Is Gossip the Fabric of Community?

By Paxus Calta-Star

I co-moderate a large diverse facebook group on intentional communities.  Recently someone posted:

Gossip gets embellished as it travels. Things heard second hand should be verified with the speaker. Beware words taken out of context, even if the context is the room next door. Good communities practice all that.

While this is true as far as it goes, it misses the tremendous complexity around the issue of gossip and how important it is to both the culture and success of a community venture.

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What is gossip?  It is certainly more than an opinion expressed about someone who is not in the room.  “Trump is a misogynist racist,” isn’t gossip, unless you are close to him.  It is just an opinion.  “Cindy is gifted at fixing cars,” almost certainly does not qualify either, as most people think gossip is a negative opinion.

“Paxus is a poor driver.” What if this is something I have said myself and you are simply repeating it?  Is it gossip if the target is the source?

 

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They did what?

Let me propose a harsher definition: Gossip is a critical judgment shared about a person or group, often in conspiratorial or secretive tones, while not directly communicating with the subject of the gossip.

Using this definition one might reasonably be concerned that gossip would have an acidic effect on the fabric of the community.  One of the common anti-gossip norms that exist in the communes is if you hear something critical about someone you could ask, “Have you told this to them?”  This is the antidote to gossip; being transparent with the subject of the rumor.

 

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Back in the 80s, as I was just becoming aware of community living, when I was making a critical comment about gossip, my dear friend and mentor Crystal replied “Gossip is the fabric of the community,” and it took me a couple of decades to understand what he was talking about.

Even when using the negative it turns out gossip is important for a community to be healthy.  Members need to confide in confidants about their frustration with others in the community.  Ideally, this is less about spreading rumors and more about seeking advice.  “How do I deal with this headachy circumstance?”  or “Do you understand their motivations for this strange behavior?” or “I was so upset and they were clueless, what is really happening here?”

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In the best light, gossip is the flow of self-critical and self-correcting messages which members share in the lead up to actually addressing the problems.  [Where the “self” here is the larger collective one, rather than the individual personal one.]  You talk about things which are on your mind with the people who you live with and they help you reflect back on what you should do about it.  Recognizing that if you are being critical of another member of your community, you are obligated to get back to them with your concern.

In this way, gossip within a community is different from what happens in the mainstream.  If I am being critical or concerned about another member, I have a larger obligation to do something about it than I do if it is a co-worker or random stranger.  If you have a substance abuse problem and we live collectively, not only can it blow back on me in a problematic way, but I have made some level of commitment to take care of you.  If we are part of the same intentional community and I am worried about your mental health, I can’t casually gripe about it to another member, we have to be considering what our course of action is regarding this problem.  Even less dramatic problems other members are experiencing a poor choice of romantic partners or headache with a boss are much more shared in a community setting than when living independently.  Gossip in community has more obligation to it.

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It is worth pointing out that Twin Oaks does not embrace this culture.  In my large commune, if you don’t want to deal with someone you can completely shut down communication with them.  This is terrible for clearing gossip but might make it possible for some people who really do not see eye to eye to be able to live together.  And because the community is so large these estranged members (including me) just try to avoid each other.

It is worth pointing out that when ex-Oakers founded Acorn with financial assistance from Twin Oaks, this was one of the most important things they wanted to do differently.  Acorn (and many other communes) have a communication covenant which makes it the community’s business when members are failing to communicate.  When you are designing communities one of the thorniest issues is when do you give power to the collective over the individual members.  And gossip is one of the few places you should seriously consider it.

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Is Gossip the Fabric of Community?

Mid Winter

by 

from the East Wind blog,

Winter is ambling along here in the heart of the Ozarks. The days are growing longer and spirits are rising. As an Erie, PA native it has been wonderful to see my first serious snowfall at East Wind in the three winters I’ve lived here. The weather this winter has been kind to a northerner: plenty of freezing cold with a sprinkling of sunny sixty degree plus days. The farm is busy with a number of projects, including butchering season and the building of our new shower house.

Fran, the Foopin manager, starting in on a pig quarter

Foopin, the dedicated food processing room, has been bustling with the butchering of several pigs, cows, and deer (along with all the year round dairy processing, of course). East Wind’s freezers are filling up with tenderloins, bacon, ribs, hams, beef, and a variety of tasty sausages. If you have no experience and want to learn about butchering, this is the place and time to do it!

Liesel and Mardock beginning on a deer they hunted as Indo and Roxy discuss mammal anatomy.

Just north of Foopin, garden manager Andrea took advantage of a nice warm day to harvest spinach. The garden is largely dormant at this time of year, but there are cold hardy greens- spinach and kale. The garlic, planted late fall, is slumbering under the snow and mulch waiting for spring growth. Riding on the success of last year’s experiment, onion starts in the hoophouse will be transplanted to the main garden in spring.

Andrea harvesting spinach.  The new shower house, under construction, is in the background.

Construction on the shower house began in late summer with Brandon leading up the demolition of the old site, hooking up water and electric, putting up all walls, windows, doors, insulation, and the roof. The summer crew worked incredibly efficiently to get the structure solid and weatherproof. Beckie is heading up the completion of the project. The siding is nearly finished and there is much to do in the interior. Below you can find a short timelapse (my first dabbling) that was taken during August with the summer crew (it looks best in 720p!).

New member Max and Richard nailing in a board.

Of course, there is plenty of time for recreation in the winter time as well. This past week, a group of about ten communards hiked out to visit the ‘Ice Pillar.’ The pillar is located up a tributary valley to Lick Creek and only forms under certain conditions.

A pillar was indeed formed!  A great way to spend part of an afternoon.

It has been a long time since my last written post. So long that a couple people were getting worried about me (shout out to MoonRaven growing the communal spirit in NYC)! Holiday traveling and dealing with the business left me with little spare time these past couple months. Soon I will have more time to jump back in the blog saddle and get back to at least once a month posts. I am SUPER interested in what YOU are curious about living at East Wind. Please feel free to ask questions and give feedback in the comments! I am constantly looking for blog inspiration. Until next time, here are the dairy cows in the orchard:

Three generations: grandmother Marmalade to the far right, mother Jackie Brown to the left, and daughter Mary Jane up front.

Post written, pictures taken, and video created by Sumner

Mid Winter

My Favorite Things

by Raven

Here are some recent photos from this blog of the joys of Communal Living:

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The folks at Kibbutz Mishol

If you look carefully you can see god hiding

The pool at Cambia

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Working together at East Wind

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The Cotyledon crew

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Cooking at Le Manoir

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Saturnalia at Compersia

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The Twin Oaks Feminist Zine

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An overview of East Brook Community Farm

ChickensChickens at Acorn

And from communes yet to be:

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The land at Donald’s View

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A map of possible land for Full Circle

My Favorite Things

Power Dynamics in the Communes

by Raven

I found a book in the library called The Five Dysfunctions of a Team by Patrick Lencioni.  It was focused on business executive teams, but I found a lot of it applicable to communities.  His five dysfunctions were Absence of Trust, Fear of Conflict, Lack of Commitment, Avoidance of Accountability, and Inattention to Results. To put it in positive language, I would say that in creating a team or a community you need to build trust, be willing to disagree, be able to make commitments, and also be held accountable, before you can achieve results.

A friend of mine pointed out that every group, including communities, has to deal with power dynamics. It may be especially true in the commune world.

I have written about how a new community with an aggressive, dominant man at the core will often fail to grow. In December, with the MeToo movement in the news, we published a series of articles about how communes and communities need to deal with the problem of abusive men among us.  While sexual abuse and harassment are the worst examples and have been what has been featured in the media, there is also a strong problem of men (generally white men) dominating discussions, and often ignoring or disregarding the contributions of women and people of color–or, worse yet, claiming those contributions and taking credit for them.  (Full disclosure, I am a white man.)

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If we want to build diverse, inclusive communities, we need to deal with these dynamics. We need to deal with anyone dominating conversations, and ignoring or disregarding the contributions of others.   While white men are the prime offenders, we need to call out anyone with these behaviors. And it’s not just women and people of color who get trampled on, but queerfolk, people with disabilities, and working class and poor people. In fact, the whole community is often being trampled on.

To return to what I began with, when you have a person or a few people dominating in a community, it’s impossible to build real trust.   People become afraid to disagree with these folks and have no desire to give real commitments to the community.  Accountability is at least difficult, if not impossible, under these circumstances, and what results happen are usually not what the group wants.

Patrick Lencioni claims that what gets in the way of teams achieving results is a focus on people’s status and ego.  Well functioning teams do not have stars; they have a group of people willing to listen to each other and work together.  If that’s true in the business world, how much more so with communes.  Having dominating people makes true community impossible.

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Changing all this is not easy.  If you are dealing with strong people, you will probably need a cohesive group to confront them.  The more the group can be clear about what it wants and needs, the better the chances of getting it.  And that goes back to the need to build trust among this group.

It’s difficult work, but if our communes are going to be truly egalitarian, it’s work that needs to be done.

Power Dynamics in the Communes

Urban Kibbutzim: A Growing Movement

 

 

By Anton Marks

from Communities magazine, Winter issue #177

 

The first kibbutz was established over 100 years ago, and over the following century, a network of almost 300 full income-sharing agricultural communes was established all over Israel. The plan was based on anarchist principles, whereby this federation of communities would coalesce into a whole cooperative society, without centralized government or borders.

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Fast forward to the year 2017. The rural kibbutz communities are in retreat, there’s a strong central government and, albeit for very different reasons, the country has no clear borders.

However, there are those who have taken up the mantle of taking responsibility for shaping the society, young people who are establishing hundreds of urban communes that, both individually and as movements, are affecting change in the inner cities—communes of educators who are working against violence, racism, homophobia, and poverty.

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I am a member of Kibbutz Mishol, one of the many intentional communities that have been established over the past 20 years. We are 130 people, all living under one roof, making decisions together, bringing our children up together, sharing all of our income, 10 cars, our living spaces, and a handful of dogs, cats, and chinchillas.

Our kibbutz is in the city; in fact, we are situated in one of the most deprived neighbourhoods in the country—and it’s a choice. We’ve made this choice to work together with our partners in the local municipality, and together with our partners who live in this city, to shape the wider community for the benefit of all of its citizens—Jews, Arabs, those from the former Soviet Union, from Ethiopia, asylum seekers, religious, secular, left, and right.

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We have established a nonprofit organization through which we run all of our educational projects. For example, we run a local public elementary school, non-formal education in after-school centres, a youth movement, a coexistence project, and educational tours to Poland. In addition, we have teams of people working together taking responsibility over the inner functioning of our community—looking after our cars, our building, our children, our finances, our learning, our relationships, and our culture.

It’s a healthy tension in our lives: to what extent are we focused on the internal—living together and improving our relationships, creating a community making decisions by consensus, challenging societal norms when it comes to gender roles, understanding the different needs and different abilities of our members—and to what extent on the external—our interactions and impact on the surrounding society? Do we exist for ourselves, as a lifestyle choice, or is our aim to use community as a vehicle for changing the world around us?

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The kibbutz-building enterprise started as a way of taking responsibility over the needs of a developing society and a developing economy—agriculture, creating towns and villages, defending the borders, building a public health system, a nationwide union, newspapers, etc., etc. Today the needs of the country can be found in the inner cities, draining the social swamps of society, rather than the physical mosquito=infested swamps of the early 20th century backwaters of the Ottoman Empire.

These urban communes, largely situated in the geographical and economic peripheries of Israel, springing up like mushrooms after the rain, are a model of how an alternative society can be built within the existing capitalist society—not as isolated independent communities, but as a network of communities which together offer an example of how society can be structured in a more just and equitable way.

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  • ● ●

Having previously been living communally for 18 years in the North of Israel, I’ve now spent the last 18 months living in the American suburbs of Rockville, Maryland. It’s a surprisingly easy adjustment to make—two adults and two young children living in a faceless apartment block with pool, fitness center, and Amazon deliveries 24/7.

I have been active on the international communal scene for many years—I am a board member of the ICSA (International Communal Studies Association) and have attended three of their international conferences.

In addition, I have been general secretary of the Intentional Communities Desk (formerly known as the International Communes Desk) and was editor of their magazine C.A.L.L. for 15 years.

I’ve visited communities in different places in the world and so upon coming to the US it was important for me to connect to what is going on here. Here is the list of communities I have visited on the East Coast, several within a few miles of where I have been living.

  • Baltimore Free Farm: an urban farm of activists and gardeners who gave me a tour of the farm and showed me their space where they host events.
  • Compersia, DC: a small urban commune whose members I’ve met a couple of times, including a visit to their house in DC.
  • Twin Oaks, Virginia: I attended the Communities Conference last year at the 50 year old full income-sharing ecovillage. I was extremely excited to visit their former children’s house named after the first kibbutz, Degania.
  • Platte Clove Community: I stayed for a few days at the Bruderhof community as a guest of members who had visited me in Israel
  • Maple Ridge Bruderhof: a visit for a couple of hours, including a tour of the community and meeting old friends who had also visited my kibbutz in Israel.
  • Rondout community in Kingston, New York: an urban Bruderhof community that runs their own preschool.
  • Eastern Village Cohousing: a community in the nearby neighbourhood of Silver Spring, Maryland.
  • Takoma Village Cohousing: another local cohousing community.

 

 

Urban Kibbutzim: A Growing Movement

Art at Twin Oaks

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Rock/Paper/Scissors statue by Lindsey (guest).  Displayed in  Kaweah.

24210091_1566844903375384_3751067670206167007_oPainting by Summer of Purl. Displayed in her room.

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Art by Puma. Displayed at ZK.

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Lindsey Hoffman’s homemade collage postcards and photography by Alexis (guest).  Displayed in upstairs MT.

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Sketch by Lindsey of shrouded R E Lee statue in Charlottesville.

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Woven basket by Ari made during recent stay at John C Campbell Folk School.  Displayed in upstairs Llano.

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Iron work by Stephan made during his recent stay at John C Campbell Folk School.   Displayed in upstairs Llano .

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Art quilt by Pam.  Displayed in her room .

Art at Twin Oaks

Stepping Stone Commune

Architecture shapes culture, so a guiding principle of Cambia is, if we can make it beautiful, we do.  Architecture is unique as an art form because it integrates function with form. This includes landscaping and outdoor play spaces.

Stepping stones have multiple functions; for example, they can protect clover, especially in the winter. The form also affects our local culture: when you walk on stepping stones, you are called to a child-like stance.

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You can walk with your hands hanging down by your sides, and what tends to happen is that your arms raise up to maintain your balance.  The stepping stones can draw you into being playful and childlike.  As your hands go up, you are more likely to skip.  As you start to skip, you are more likely to smile.

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Cambia also boasts a trampoline.  The trampoline draws kids from the surrounding communes.  Cambia recently replaced our broken one, in an assembly effort which was guided by a gaggle of giggly kids.

The German modern architect Mies van der Rohe is famous for two sayings, both of which are applicable.  Less is more is the argument for minimalist architecture to achieve simplicity, using white elements, cold lighting, large space with minimum objects and furniture

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At Cambia, there is a focus on details.  Door knobs from twisted branches, floors of pebbles and clay, salvaged redwood around the hot tub and hyacinth pool.  It is these and dozens of other tiny aspects that makes this stepping stone commune so precious.

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Handcrafted means focusing on details: doorknobs from twisted branches, floors of pebbles and clay, tiny signposts, salvaged redwood around the hot tub and hyacinth pool.  It is these and dozens of other tiny aspects that makes this stepping stone commune so precious.

If you look carefully you can see god hiding

 

 

Stepping Stone Commune