Many people are attracted to community as a utopian dream. We were accused of that ourselves at first (as a negative), but we encourage utopian dreaming! The world needs more dreamers (and less insurance agents and bankers). Yet. Life is life. Community isn't going to magically remove your negative human experience.
At time of writing, we are close to three years on this property. My experiences here has been overwhelmingly positive. Meals are lovingly prepared for each other, people have time to listen, they do their best to hear others hearts and complexities, we plan and start projects together, we get in and do the terrible jobs together, we have immersed ourselves in nature and all her bounty, we have met amazing people and exchanged our energy and life-force.
But there have been challenges. Many people are terrified of conflict in community. Australians do have an over-developed fear of conflict. Maybe it's because of the horror stories of the conflict in the communes that started in the 60's and 70's - and yes there are those. It strikes me that people still enter into intimate relationships and have children even though a fair percentage of them go wrong. So why not try community?
I'll talk about minimising risk down the page, but first, I want to explore the idea of being human and life challenges.
The way I have recently processed this is that 1) life is challenging and 2) we need to choose our challenges. Community done well offers support, care, and ......but it doesn't take away our experience of being human.
The challenge of living in community is manifold. You don't get your own way. More communication not less. More meetings, not less. Conflict. To some people, that list is reason enough not to try intentional community.
I can only speak for myself, but the challenge of living in suburbia was 100 times more challenging than the challenges I find in community.
Suburbia, for me, could be described like this: The lack of purpose, the commute, the constant tiredness, the mind-numbing escapism of TV, reality TV (it deserves its own dot point), the difficultly in finding time to have friends over, the mundane conversations, the bills, eating poor quality food, living in poor quality housing, living in soulless, uncreative asphalt jungles, spending many more hours maintaining a lawn or pool than using it, working in jobs that don't light your fire, the constant obligation, the work/holidays cycle, the work/life balance, kids on iPads, adults on iPads, always being sold to. In short; the lack of connection.
So choose your challenge! At the very deepest part of my being, I know humans are not meant to be alone. The UK government has a Minister for Loneliness. It is our next pandemic (in the west anyway).
My move to Maleny Eco Village means that I swapped my commute for relationships. TV for stimulating conversation. An ever-widening gap between my values and my actions for a life of congruence. A predominately indoor life for an outdoor life. From a finance driven world to a world driven by seasons and nature. A media dominated life for a life coloured and infused with music and the arts. From a life of obligations and "should's", to a life of choice and "could's".
Community meets many human needs. The need for authenticity, for variety, for depth, for shared world view, choice, freedom, time, contribution, creativity, appreciation, care, communication, connection, closeness, community (who would have thought?), to be seen, heard and understood, mutuality, teamwork, love, nurture, participation, enjoyment, rest, play, fun, joy, laughter, physical, emotional and psychological safety, security, stability, trust, integrity, self-expression, movement, health, shelter, touch, equality, inspiration, growth, hope, effectiveness, learning, discovery, mattering, purpose, initiative, spaciousness, presence, competence, and others*
That list has humbled me, yet, I have still gone through depressive and anxious times. I still am human, I still haven't found what I'm looking for. Community meets a lot of what humans need, but it can't remove the human experience. But I can tell you where I would rather be when having this human experience. One of my favourite quotes which I quoted everywhere I went for a time (on radio, speeches etc) really nails this.
“While we love our friends dearly, we keep dreaming of our tribe. It seems we have this persistent memory of tribal living - of being an integral part of a self sustaining circle that includes humans and other beings, as well as the piece of Earth they call home. Living here (in suburbia), we see our friends every couple of weeks if we are lucky: That’s not tribe. I’m greedier than that. I want to wake up and see them at breakfast, weed the garden later elbow to elbow while we talk, stop to help them build their house, participate in meetings where we plan our lives together. I want to know them deep in where the hurt lies and offer little bits of healing daily. And most of all I want to be on land we share ’til we die and are scattered there, mixing and mingling ashes, as we did our lives”
Patricia Green. p163 “Finding Community” Diana Leafe Christian
I am convinced that good social, political and physical design can minimise challenges in community. Eco Villages Australia are aware of these and have created a culture to minimise the risk of challenges.
Collaborative decision making. We know what happens when people's needs are overlooked and trampled on. Best to make slower more collaborative decisions.
Transparent systems - Shared financial records and data is important.
Empowerment - anyone can add agenda items to the weekly meetings.
Autonomy - We try and have a 'yes culture'. Someone wants to do something, if it doesn't go against the values of the village and others can live with it, "Yes".
Personal healing and growth. Without people willing to grow and be better people, we aren't going to get far.
"Easy to get out". By rejecting a 'buy in' model, if residents need to leave, they can just stop paying the weekly contribution and go.
Established work programme. Come and stay with us for 1-3 weeks in our work programme. Try it out. Get to know us. If you like it, ask to continue on as a previsional member.
Long membership. It takes 18 months to become a member, so we don't ask for loans until people come in as a full member.
Established project. Projects that are new are always a little risky, but, now that our first village is up and running, the co-founders have taken the lions share of the financial risk out.
But, nothing - I mean nothing (I guess death might be one thing) can eliminate all risk. So, I encourage you to give it a try. Jump out of your suburban comfort zone, and help us create the new world.
* List of needs derived from "Find Peace, be awesome" by Julie Lawrence (Non Violent Communication teacher). More info, and on-line interactive tool can be found here.