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?

If it’s about relationships…

by Raven Glomus

In early September, I had just reprinted on Facebook the piece I wrote here about the importance of relationships. I was looking for something to write the next day and decided to ask it as a question:

I got several comments and here are some of them. I particularly like the last one.

“You build relationships by showing up, even when it’s hard.” Yes, indeed.

If it’s about relationships…

Emergent Community–Part Two

by Raven Glomus

This is the second part of a piece focusing on how adrienne maree brown’s six elements from her book, Emergent Strategy, apply to commune building.  My last piece focused on commune building as Fractal, Interdependent and Decentralized,and Non-Linear and Iterative.  Here I will focus on why we need to build communes to be Adaptive, Resilient and Transformative, and in a way that Creates More Possibilities.

In Emergent Strategy, adrienne maree brown talks about Intentional Adaptation–that is adaptation with intention.  She refers to this process as “how we change”.  And communities need to be open to change and changing.  A community that can’t change, dies.  But any community that simply goes with whatever changes happen isn’t going to last long either.  The key, as amb puts it, is to have an intention, a goal or end point in mind, and to make sure that any changes, whatever adaptation we do, keeps us moving toward that goal.   And in order to have that goal, a community needs to have a vision–what is it that we want to move toward?  And, as we encounter each place that we need to change, the community needs to ask itself, what changes will move us closer to our vision?  What changes will move us away?  This is an ongoing process, because we will always need to keep changing and we don’t want our vision to be static.  We need to keep dreaming (collectively) of where we want to be and keep updating our vision and our goals as we go through each change.

This is very related to the next element, Resilience, which adrienne maree brown refers to as “how we recover and transform”.  Some of the changes we will encounter may be relatively simple, but sometimes a commune will encounter things that are more challenging and may cause real problems for the community and sometimes within the community.   We may need to do more than adapt, we may need to recover from traumatic disruptions.  We may need to collectively heal.  We may need to change in ways that transform the commune. The question always is, how can we transform the community in ways that are of service to our vision?  In the book, adrienne maree brown talks about the principles of Transformative Justice to keep in mind as we make the changes that we need in order to heal the community. She quotes Shira Hassan, “In order to resist one size fits all justice, we have to resist the idea that every process looks the same.”  I love amb’s advice here: “Relinquish Frankenstein.  You are not  creating people to be with, or work with, some idealized individuals made of perfect parts of personality… Stop trying to make and fix others, and instead be curious about what they have made of themselves.”  Communes aren’t made of perfect folks, they are made of flawed people struggling to build something together.  Again, quoting adrienne maree brown, we need to “Commit to being in each other’s lives, and doing whatever is needed to ensure that in the long term.”  What great community building advice!

Her final element, and I believe perhaps the most important, is that we work toward “Creating More Possibilities.”  This is why I am so happy that there are so many different flavors of communes out there and only wish there were more.  If we see community building as a way to explore social change, we need to acknowledge that we are not trying to build a perfect alternative.  Rather, we are trying to build many different alternatives, with the realization that no one way works for everyone.  Certainly income-sharing communities aren’t the only way to go, but even among communes, there should be differences and there should be support for folks trying even more new things.  There is a reason so many of us love rainbows–all those different colors existing together.  As we create a communities movement, as we support organizations such as the Federation of Egalitarian Communities and the Foundation for Intentional Communities,  we are building the small scale version of the world we want (going back to amb’s Fractal element), one in which there are many different possibilities and we are working to create more.

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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! 

Emergent Community–Part Two

Emergent Community–Part One

by Raven Glomus

I have been reading (and re-reading) adrienne maree brown’s wonderful book, Emergent Strategy.  I have often said that I see intentional communities (especially income-sharing communities) as laboratories for social change.  What adrienne maree brown lays out in her book is that she sees six elements involved in social change (based partly on her reading of Octavia Butler’s ideas in Parable of the Sower).  According to her, change is Fractal, Adaptive, Non-Linear and Iterative, Resilient and Transformative (as in Transformative Justice), Interdependent and Decentralized, and Creates More Possibilities.

I want to look at how these elements apply to the building of communes as well as seeing communes as part of a social change strategy.  In this first part, I’ll focus on three of these elements, seeing commune building as Fractal, Interdependent and Decentralized,and Non-Linear and Iterative.  I will look at the remaining three elements in my next piece.

Let me start with the fractal nature of commune building.  When adrienne maree brown uses the term ‘fractal’, she defines it as “the relationship between small and large.”  She points out that “How we are at the small scale is how we are at the large scale.”  This is exactly what I mean by communities as social change laboratories.  In building communes, we try to create on a small scale the world that we wish to see.  The end doesn’t justify the means, the means reflects the end goal.  My point about communities as laboratories is that through them we get to test out, on a small scale, what works and doesn’t work for the world that we want to build.  The communes are egalitarian, because we want to build a society based on equality.  We share so much, because we believe that sharing can improve the world.

Interdependent and decentralized is a very apt description of the commune world–including the Federation of Egalitarian Communities.  Communes are not this monolithic entity.  There is no central communal authority.  The communes are each worlds unto themselves, networked together by the relationships between them.  We like having dozens of different flavors of community..  Rather than trying to have one way to build a commune, we have many different communes and each is responsible for itself–and we are also responsible for each other, since we see how we are connected.  It makes accountability tricky, since the ultimate authority resides in the individual community but, because we are connected and interdependent, we also have some leverage with each other.

I used this particular order for the elements (not exactly the order that adrienne maree brown puts them in, although they are in a slightly different order in the two places in the book where she lists them), because I think this is the most useful order for community building.  First you want to think about where you are heading (building something that reflects the world that you want to see) and then realize that what we are building needs to be decentralized and interdependent.  The third element comes in as you build community–the process is non-linear and iterative.  

I think that this may be the most important thing to realize.  It’s not a straight line path at all.  You may plan to build community in a certain way and then you realize that things start falling into place, but hardly in the order you anticipated.  You will soon find out that you can’t control the process.  I love the term ‘emergent strategy’ because emergent phenomena come as they will, not as you want.  Perhaps the most important part to realize is that saying it is iterative is to say that you will find yourself doing the same thing, again and again and again.  And then it happens again.  You may think that you are going in circles, but often it’s more like spirals.  It may seem like you are back in the same place but you are actually a level higher.  If it sounds like it might be frustrating, you are beginning to understand the process of commune building.  As Katarzyna Gajewska pointed out in her post about Community and Techie Fallacy, building a commune is not anything like building a bridge.  You can’t just draft some plans and build it, step by step.  You need to be prepared for some amount of chaos, the whole process through.

In my next post, I will look at the final three elements as pointing out how communities need to be.

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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

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

Communards 

  • Aaron Michels
  • Brenda Thompson
  • Caroline Elbert
  • Cathy Loyd
  • Em Stiles
  • Heather Alexander
  • Jenn Morgan
  • Janey Amend-Bombara
  • Joseph A Klatt
  • Julia Elizabeth Evans
  • Kai Koru
  • Kathleen Brooks
  • Kate Mcguire
  • Laurel Baez
  • Lynette Shaw
  • Magda Schonfeld
  • Michael Hobson
  • Montana Goodman
  • Nance & Jack Williford
  • Oesten Nelson
  • Peter Chinman
  • Raines Cohen
  • Sasha Daucus
  • Suzi Tortora
  • Tobin Moore
  • Warren Kunce
  • William Croft
  • William Kadish
  • William Scarborough

Thanks! 

Emergent Community–Part One

Interpersonal conflict

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

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

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

Interpersonal conflict

My Commune Life Goals

by Raven Glomus

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

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

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

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

I responded with some of my story:

And Zamin K Danty responded with some of his:

My Commune Life Goals

Talking and doing

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

I got a bunch of interesting responses:

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

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

Talking and doing

It’s about Relationships

by Raven Glomus

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It’s about Relationships

Structure and Culture

by Raven Glomus

When I was at Ganas, Michael Johnson, of the core group, was fond of saying that “Culture eats structure for breakfast.”  I recently looked the saying up on the net and found that the more popular quote was that “Culture eats strategy for breakfast”, although I also found quotes of culture eating structure for breakfast and one writer claiming that culture eats strategy for breakfast and structure for lunch.

Regardless of whether it’s breakfast or lunch, I am going to claim that culture eating structure could be seen as an example of cannibalistic matricide.  (Sorry. I am probably stretching the metaphor too far.)  Let me explain.

GPaul once gave a talk on what he had found out from visiting a bunch of communes in Europe.  He talked about one community where they did a very simple version of income sharing, with a literal box of money that people added any money that they made into and just took from whenever they needed something.  He said that a couple of visitors who saw the system at work were impressed at how well it worked and started another community, with a similar box of money.  It was a disaster.  People misused the system left and right.  

When the dust settled on the fragments of what was left of their community, these visitors went back to the first commune, and this time asked more questions, including the history of this community.  It turned out that when the first community started, there were all sorts of rules around using the money box and various accountability procedures.  After many years of this, folks got into the habit of using the box appropriately and paying some attention to who took things out and why, and the rules and procedures fell into use and were abandoned.  In other words, the structures they started with helped create a culture that made those structures unnecessary.

I recently wrote a post on communities as living organisms.  Think of community founders as parents.  While parents can’t determine what their child will do when they grow up, most parents do try to give guidance as they grow up.  Founders can and should create structures that may well become unnecessary later.

Jo Freeman wrote a brilliant essay in the early seventies called “The Tyranny of Structurelessness”.  In it, she points out that if we really want to challenge hierarchy and create horizontal organizations, we need to create the structures to do this, otherwise we fall back on the hierarchical structures we were raised with.  Structures, she says, are absolutely necessary and always exist–even if they are invisible at times.

The takeaway:  If you are creating community, you need to begin by creating the structures to help guide the community in what you see as appropriate directions, since those structures can help create a culture where all that is taken for granted.  When the culture is flourishing, the structures are no longer needed and the culture can eat them for breakfast or lunch or whatever.

Structure and Culture

Communities as Living Organisms

by Raven Glomus

The post we published last Friday, by Katarzyna Gajewska, got me thinking about something I’ve been meaning to write about for a while.  People sometimes talk about communities like they were buildings that could be designed and built and they would remain the way the founders intended forever.

One of the things I’ve often said about Twin Oaks (and sometimes about Ganas, as well) is that no one in their right minds would design a community like Twin Oaks (or Ganas).  That’s because the Twin Oaks that exists now wasn’t designed.  It was planned one way and then it grew, changed, evolved.

A Twin Oaks anniversary picture

My view of communities is that they are living organisms, which grow, and change, and adapt, and often die.  In fact, many communities change in ways that frustrate their founders, often to the point that the founders leave.  Kat Kinkade left Twin Oaks and, in fact, came and went and came and went, and finally came back to die there.  Mildred Gordon also left Ganas, and didn’t come back until she, too, came to die.  Some people here have pointed out that Kevin and Sarah (the founders of East Brook/Glomus) are now gone (although Sarah may be back) and this has allowed us to grow in ways that I don’t think they had anticipated.

This phenomenon is so common that I have heard it called ‘founders syndrome’.  Whether the founder leaves or not, at some point they are faced with a decision, whether to let the community grow in ways they might not have wanted, or to be heavy handed and keep it to the path that they planned.  The thing is, you can control a community like that, but you will probably kill it in the process.

Looking at the six characteristics of living things, the cells of a community are the people.  As there are no animals or plants that do not have cells, there are no communities without people.  Communities certainly use and need energy–things happen in community only when people have the energy to do them and communities die without energy.  Communities don’t grow in isolation–they are forced to adapt to their surroundings.  And they certainly react to changes. They also grow and develop–as I have been saying.  

Finally, not all communities reproduce–the same way that not all people reproduce.  But communities certainly sometimes reproduce–Twin Oaks, for example, begat East Wind and Acorn.  East Wind begat Oran Mor.  And Twin Oaks and Acorn begat Living Energy Farm, Mimosa, and Cambia.

When you think of communities as living organisms, you realize the futility of trying to design and control a community.  You don’t build a community, you help birth it and you help it grow.

Communities as Living Organisms