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. [There are few punitive community responses, we do not withdraw support or resources, we very rarely expel member. We certainly don’t imprison members.]
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]