The Acorn difference
In a couple weeks, i will start my visitor period at Acorn. Acorn is Twin Oaks younger sister community, just 7 miles down the road in the town of Mineral. At first glance, Acorn is quite like Twin Oaks, perhaps like the Spanish language is similar to Portuguese. Both communities are income sharing (meaning members don’t get “paid” but all their expenses are covered), both are egalitarian (meaning work is valued the same and resources are accessible to all), both are non-violent, both have elaborate sharing systems. Both are largely free of crime. Both select their members and charge nothing to join. Both grow much of their own food, run their own businesses and build their own buildings.
When Willow and i were recently on the train from Berlin to Prague a strange thing happened. Two twenty-somethings with backpacks came into our compartment. They spoke to each other in what we suspected was a Slavic language. Willow whispered, “Are they Russian?” I knew enuf Czech to be fairly confident that this was not what they were speaking. When i asked they said they were Portuguese. This surprised me because i speak a little Spanish and it did not sound at all the same. Despite the numerous similarities, there are key differences between these sibling communes.
Acorn was founded by a collection of Oakers and some of the people from our long waiting list at the time. The idea was to create another egalitarian, income-sharing community, but not necessarily saddle Acorn with the same systems that Twin Oaks had. And the devil is definitely in the details.
Acorn uses consensus, Twin Oaks uses a mind numbingly complex decision system which tries to be better than simple voting, but faster than getting everyone to agree. Acorn has two weekly face to face meetings, which often run long as they hammer out their agreements. Twin Oaks uses a written system of internal communication, with very few community-wide meetings that have its own advantages and disadvantages.
One key difference is that Acorn has a communication culture which requires people to work things out. This is the first part of the Acorn Communication Covenant (which i was just sent as part of the incoming visitor package):
- We commit to speaking to others respectfully both in meetings and outside of them.
- We commit to giving and receiving constructive criticism that affects the well-being of the community and its members.
- We commit when something isn’t going well for us to ask for help or try to talk about our experience and needs rather than the wrongness or rightness of someone else or their actions.
- We commit to actively address conflict and resolve issues through discussion, mediation, intervention if necessary, and creative problem-solving.
Twin Oaks does not have such a covenant. If you have a problem with someone, you don’t need to engage with them, and the community can not force you to. There is not a commitment to resolve. I don’t know how this evolved – tho not having communities meetings regularly and not requiring community-wide agreement likely played a role in this, but much prefer the Acorn approach.
And we become elements of our culture. While i prefer the Acorn system, i have taken advantage of the Twin Oaks culture to not work out my communication failings with some members. Or perhaps it has taken advantage of me.