GPS Directions for Community

by Valerie Renwick, from Communities Magazine, Winter, 2016

EXIT the mainstream urban / suburban / rural single-dwelling lifestyle you’ve been living. Depending on your life experience, you may need to VEER LEFT to accomplish this.

directions1IMMEDIATELY ENTER into the heart of your new community home. You will need to NAVIGATE THE COMPLEX TWISTS AND TURNS that seem to pop up with alarming frequency. Who knew that such a simple change in the kitchen would upset so many people? It was just one little thing.  What was wrong with the suggestion to adopt a community puppy–don’t people here want to provide a good home for a stray? Why isn’t the brilliance of my new business proposal obvious to everyone? Well, except for you-know-who’s constant bias against all post-Industrial-Revolution technology.

PAUSE to consider: When the other person said what they said, how did I feel? What is their piece of the truth?  Do I need to give them some space?

Even after traveling the road for years, you may find yourself in the middle of a tricky community conflict, looking like it’s going to end in a horrific pile-up of emotions. You have several options:

YIELD to the more vocal, more articulate, or more tenacious energy.

or

TAKE A SHARP TURN and attempt to address the festering, long-term issues that have slowly calcified over years into unwavering caricatures of process, then QUICKLY DODGE the head-on collisions and emotional shrapnel that comes flying towards you and everyone else.

RECALCULATING.

Now SIGNAL your willingness to work together, and MAKE A DETOUR by adjusting your position and offering a modified proposal that addresses the concerns that have been raised.

Before proceeding, BUY YOURSELF SOME INSURANCE by investing in other peoples’ viewpoints and building up some goodwill in your community-karma bank account.

As you continue on the journey, ENTER A ROUNDABOUT of meetings, discussions, and surveys. In due time, you will…..directions2

ARRIVE AT YOUR DESTINATION.  You find a solution that works for the group!

Now that the situation has resolved and the communal dust has settled, SLOW DOWN AND IDLE for a while, relishing this period of time and enjoying the glow of some skillful, caring cooperation and warm feelings towards your sister/fellow travelers.

Soon enough it will be time to RESET and start again…..

GPS Directions for Community

Questions Groups Should Ask (But Probably Haven’t)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Questions Groups Should Ask (But Probably Haven’t)

Why Communities? An Appeal

by Paxus (also published on Your Passport to Complaining)

The holiday season is a time for making charitable requests, so this is mine. I want to ask you to support the Fellowship for Intentional Community, which supports the larger network of intentional communities, mostly in the US. The FIC has all manner of lovely and useful programs (Directory, Magazine,Bookstore, Resources). They are the organization best positioned to accelerate the development of intentional communities, amplify the impact they have on society, and foster collaboration between intentional communities and the larger movement towards cooperation, sustainability, and social justice.

But that is not what I want to talk about. I want to talk about why intentional communities matter and why they matter especially now.

Mental Health: People are going crazy, and not in a good way. The stress on many people since the election has been incredible. Fear and anxiety in people who are part of oppressed groups is understandably incapacitating them in some cases and traumatizing them in many more. Add to this a spike in hate crime and the tremendous uncertainty of the time ahead and you have a recipe for some serious psychosis.

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One of the things we know from our work with academics is that living in community improves your mental health. In some ways this is completely unsurprising. Whatever services and support a community supplies, the stress on its members is decreased. Whatever support and affection members of communities provide one another, this is more joy and security in our lives. If we are looking at tough times it is wise to look to the people we trust and care for most and build community with them, intentionally.

Climate Effect: The Secretary of State (SoS) select was blocked from perhaps the largest deal in history by the Obama administration’s sanctions on Russia after the annexation of Crimea. This 1/2 trillion dollar plan for Exxon and Rosneft to drill the Arctic will curse our grandchildren to a wasted planet.

But even if we are able to stop this project, no one actually has a solution to the climate problems that are facing us. No one but us. The key to this climate and environmental fix is sharing.

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The income-sharing intentional communities movement is demonstrating that you can live a middle class, lifestyle on below poverty level income. The radical sharing involved is not easy, but it is completely accessible. Intentional communities are at the front lines of this critical social experimentation.

Trust and Empathy Building: If we are going to depend more on our love ones and friends, if we are going to dare to try to live together, we need to recognize that our communication is flawed and we show up with baggage. We have to be able to name our biases and prejudices and be willing to work on them. We need to be able to clear the air of past hang ups and commit to building trust and empathy among each other. Communities are working on these tools. Clearness process, Transparency Tools, Nonviolent Communication, and more are at the center of the culture of many communities.

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Intentional community is the laboratory for the practices and new cultures we need if we are going to weather these coming difficult times. Please support the best organization supporting these initiatives across the county.

Why Communities? An Appeal

Why I Live in Community

by Raven

I think that everyone who lives in community has their own reasons for it.  I know people who live in egalitarian communities for ideological reasons, for economic reasons, for social reasons, for ecological reasons, and for personal reasons.  Some just come to community because it’s something different to do, some because their lover moved there, and some because it’s a place that they can pursue their passions–agriculture, permaculture, building construction, crafts, or simple, sustainable living.  Some have come to community for any one of these reasons and are now staying, honestly, out of inertia.

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I live in community for a variety of reasons.  Probably the most important is social.  I grew up in a large family and have always lived with groups of people.  I believe that humans are tribal animals and we are meant to live with each other.  I think that it’s genetic

The other big reasons are ideological.  In my very first piece on this blog, I wrote that “Living communally–and sharing so much–is a direct challenge to a hierarchical, consumer focused, corporate capitalist culture.”   I’m one of the folks that lives communally because I want to live simply and sustainably.  In sharing so much, we almost automatically have a much lower carbon footprint than the average person in the US.

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But my real honest reason is that I’m an introvert.  I have a hard time going out into the world.  If I lived by myself, I fear that I would isolate.  In community, I don’t have to go far at all to find people.  As I write these words, I’m sitting in a common, dining area with people hanging out around me.  Some people think that I use the public computer because I don’t have my own.  But I do have a computer–I just have no desire to sit alone in my room all day while I’m working on various computer projects.

Really, I just want to live right around a bunch of folks that I love.  I just want to live with all my friends.

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Why I Live in Community

Community Honeymoon

by Paxus Calta

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

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

honeymoon-1

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

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

honeymoon-3

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

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

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

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

Community Honeymoon

Visiting Communes

by Raven MoonRaven

If you’ve been reading this blog for a while, you might be intrigued by various aspects of communal living, or maybe even what goes on in a particular community.

I ended an article that I wrote here a couple of weeks ago with the thought: “If this sounds exciting, you could contact any of these communes and visit or even join.  You could be part of the experiment.”  I still think visiting communes—or even better joining one—is a great idea.  But there is an etiquette to visiting communities.  And even if you’re thinking of joining a commune, it’s a really good idea to visit and check the place out first.

First rule of visiting any community:  Call, write, or email them first!  Do not simply show up at a community!  Communities are people’s homes.  Most of them like visitors but they really don’t like unannounced visitors.

I’ve visited Twin Oaks and Acorn many times and have done really short visits to Living Energy Farm, Sandhill, and the Stillwater Sanctuary/Possibility Alliance.  Each of these places has a different protocol for visiting, although it always starts with contacting them.

Twin Oaks has detailed instructions on their web page for ways to visit and what you need to do.  A quick way  to visit Twin Oaks is to go on their three hour Saturday tour.  Even for that, they have specific instructions to follow–beyond reservations, they ask things like requesting that people not wear perfume or cologne.  They ask a five dollar donation for the tour.

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Folks on a Twin Oaks Tour

Twin Oaks also offers a three week visitors program.  This is a very structured program.  They have a sliding scale for the program, from $50 to $250, and visitors are expected to work while they’re there (something that’s true at most egalitarian communities).  In return, you are part of a group of visitors that all arrive at the same time and usually leave together.  Visitors are housed in a lovely little cabin (simple but adequate) and are given many tours and orientations.  It’s a well thought out program.  Anyone wanting to join Twin Oaks is usually required to go through the visitors program during which you are evaluated for membership.  (As far as I know, all the communes have a membership process.)  Twin Oaks also occasionally takes interns—usually during the late summer to help set up conferences that they hold.  Even interns are required to do a three week visitor program first and are evaluated before being accepted as interns.  Twin Oaks is currently looking for new members.

The Acorn Community also offers a three week visitors program.  While they do have tours, their visitors program is the main way to visit, either out of curiosity or because you’d like to join.  Their program is a lot less structured than the Twin Oaks program.  Visitors are expected to work and are invited to be part of many community activities.  Acorn asks $75.00 for their three week program.  If it is mutually acceptable, the visitors program can be extended into a three to six month internship.  Again check their website for more details.  (A personal recommendation:  If you want to do the visitors programs at both Twin Oaks and Acorn, I suggest you do the Twin Oaks program first–especially for folks who are trying to understand how communes work.  The Acorn program is much more hands on and suited to people who are very self-motivated.  I do think that you would learn a lot by doing both programs; it’s just that starting with the Twin Oaks program would help you ease into it.)

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The crew that started Acorn

Living Energy Farm, Sandhill, and the Stillwater Sanctuary all have internships and Sandhill also hosts visitors.  For Living Energy Farm or Sandhill, go to their website where they have an email address that you can contact them at.  The Stillwater Sanctuary doesn’t have a website or email address, but the Federation of Egalitarian Communities has a site for them where there is a mailing address for them.  You can send them a letter and they will respond.  Both Living Energy Farm and the Stillwater Sanctuary are demonstration sites about how to live without and beyond fossil fuels.

I will also mention East Wind community, which I have never visited but is a large communal situation in the Ozark Mountains in Missouri which is supposed to be very beautiful. They also have a three week visitors program and you can find out more about it through their website and contacting their membership team.

FEC Assembly 2016
Communards at the FEC Assembly 2016

The newer communities in the Ozarks of Missouri (Oran Mor), Louisa, VA (Sapling and Cambia), Richmond, VA (Quercus), Washington, DC, and Baltimore, MD (the Baltimore Free Farm), may also be open to visitors–again, you should contact them if you are interested.

I would strongly encourage you to visit one or more of these communes.  You can learn a lot about communal living from reading this blog, but you could learn a lot more by visiting.

Visiting Communes