Anyone can build anything (well almost), but it's the human dynamics that matters.
We are part of the Global Ecovillage Network (GEN), which supports 10,000 ecovillages worldwide. Through our involvement and interaction with other villages around the world, we know that Australians have an over-developed fear of conflict in communities. My take on it is this, that western capitalism has so successfully led us to believe that, "If we get together, bad things will happen".
"If you and I think the same, one of us is obsolete." Unknown
Yes, it takes time to (re )learn how to be in community. Yes, it's not easy sometimes. Yes, community encourages growth, sometimes unwillingly. But is that such a bad thing? Community keeps us sharp. Community keeps us balanced. If you want community support, you also need to take community feedback. Each of us can be the difficult person for someone else sometimes. Community is a beautiful thing.
It's true, some people don't suit community. But 9 times out of 10 this has more to do with 'systemic conflict" than anything else. The system - the financial, legal and membership model are really important (and really boring - which is why Eco Villages Australia has done it for you).
Successful communities around the world have this one membership model in common:
"Hard to get in, easy to leave".
If you start, or join, a community that is "easy to get in, hard to leave"you will open yourself up to a world of systemic conflict - that is, the system has created the conflict. As this type of conflict is hard-baked into the community, they are really hard, and really destructive.
Choose your conflict model
In many ways, it doesn't really matter what your conflict model is, just choose and use it. Some communities have well developed processes and standards, others rely on self-awareness techniques and open forums. We use Non Violent Communication (NVC), which I'll talk more about in the communication model. Claire wrote an article here. In many ways, giving people the tools to become better at 'difficult conversations' is the best way (intrinsic rather than extrinsic motivation).
Tips for managing conflict in community:
Avoid systemic conflict like the plague. Non-ownership models really help here. Understand power imbalances and have open, transparent, easy to understand systems. (Steps 1-3 of this page are designed to help here)
Rethink your relationship to conflict. Conflict, in and of itself, is not negative. It opens up creative opportunities for the community. Welcome differences, celebrate them.
Have a plan. All members of Eco Villages Australia pay $500 as an entrance fee. This money is put aside for training and conflict resolution when we can't find a way through ourselves. We have done that here at Maleny Eco Village.
Write down, and refer to your vision, values and community agreements often. Get people on the same page. Share them with visitors and volunteers. Find ways to communicate your visitor policy, etc.
Consider smaller communities. At EVA, we believe it 'doesn't have to be big to be good'. In my view, larger communities have many of the problems of communities with few of the benefits. This is our sweet spot. Eating together often is a surefire way to keep conflict and bad blood in check. Smaller communities can allow more space for people to have their voice heard in a meaningful way.
Don't accept a person because their partner is excellent. People who don't want to be there bring the wrong the energy to the community.
Create a culture of self-awareness and vulnerability. Prioritise your weekly meeting and incorporate the human elements into it. (see below). We have also done 'heart sharing circles in difficult times. Actively work on a culture that encourages therapy and self-growth. Celebrate rest, sleep and naps in your community.
Learn how to have difficult conversations. It's possible and preferable to have competing views and have strong boundaries and have difficult and loving conversation. This is our true work as community! Not buildings, meals or gardens.
Practise great love and compassion for all life. Wow. It's pretty hard to live in conflict when love and compassion drives you.
Remember that you have more in common than what separates you. Everyone wants the community to work and for their needs to be met. Don't sweat the small stuff. Have generous assumptions that people are trying their best.
Embedding conflict management into the fabric of the community
Many of our conflict tips can be met and managed in a well run weekly meeting. Our weekly meetings go for 1-1.5 hours. Choose a facilitator in advance. The same person facilitates our weekly meetings. What does a weekly meeting look like? We follow the following pattern:
Arrive. We have 60 seconds of silence to make a break from the busy-ness of the day.
Check in. Each person gets to verbalise whatever they want about their own emotional temperature or insight etc. It's usually quick, but sometimes people have more to say. Sometimes I say trivial stuff and other times deeply profound. Don't force it, but don't skip it.
Acknowledgments. This is the time to acknowledge others in the community; the things we saw them do, the difficult journeys, the highs and lows in life. People can get really discouraged if they aren't noticed in community. This is a non-negotiable and really valuable part of our meetings.
Roster and Calendar. We fill the cooking roster, communicate and write on the whiteboard our week's activities and shared community events. "I'm out Wednesday night - can you hold a meal for me?".
Set the week focus. When we are together, what tasks do we need to focus on? Planting? Painting the deck?
Correspondence. Any volunteer or new resident requests?
Exciting Business! (It used to be 'other business', but of our our short-term residents thought that exciting business sounded better - she was right). Any community member can write on the board something that we need to talk about. Sometimes when there is too much, each resident chooses one that they would like to bring to the community. Sometimes there are notices that take a few seconds just to communicate (eg: the internet guy is coming around tomorrow - though most of those incidentals are captured in our group chat)
Groceries Kitty. A reminder to put money into the shared kitty
Eco Audit. Every few months we do an eco audit to check our carbon footprint.
Gratitude. A word or sentence of gratitude from each resident
These weekly meeting help residents feel empowered, heard and connected. Out of control conflict finds it hard to flourish in these conditions!