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How much do people contribute in community living?

Updated: Feb 17, 2021

Contribution is one of the things that people worry about most in intentional communities and eco villages. Anyone who has lived in shared living with family, friends or new flatmates has no doubt felt, on occasion, that they are doing more than their ‘fair share’. We humans have been trained to have an inbuilt 'fairness radar' that raises the red flag at any sign of exploitation. Seeing everything in terms of transaction is a result of growing up in a capitalist culture. “If I do this, then I should get that” and “If that person wants X then they should do Y”. Note the presence of the word ‘should’ in these examples. ‘Should’ signals that there’s a right and wrong ways of doing things and it ‘should’ be the ‘right’ way.

Quantifying contribution limits us

It’s very tempting to put a figure on contribution - “Everyone must contribute X hours per week to the community.” This meets a deep need for clarity which means we don’t have to deal with uncomfortable feelings either about not doing enough or other people not pulling their weight. But like a lot of transaction culture, this strategy lacks nuance. It falls short of our humanity. We are not robots and our eco village projects are not machines with buttons to be pressed by workers. Transaction culture limits our experience of real richness and our need for freedom, agency, spontaneity and authenticity.

Taking a needs-based approach to contribution

Looking at universal needs is a hugely important part of this conversation about contribution. We are all trying to meet our needs - for connection, contribution, communication, intimacy, belonging, authenticity, shelter, closeness and many more. Some people are in a pattern of putting the needs of others before their own (often without knowing they are in this pattern). Balancing our needs and the needs of others is the key to managing contribution. The needs of the eco village are part of the equation too, although, if the people ARE the eco village, then the needs of the people ARE the needs of the eco village.

Balancing the needs

Human beings are complex so our solutions to big questions require nuance. We must recognise that we all start from different places. Some people have certain skills and attributes (emotional, spiritual, physical, material, financial, etc) that mean they have a higher capacity to contribute in certain areas.

No one wants to be taken advantage of. But in my lived experience of community, I’ve seen that these mythical ‘free-loaders’ are nowhere to be found. The opposite is generally the case. People give a lot, often to the point of exhaustion and burn out. This is not sustainable. In community we all have a responsibility to create a sustainable culture. Rest days, encouraging personal hobbies, taking the time that is needed to do tasks at a sustainable pace - these are vital to sustaining any intentional community.

There are times when we do need to ‘carry’ other people just as there are times when we will need to be carried. This is the power of community. We really are stronger together. But first we need to put aside our cultural attachment to what is ‘fair’ and concentrate instead on meeting our needs, the needs of others and the needs of the project, environment, etc. This approach takes a level of awareness and self-responsibility that is more complex than a simple number of hours per week. These questions can help:

  • Do I need support with this task?

Ask for help rather than build up bitterness and resentment about ‘being the only one doing it’

  • Do I need to take a break?

If you are tired then rest. This shows important leadership because it gives permission to others to do the same. Congratulate people when they take needed rest. Self-care is important for sustainability of the community.

  • Do I feel I’ve been contributing too much?

Step back and make space for others. Let people carry you for a bit. This is needed for equality in the community.

  • Do I resent others for not doing as much as I am doing?

Always remember that you have choice. Choose how much you want to contribute and don’t do more than you are willing to do with a happy heart. Finding fun, ease and flow in the work is aided by this process.

  • Do I feel guilty that I’m not doing enough?

This is a common issue in communities. Just remember that your main role is to be yourself. You are enough and your contribution is valid and valued. If you have an injury or another reason that that you can’t do as much physical work, it can be uncomfortable to feel that others are supporting you. Accept it. Let go of judgement and guilt. Allow people to help you with gratitude and humility.

  • Why aren’t people working as much as I am working?

Becoming aware of group energy is an important part of harnessing the group energy. Sometimes it requires going with the flow. If everyone seems tired, it’s probably a good time to take a break. If everyone is sharing a moment of relaxed conversation, maybe that is a good time to let go of the work for a moment and enjoy a slower pace with the group. Be flexible. Mixing it up with a silent meditation or something else that will meet the needs of the group can be more effective in the long term. Pushing is not the way - people are not as creative or productive when they are tired and it can be counter-productive if people make mistakes.

Acknowledgement of contribution in community living

Recognising and appreciating the efforts of others is such an important part of encouraging contribution. When we take the time to acknowledge others it raises our awareness of what people are doing to support us. It reminds us to have gratitude for all that support. At the Maleny Eco Village, we include a time for acknowledgements at each weekly meeting and it’s become a valued time of celebration of individual and collective successes.

Managing expectations

It’s important to be realistic about how much work is involved in starting a community or even joining an existing community. Some communities may require more contribution from members than others depending on the scale of the vision, the amount of foundational work that has to be done and many other factors. Listening, understanding, connecting and communicating all take effort let alone the tasks of growing vegetables, building, etc. Come to terms with whether you have the capacity to balance the needs of the community with your own work and other commitments.

Looking to the long term

It can be frustrating to feel that things are not getting done as quickly as we would like. In reality, things are rarely as urgent as we think they are. Tasks must come second to nurturing relationships and being sustainable. The whole point is connection with self, others, the environment and higher purpose, so keeping this at the heart of everything helps to stay on track for the long term.


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