I am constantly on the lookout for new transparency tools. I have been ending the most recent transparency groups i facilitate with a simple popcorn of appreciations. Whoever felt moved would acknowledge someone else in the group for something they did or a way they are in the world that was appreciated. This was fine, and occasionally compelling, elegant and simple. And as a tool, it was a bit weak.
Kelly from the Point A DC group shared someone else’s appreciation tool at the recent retreat which i immediately snapped up because it is much more powerful. In go round style, people said what it was that they wanted to be appreciated for. This is a bit like a pointed “if you really knew me” where we get to learn a very specific and important thing about you: what it is that you feel under-recognized for that is none-the-less important to you.
It is a bit unclear where to go after this under-expressed appreciation is voiced. Currently, i have someone in the group who feels like they can validate this appreciation in their own words. When i said i wanted to be appreciated for my sloppy and unreliable organizing style, Hawina said “Minimal effort, maximum effect. Yeah Paxus!” and pumped her fist. It was perfect.
But the commune affords other unprompted appreciations. I do a weekly tofu trays shift. You get dressed up for this work – boots, apron, gloves with liners, ear protection, hair nets. In the winter months this is cold, wet, heavy, loud, rushed, non-stop physical work for 3 plus hours (i get that compared with many jobs in the mainstream a single 3 hour weekly shift would seem like a breeze, but we are spoiled). I do this work year round, regardless of my membership status.
I was coming into my trays shift recently and new member David was finishing up in his similar protective garb. He explained to me that the curds were wet and needed to sit longer and drain to make the proper weights. And then he started to walk away towards the clothes changing space. Then he turned around and came back and said,
“Hey, i appreciate that you do this unpleasant trays work even when you don’t live here.”
And then he put out his glove in a fist and i bumped it. I don’t think i have ever done a fist bump like that before. As in “we are all part of the same team, making it happen together.” And it really hit me.
Living in community is often about zoning. We ask people not to talk about work on the steam table line in our dining hall. We ask people not to be topless in places where local people are likely to come by. We restrict 18 wheel trucks to the industrial park portion of the community. We have a building that the visitors live in while they are checking out the community. Smoking is significantly restricted in location. There are only certain places in the community where you can smoke cigarettes.
And at meals we have “fun tables“. There are two large tables, one inside and the other outside, which are designated as “fun tables”. Oh, fun happens in all kinds of places, but they have this name because we have agreements about what happens at them. Specifically:
- You can always sit a fun table
- If there is no room, we will make room
- No meetings or private conversations
- No talking about work
Willow is often the fun police. If you start talking about work, he will call you out, sometimes by honking at you. Some people try to get away with talking about work at the fun table by talking about it in funny accents. Willow is rarely fooled by this ploy.
Times change, cultures evolve. We have added the Staedtl, which is a collection of couches and comfy chairs which face each other. You don’t have to ask to sit in this area and the conversations are an uncontrolled mix of private, public and somewhere in between. Work is fair game and the fun police are not welcome.
We also have “super fun” tables. These have the same rules are a normal fun table, except you can talk about work if you like, no need for silly accents.
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.
For something in the range of 3 years, I have not had my own bedroom either at Acorn or Twin Oaks. I have been ghosting. I have a shelf in the suite that Hawina and Willow share, where I have some stuff. Some other possessions reside in the Tupelo attic. Beyond this, I live out of and a collection of travel bags and I also draw heavily from our collective clothes library. Between the communities there are always enough slack rooms and when I had the job of room assigner at Twin Oaks I had an intimate understanding of where the slack bedrooms were. I could float.
I get that this would not work well for most people. You can either look at it like you are homeless, or as though you are on a marathon traveling adventure, where you are looking for just the right place to land, knowing it might well not be an option the next night.
I’ve stayed a lot in GPaul’s room at Acorn, because he is mostly doing Point A work in Washington DC. He is still an Acorn member. Fortunately for him and me, Acorn values the network building efforts he does do. While he is away he does not count towards Acorn’s soft agreed population limit of 30 people. So i often sleep in his room. But the last two times i have tried to use the room, i failed.
The first time i just wanted my shoes. I was going to Italy and i thought it would be nice to have the only reasonable piece of clothing i actually control, which are these simple leather shoes. I don’t use them much but sometimes, for public speaking or trade shows, i take them. They are comfortable and i think they look nice.
As is my way, i am packing at about 4 AM, before a 6 AM departure. I have my little flashlight and i am going to into GPaul’s room to rescue these shoes. I figure if i am really quiet, it should be fine. It was a hot night.
I opened the door slowly and there is a naked body sleeping on top of the sheets. I close the door. The penalty for tardy packing is that i don’t get to take my shoes to Italy. I was never able to figure out who was actually in that bed. It appears that they were wildcatting (sleeping in a room that was not assigned to you). It doesn’t really matter.
The second time I tried the room, I wanted a place to sleep. This time there was again a person sleeping there, a relative of a member who was visiting. I could have gone to the Rec Collective, which has 6 bunk beds which almost always has a free bed. But instead i opted for a couch. Acorn has pretty great couches for sleeping.
I am becoming an Oaker again as part of my dual member switching and, unlike the last two times i rejoined, i am going to take a room this time. The room i am technically taking over is one of the most bizarre on the Twin Oaks campus. It is called the Hobbit Hole. It is called this for a number of reasons, but mostly it is because of the unusual door to the room. This door is 3.5′ tall, at the high end. The low end is about 2′ tall. Most people have to crawl into the room.
Update: While the Hobbit Hole was lovely, i am following the cool kids and moving back to Ta Chai, into the same room i shared with Puck for quite some time.
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.
You can use Funological grading scales on serious events. You could argue that a current issue conference cannot get a B grade, unless it does something novel. You could propose that a protest not get a letter A grade, unless it (hopefully positively) changed one or more of the participants lives.
- Success as a networking event
- Intergenerationally integrated
- Cross Cultural Connections
- Significant Skill Shares
- Novel presentation formats
- Acid Test questions responses
Success as a networking event At the heart of it, communities conferences are supposed to connect people interested in community with collective places they might live and also help communities find new blood, especially founding or floundering communities. In this, WCCC was reasonably successful. Both seekers found established communities and a forming community found a new key additional person. These additions will certainly increase their chances of survival and success. The event supported the movement directly thru recruiting and secondarily by introducing people to the depth and range of the movement.
Intergenerationally integrated One of the things i take pride in at Twin Oaks is our success in mixing generations in work and play. No one thinks twice about there being different generations represented for example in a community band. “We need a drummer. We don’t care how old or young they are.” The Radical Faeries who run Groundswell Institute decided early on that the best way into introduce kids into this typically adult world was to be honest and give nearly full access to it. So the kids made a bee-line for the drag closet and there were precious photo moments of kid princesses and mature queens. We also had twenty and thirty somethings mixing with seniors and everything in between. Age did not matter too much; young people facilitated, old people learned new things. The event had a healthy, inquisitive, open feeling to it.
Cross Cultural Connections: I have a story that the Faeries have things to teach the communards about being bold and asking for what you want. I think the Faeries are a gateway to luxurious flamboyance and how to party big. I think the communards have things to offer the Faeries around finding group mind and clean process. I think the communards know how to share well and have effective tools and agreements for others less experienced with cooperative living. The dance party at the fire pit was a high spirited, colorful mix of our cultures in celebration. I think the communards and the Radical Faeries have similar agendas around tolerance, celebration of diversity, openness to new things, sustainability, self created culture and art and making the world a better place to live in. We are obvious allies.
I saw these two groups dance well together and it made me hopeful for more events of both playful and serious content.
Significant Skill Shares: Significant Skill Shares: My lover Tree came down from Eugene and facilitated a compelling workshop on Appreciative Inquiry. It was a huge hit. It changed Brittany and Billy Vulture‘s lives. Somewhat new to giving workshops, these two had especially struggled with the guilt and hopelessness so many White Privilege workshops engender. By using Appreciative Inquire instead of conventional “problem solving” techniques, they found that he walked out of the WCCC White Privilege Open Space session feeling really good about the group, about the communication, about people hearing this fundamentally uncomfortable message and not running from it but actually addressing it. Tree was thrilled that her workshop was immediately applicable. Me, too.
Novel presentation formats: We did the Communities in Crisis interactive theater workshop at the WCCC. The idea was you throw non-communards into the deep end of community process. They would try to facilitate actor-communards who were in the midst of trying to untangle a vexing and controversial community problem. It was a great idea, but it worked out nothing like this.
For starters, of the 20 plus people interested in this workshop, no one did not already identify as living in community (apparently sitting in tricky community meetings is only attractive to people who think community is worth it to join already). But more importantly, these types of theater things don’t resolve and, were it not for Tree in the workshop to rein me in, i would have spent way too much time in the fun acting part and not enough on the harvesting of what we learned.
But people enjoyed it and said they learned things. It is a strong enough and engaging enough format to try doing it again.
Acid Test question responses: I am the type of Funologist who believes in exit interviews. I ask people if they enjoyed the event and learned things (they basically always say yes, since it is polite to do so) and then i ask if they would come back in a year and this often gives insight into their experience. If you had a transformative experience – you fell in love, you found your tribe, you learned a new tool that will significantly aid you – then your reply is always “yes”, even if the chances of repeating exactly this type of positive change are very small. If you just had a good time, you can be “one and done”. When i asked people about coming back, almost everyone said yes.
By all these different metrics, the WCCC succeeded pretty famously. But i must confess i am predisposed to falling in love with this beautiful Northern California place and this particular event because i got to work with amazing organizers on it and take credit for making it happen, when really i did quite little to manifest it. I also got to organize with my talented co-dad, Sky, which always makes these types of things go better.
Other communities, including Lost Valley outside Eugene, expressed interested in hosting the 2016 West Coast Communities Conference. So perhaps, unlike the east coast event which stays at Twin Oaks for ever, we have created something which will move around to different host communities. Which would be cool also.
But it is not too early to mark your calendar for Indigenous Peoples weekend 2016. If history repeats itself, it might just be the best conference ever.
We have been hearing about climate change (or what activist and experts working on the issue prefer to call “Climate Disruption” or “Climate Crisis”, because climate change sounds of safe and possibly even positive) for a long time. Despite Republican denials, it is really happening. Sometime it is sparking huge international political changes, without getting the credit for them it deserves.
And the urban centers already had water and unemployment problems. The Assad government largely ignored this situation, which lead to protests, arrests, torture of demonstrators and increasing calls for regime change. A recently released WikiLeaks document shows the US was considering fostering an ISIS-like group in Syria, years ago, in hopes that Assad would overreact. He has. The country is now torn by war and half the country (over 9 million people) have been displaced from their homes. Most will never return.
California is in the worst drought of decades, leading to wild fires destroying property and habitats. A recent fire destroyed Harbin Hot Springs, which was a spa that Hawina and i visited a number of times. Losing a spa is not the same as losing your country. But in both cases people found themselves homeless and surprised by that.
While the struggle in Syria is generally not attributed to climate disruption, the California fires are. This abstract idea of climate disruption is going to start influencing people who thought either it was not real or they could comfortably ignore it.
Climate disruption is already happening and you are going to get hit by it.
On Wednesday of this week the number of kid members at Acorn doubled from two to four. Stephanie and Sean’s two kids, Elan and Adira, were joined by newborn, Tullulah, and Sappho.
It is a big deal to go from one family with two kids a couple years apart to three families with kids ranging from newborn to eight years old. It shows an interesting stability in Acorn, which has long been a culture dominated by more transient young people.
To my optimistic eye it harks the beginning of a golden age, in which Acorn uses its considerable resources to make all manner of enviable things happen here. I’m game.
[This is an article originally blogged by Keenan. I have not simply re-blogged it for two reasons. First is that i have added links to it, to places where Keenan’s philosophy and mine run parallel. And the second is that i have added some pictures to it, a tragic omission (which also reduces readership) in Keenan’s original post. I would still encourage you to check out his blog, especially if parenting and Twin Oaks community politics and culture are of interest to you. It is an excellent source.]
Twin Oaks is a great place to raise children. At Twin Oaks almost every parent likes their kid(s) and likes being a parent. Almost every parent is raising their children deliberately and consciously. Although not all of us parents agree with each other, we all concur that there are many bad mainstream child-rearing theories and practices that we want to avoid/overcome.
Kristen and I just celebrated the milestone of our youngest having his 18th birthday. We have been reflecting recently on our journey as parents, and we are very pleased with how the kids have turned out—pleased and relieved. Why relieved? Our parenting practices were at odds with almost every mainstream child-rearing theory we read. We weren’t so confident that we could know for sure that the kids would turn out great. According to those other theories, our bizarre parenting practices should have resulted in kids who are emotionally crippled sociopaths. But they aren’t—in fact, the kids are, by all accounts, altogether fine human beings. I don’t want to gloat or embarrass the kids by describing how great they are—but take my word for it.
Kristen and I both had lots of experience with kids prior to having our own, so we were already quite skilled, or, at least, opinionated by the time we were holding a newborn. As the kids grew, we talked fairly constantly about how the kids were doing. We wanted to do things right; we would immediately work on any behavior problem that started to crop up, or, even better, recognize an interest early so we could kindle it. Through our experience as parents, our belief in the fundamental wrongness of how children are treated in the mainstream culture solidified. If you want to try to give your child a utopian childhood the hardest part is letting go of lots of misguided mainstream beliefs about children. Honestly, doing things right is a lot of work, but if you want to know what we did and why, without further ado, here is the “Dakota theory” of how to give children a utopian childhood:
[Kristen and I have the last name “Dakota.” This has nothing to do with any Native American people]
Current belief: Children are lesser beings who should not expect or receive the same polite and considerate treatment that adults give each other.
Dakota theory: Children have the same intrinsic value that all humans have and should be listened to and treated with respect. Specifically, parents should like their children.
Conclusion: Children behave well when they are treated as though they are deserving of respect.
Current belief: Children should obey authority figures.
Dakota theory: Children should be taught that they are responsible human beings and they should learn to negotiate for what they want.
Conclusion: Children who are taught to obey, learn to distrust their own judgment. They also demonstrate less personal motivation. Children who are taught to negotiate show more task persistence and have a strong sense of self-esteem. Unfortunately, raising a child who negotiates requires more time and effort from parents.
Current belief: Children need peers to develop normal social skills.
Dakota theory: Children develop better social skills without same-age peers.
Conclusion: Children learn social skills from the people they are around. Children in groups and in institutional settings are sometimes inconsiderate or cruel to each other. Children who are around other children for much of the time, often develop dysfunctional behaviors from being with other, partially socialized, children. Children who are around adults for most of their formative years develop better social skills than children who are in group child care for most of their formative years.
Current belief: Children need to go to school to 1) develop social skills and 2) to absorb a body of knowledge.
Dakota theory: School exposes children to bad social behaviors. The body of knowledge in school is often outdated, inadequate, and inaccurate. Additionally, it doesn’t take much time to learn that body of knowledge at home.
Conclusion: Many children are exposed to unhealthy social behaviors from the bad behavior that inevitably results from large-scale institutionalization. The body of knowledge that schools pass along is easily gained at home. Typically, parents have other interests and values that schools don’t teach.
Current belief: Children need to be punished, they need to be disciplined and they need consequences for their bad behavior.
Dakota theory: Never punish or discipline children. Normal life provides enough consequences, no additional consequences are needed.
Conclusion: Punishment has been proven to be ineffective at teaching children a new behavior. Children feel punished merely from a parent’s disapproval—nothing more is necessary. An effective “punishment” is making a child stop playing in order to explain why it’s not OK to hit, or take another kid’s toy. Frequently, merely calmly pointing out what the problem is to the child can make a child feel bad enough to stop the bad behavior and/or make restitution. Encouraging a distraught child to take a time-out is good advice for anyone having emotional trouble and isn’t really a punishment.
Current belief: Misbehavior is due to a poorly disciplined child.
Dakota theory: Misbehavior is due to a poorly designed environment.
Conclusion: A toddler, set down in front of a coffee table with a lot of breakable glassware on the table will, inevitably, drop and break something. This is not bad behavior. Don’t punish the child; move the glassware. It is more likely that children will hang up their clothes on pegs than on hangers. A yard with two swings and three kids creates ongoing strife. Often a child’s “bad” behavior is due to normal child-like behavior in an environment that is designed for normal adult behavior. The easiest way to have a well-behaved child, is to change the environment to suit the child’s behavior. For instance, if there is only healthy food in the house, then “food wars” become much less likely.
Current belief: Children demand an adult’s attention—and that’s bad
Dakota theory: Children demand an adult’s attention—and that’s OK.
Conclusion: “He’s just doing that to get attention!” is a statement some adults make to indict a child’s motives and to grant the adult permission to punish the child for bothering the adult. But, attention from an adult is essential sustenance for a child’s emotional well-being. Once a child receives an adequate amount of attention, they are full, and will go off and play, only to return later for another helping of attention. If we say with scorn of a child who’s crying, “he’s just crying because he’s hungry, I’m going to spank him” it sounds cruel . “He’s just doing it to get attention,” should sound equally heartless.
Current belief: A child’s chronic behavior problems can best be dealt with through psychoactive medication.
Dakota theory: A child’s chronic behavior problems can best be dealt with through counseling and behaviorist reinforcement/extinguishing techniques.
Conclusion: Psychoactive drugs have immediate side-effects and long-term physiological consequences. Changing a child’s chronic behavior problem without drugs is vastly more time consuming, but results in a more emotionally healthy child.
Current belief: A child might become emotionally crippled from spending too much time with a parent (or parents).
Dakota theory: strong family connections help create an emotionally healthy child.
Conclusion: Studies of poverty, mental illness and crime consistently show that parents who physically or emotionally abandon their children create the pathology that leads to dysfunctional adults. On the other hand, outstanding and high-performing athletes typically have at least one engaged and supportive parent. There is not a bell curve here; it’s linear; the stronger the family connections, the more emotionally stable the children are as adults.
Current belief: Children should be kept protected and secluded from real-world experiences. They should live in a separate world called “childhood” until they are completed with their schooling and are able to enter the adult world.
Dakota theory: Children are part of the world. It is healthier for children and the world for children to be included in almost all aspects of the adult world.
Conclusion: Children in their early teens want to distinguish themselves from younger children; they want to act like grown-ups. Mainstream culture allows few opportunities to show their maturity, so these young teens turn to bed behavior, smoking, drinking, doing drugs, swearing and having sex as ways to show their “maturity.” However, teens who have the ability to take on real responsibility, like, for instance having a part-time paying job demonstrate their adult-ness through taking on these healthier parts of being a grown up. Throughout their teen years, teenagers should have the opportunity to do part-time, intern, and volunteer work to explore their interests. This serves several useful functions; it keeps teens busy, it allows teens to develop maturity and responsibility, and it gives teens a wide range of real-life experiences which should help prevent the all-too-frequent situation where a young adult goes into debt to pursue a degree only to discover after graduation that they hate the work that they have spent years training for.
Give your child a utopian childhood in just 10 easy steps:
1) Enjoy the company of your children. (That’s really the main one, since so many parents don’t really enjoy the company of their children, and the children know that, so they misbehave. No child-rearing theory can overcome parents who don’t like their kids.)
2) Accept every request as legitimate. (default to yes, rather than default to no).
3) Don’t punish. Don’t discipline. But, rather, explain.
4) No sarcasm. Don’t laugh at kids.
5) Learn what your kids like.
6) Laugh at kids’ jokes, listen to their stories.
7) Try to understand their emotions. Have empathy.
9) Talk to the kids about the adult world. Encourage discussion. Explain values through story telling using real examples. Let them know fairly often what you think is right and wrong.
10) Share whatever you are passionate about with your children. Expect them to be interested in your life.
Posted 28th April 2014 by keenan