

DO have a few ‘bottom lines’ for what you want the community to value or what the community is about

DON’T have a detailed plan before you have others involved

DON’T ever have a plan that you are not willing to change

DO try to find like minded people who want to start a community with you

DO look for good people with useful skills

DON’T be too fussy however

DON’T reject people because they are not perfect

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DO talk about what you want and make collective agreements together

DO support, encourage, and care for the people you are building community with

DON’T critique, belittle, or discourage people

DO come up with steps and goals in building community

DO think about money and pay attention to finances

DON’T limit your thoughts to jobs and traditional sources

DO celebrate your successes

DON’T be discouraged when things don’t happen quickly

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DO keep at it

DO get support to keep at it

DO make commitments to each other

DO keep those commitments, especially when it becomes difficult

DON’T give up

Two important pieces in here, that I am convinced make a difference, are to support others and make sure you get support for yourself.  Building community isn’t easy; if it was we would have a lot more of them.

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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 patrons:  

Communities

  • Acorn Community
  • Compersia Community
  • Cotyledon Community
  • East Brook Community Farm
  • The Federation of Egalitarian Communities
  • Twin Oaks Community

 

Communards

  • Sumner Nichols
  • Tobin Moore
  • Kai Koru
  • Bryan Utesch
  • Jenn Morgan
  • Jonathan Thaler
  • Nance & Jack Williford
  • Julia Evans
  • William Croft

Thanks!

 

Crafting Community: Do’s and Don’t’s

Communities Conference Workshops

Here is the workshop and partial presentation schedule for the upcoming Twin Oaks Communities Conference.  The below links are to blog posts on these elements.  There is a posted full program (with short descriptions for every workshop are in the newly published program).  

big-meal
Cambia lunch

Saturday September 1st

9:30 to noon

1:30 to 3 PM

4 to 5:30 PM

Sunday September 2

9:30 to 11

There is still time to register for this amazing event.  Twin Oaks Community is hosting this event in central Virginia Aug 31st thru Sept 2.  There is also great Labor Day (Sept 3) program at Cambia Community, less than one mile from the Twin Oaks Conference site.

TO 50 group shot
Twin Oaks 50th Anniversary – Circa 2017
Communities Conference Workshops

Will your community survive an Exodus?

By Paxus of Cambia Community

exodus people walking.jpgOne of the interesting new workshop topics for this years Twin Oaks communities conference (over Labor Day Weekend) is the Exodus Panel, which will be moderated by Taylor Kinniburgh, a member of the Baltimore Free Farm:

Panel Discussion on Surviving Exodus
Sunday, 9:30-11:00am, Registration Tarp

How can intentional communities survive a membership exodus? This workshop will carve out space for community members to share their experiences, learn from other communities, and develop strategies to overcome the challenges of member- ship overhaul. The panel will consist of experienced community leaders that have dealt with exodus to varying levels of success. Failure to deal with member exodus can lead to the collapse of a community, but it take more than recruiting new
members to take on this problem. Communities need to be self reflective about why the exodus took place and this panel hopes to guide participants in how to do that analysis.

exodus logo.jpg

Come with me on a thought experiment.

You knew it might happen.  In the worst case the conflict within your community could blow things up seriously.  Now several of your members are leaving and the future of your community is in doubt.  Often people within the communities movement say “No one is indispensable” as a secular mantra for communities shifting to cover important jobs left vacant when an important member leaves.  But when several people leave?  Well, this is likely no longer a true maxim when the number departing is larger than one.

exodus people walking.jpg
When people leave en mass, the group changes and perhaps dies

Certainly, some part of the response of the group left behind must be soul searching.  “What did we do that was wrong?  Could we have taken better care of the group?  What have we learned from difficult circumstance and can we create new policies and practices to avoid it happening again?”

But after this important self reflection is completed, there will likely be a need to re-assess if the mission of the community is still the same after the exodus.  It is possible that the new group of members have a somewhat (and potentially quite) different vision of the future community.  While difficult work, this can be very satisfying and healing to the group remaining.

Exodus with wave.jpg

The Baltimore Free Farm, Acorn Community and Twin Oaks have all experienced an exodus of members and survived.  Other communities we will discuss did not survive.

There is still time to register for the Twin Oaks Communities Conference over the labor day weekend (Aug 31 thru Sept 2) in central Virginia, 45 minutes from Charlottesville and 55 minutes to central Richmond or RSVP on Facebook

Will your community survive an Exodus?