One of the most important capacities of intentional communities is changing culture. This can be changing how people dress, how we report relationships at work, how we teach our children or how we observe holidays.
Valentines Day has always struck me as a broken holiday. It celebrates just one style of relationship, sets people up for too big or too small gifts of their caring, and creates many people who feel left out. Before I lived in community, even when I had a single romantic partner, I never liked this holiday much.
Many years ago, in response, our sister community East Wind developed Validation Day as an alternative. Every member is celebrated in the form of affirmations, no romantic partner required. Part of the celebration is the creation of cards. There is a great dance, often a kissing booth and the 6 creatures game.
The 6 creatures game is designed to take the rejection out of asking someone to hang out or even to make out. The idea is that leading up to the party (which happens around February 14th, famous worldwide for being my son Willow‘s birthday), people who want to play are given a ballot with the names of the others who want to play. There are options (represented by different creatures) for a work date, a play date, a cuddle date, to kiss at the party, hot sex and/or a relationship.
For anyone who is playing, you select what you may want to do with them. I might just want to kiss someone at the party. If they selected only a work date and a play date for me, we would miss each other completely, getting no matches with each other when the games were returned. But if I had selected a play date and kissing at the party, then we would match on the play date and both be informed of that only.
Regular readers will not be surprised to discover I play this game somewhat recklessly. I was willing to have at least a work date or play date with perhaps 80% of the people on this years 6 creatures game ballot. And in my experience, many of the created matches don’t actually get acted on and every year there are some surprises. Yet some of the matches turn out to be important, even life changing.
About 40 people decided to play the 6 creatures game this year, spanning four different communities in the area: Twin Oaks, Acorn, Sapling and Cambia. This is new; until recently only Twin Oaks members played. But as the movement expands locally, more communards want to play this long lever game.
Validation Day is a more internal holiday. Some events, like New Years Eve and Anniversary are big holidays where we invite lots of people to come. Validation Day is still a larger event, but it is more intimate people who know us better. You certainly should not come by without being invited.
I am spending the current Snowpocolypse in a place called Swan Point. It is a lovely Point A DC retreat which is hoping to do a bunch of things, including start the income sharing group in Washington. I am pleased to be hanging with such a clever, talented and motivated group. If anyone can pull off this perhaps impossible task, it is the likes of these folks.
And names are important and we don’t yet have one for the DC Point A community. Below is the list of names which have been suggested so far. You can put in your votes (6 yes votes and 3 no votes) for the names you like and those you can’t stand. You can reply either on Facebook (where this is posted on 1) my personal page, 2) The FEC Facebook page or the Point A Facebook page) or if you are not on FB at all, or dont want them to know what you think, you can leave a comment on this blog. You are also welcome to make suggestions for new names for the commune. The names currently on the list are:
Asylum for Idiots (What the first promising Point A DC site was originally called)
Georgia Flats (we are most likely to be near Georgia Avenue)
Salt Flats (we are likely on Morton St)
The Tower of Power
Anarres (the anarchist moon from the classic Sci-fi novel The Dispossessed)
Kat’s Cradle (for Kat Kinkade, founder to TO, Acorn and East Wind)
The Hanging Gardens of Morton St
The House of Common
Orbital Lifeboat Factory
K Street Extension
All You Can Eat Shrimp Just $4.99 (was almost sort of Batman‘s new name)
Morton Street Kommune
The Fortune Cookie Factory
The Anarchist Frathouse
Charismatic Wolf Leaders
Microcosm (making members Microcosmonauts)
Castle in the Sky
The Hanging Gardens
The A Ward
The Ward (we would be Wardens)
The Twin Towers
The House of Unicorns
The Communist Castle
500 Grumpy Anarchists
ACDC (an acronym for A Commune in DC)
Some of these names are crazy unlikely. Even tho i have an old lover named Styrofoam, the Point A folks are unlikely to choose this clever name. Nor (thankfully) does Communist Castle have much of a chance.
Help us Choose, by commenting on this blog or write on the Facebook Pages this article is posted on. Feel free to add your own names, we will likely choose quite soon though, so hurry.
Two years ago I wrote in the blog about a naming party for Twin Oaks’ new Prius. We called the car “This is why we can’t have Nice Things.” When someone asked Kathryn, who was helping facilitate the naming party, why we selected this name she simply said:
Come back in a year and look at this car and you will understand why we decided to call it this.
Collectively, we are hard on things. Shared items (like cars and bikes and clothes) can get rough treatment sometimes, in part because there are a lot of users and in part because people often take better care of things they personally own. Communal property often has a rough ride with many owners/operators. But a funny thing happened on the way to the predicted tragedy of the commons. It did not happen.
Instead it seemed the communards were willing to take some greater responsibility for things which perhaps needed it. Now after over 2 years, Nice Things (as it is called for short) is in fine condition. And our intrepid vehicle manager Trout has taken advantage of this better-than-expected behavior.
He has bought 3 more hybrids.
Over 1/4 of the current car fleet at Twin Oaks is high fuel efficiency hybrid cars. Trout calculates that this saves us over $2K per hybrid per year.
So when someone tells you, “Sharing does not work, tragedy of the commons, and all that,” you can tell them about Nice Things.
I am often tempted to write blog posts about current events at Twin Oaks. And this is often foolish. While a few people on the commune read my blog, most of my readers don’t need timely news from the commune, and often what i am inspired to write about is problems people are experiencing that they don’t especially want broadcast all over the internet. A few years back, i wrote the following blog post. The names have been changed to protect identities.
Twin Oaks has few punishments for its members. You can get expelled if you are in gross violation of our agreements. You can get a behavior contract if you do something sufficiently upsetting to the other members that they initiate a process on you to change your actions. If you break our agreements about working or money the clockwork system will initiate a corrective process. That is about all of the community-based punishments at Twin Oaks. Part of any of these behavior-changing processes is our feedback process.
Don got a feedback because he owed the community money for too long. Unfortunately, Twin Oaks makes it easy for members to owe money. The office folks who give out money to members don’t check their accounts balance to make sure they have any money, they just give it to them, because they trust them, and the accountants check in later to see if that trust had been broken.
We also make it fairly difficult for a feedback to be required. Basically, you have to break our trust three times before every member is invited into a room to talk with you about it. Don was in debt to the community for a while, then made a contract to get out of the hole, then broke that contract, then made another and then broke it as well. Don was apologetic for the lost time the group experienced. He believes that if he had just communicated more clearly, he would not have had these “money hole” violations. Other members are skeptical of this, given how long he has been in debt to the community.
Despite Don and i being strained in our personal connection, i offered to be Don’s advocate. I believe in advocacy services and i believe that everyone in the community should have access to them because our feedback system feels punitive. Don was seen as a rule bender and breaker. My critics have the same legitimate complaint about me. It was thought Keenan (who is also closer to Don) would be a better advocate. [Acorn uses a chronic clearness system, instead of an acute Feedback system to address most of it’s member problems.]
The priority job of the advocate happens before the feedback. It is working with the focus person on rehearsing their emotional response to predictable questions and concerns that will come up. This is a role-play exercise. The advocate plays the upset member and the focus person of the feedback reflects back their concerns and validates whatever they can truly offer to the critic.
This type of reflective listening is critical to healing damaged relationships in community. To hear me tell you how you think i screwed up and then take responsibility for whatever part i agree with you on, is the best formalized micro process for healing. Your key is to avoid defensiveness and to really be vulnerable to the possibility that your critic is right and that your actions are causing problems and you should examine how to change them.
Don did okay at taking responsibility for the mistakes, but failed to leave the excuses and rationalizations for the behavior in the role-plays.
Don’s feedback also highlighted a culture schism within Twin Oaks about how much members should be on the farm. Several early members felt it was important that members be dominantly on the property and that coming and going, even on regular vacations or on our personal leave program, can be undesirably disruptive to community life. I could not disagree more and expressed that.
This was my feedback for Don:
Don, several people complained that you are not on the farm very much and they don’t like that. I think this is fine behavior and we have no agreements that discourage or prohibit it. I do think you would do well to consider one member’s comments about the impact of being away from the community and your room rights.
[If you have lived at Twin Oaks for 3 years, you can leave the community for up to a year and then take your room back when you return. ]
You have a delightful room that you put a bunch of energy into making wonderful to live in. I would like you to give up that room when you leave and move into a new room and make it wonderful, for then we will have another great residential space that you helped make. By giving up your room and thus diminishing “bumpability” of new members, you are reducing your negative impact on the community.
I think you are a high impact member. And I appreciate and value many of these impacts:
- You are great with kids, including my son Willow.
- You have a strong, versatile and valuable set of skills
- I love the picnic tables, fair shed and room upgrades you have done
- You are entertaining from Potato Cannons to the parties you throw.
And not all of your high impact is so positive. I find it especially problematic that you habitually underestimate the amount of time it takes to do construction or plumbing projects. When I talked with you once about this, you were dismissive saying, “Everyone in the commune is late. This is not a big deal.” This is the type of responsibility dodging I find troublesome and I would ask you to try to be more accurate in your work-time estimates.
Similarly, I think you are a people pleaser. I think you want to tell everyone that you can help them quickly with their problems. And because you have a diverse and handy set of skills, lots of people ask you for help. You need to start breaking hearts including your own. You need to start telling people “No, I can’t help you.” or “I might be able to get to it in 6 months.” I suspect this will be hard for you. I really think it is self-sabotaging and damaging to your relationship with the community to continue to underestimate your capacity to deliver on schedule.
I think you are arrogant, which upsets people and can often make work situations unnecessarily difficult. I’m a bit arrogant also.
I think you are self-obsessed. People feel like this makes you a poor communard, because you are self directed rather than collectively directed. I am self-obsessed also.
I think you are high impact. High impact people need to be especially careful about how they move inside the community, because like a bull in a china shop, things are going to get banged up and broken and high impact personalities are often not paying enough careful attention to make sure they are not discomforting or even hurting other people with their bold actions. I am high impact also.
[Edited by Judy Youngquest]
In a clearly anti-democratic move, the President of France has shut down public assembly during the present climate negotiations, because of the recent attacks on Paris. In response some protesters have shown up as shoes.
But squelching public assembly is not going to stop some of the world’s best critical minds, assembled in Paris for these climate negotiations, from getting the word out.
One of my favorite comrades, David Solnit, is working for 350.org on the protests of COP 21. This UN conference will have 40K delegates including 140 heads of state and will be the largest conference France has ever hosted.
Does Paris event matter? CNN says “the fate of the world as we know it could be at stake.” There are two big questions:
- Can the parties reach a legally binding agreement?
- Will there be climate assistance to poor countries?
The chances for success in finding a binding agreement are quite low. Obama’s deal making is crippled by an uncooperative Congress. Europe is an economic crisis and unwilling to foot the bill for the transitions needed (with the exception of a few countries like Denmark and Germany.) Even with the world’s largest renewables portfolio, China is the biggest energy consumer and carbon emitter. And even if a deal were possible, the strongest proposal on the table is still too weak to avert a 2 degree increase in temperature, which climate scientists say we need to avert to avoid catastrophic ecological effects.
In terms of climate protection assistance to poor countries, what is important to realize is that the world has changed dramatically in the last decade. China had 9 of the 10 worst polluted cities in the world in 2005. Now India has most of them, with air pollution killing 1.3 million people a year. Will some nations or investors step forward and help the planet by harvesting this low hanging fruit of technological transfer, where small investments can have significant emissions reductions?
Update: An uncharacteristically useful first draft has come out early, with key questions about which parts (or all) of the document should be legally binding and both aid and expectations of developing countries.
For many months during the last year and a half, I have been going to the Point A events we have been organizing in NYC. This last September, we overshot and went up to the latest exciting development in the expanding egalitarian community movement: The Karass Inn.
For those of you who have forgotten your Vonnegut:
A karass is group of people linked in a cosmically significant manner, even when superficial links are not evident, that actually gets stuff done—as Vonnegut describes it, “a team that do[es] God’s Will without ever discovering what they are doing.”
It is a wildly appropriate name for the members of this project (Amanda, Angie, Jac, and Milo) who connected through unpredictable links and are good at getting things done. While not God-focused, the team is certainly working to expand the communities movement and explore non-traditional investments.
The Karass Inn in Chester, Vermont, and is tentatively opening on Dec 16th. In September we took a minivan filled with people to Chester. We took organizers and artists and just plain hard workers. And in a handful of days, we cleaned up and painted a huge area of this inn under renovation.
Karass marks a new type of community start-up model. It is the venture communist model. Someone who has access to resources, instead of investing to maximize profit, invests to maximize social good. In this case, the investor purchased the building and provided start-up capital, and the communities movement is staffing it and will ultimately pay the investor back.
This is not what you do when you are trying to achieve the most money you can make personally. But we have plenty of data on what happens when everyone is trying to do that.
What we do get is another income sharing community in the FEC galaxy and a new type of cottage industry for us, hospitality.