In my last post, I talked about the need for communities to deal with the ‘software’ (people and relationships) as well as the hardware. I still hear a lot of people who are planning community worrying about things like money and property more than how they will find and keep community members. But I think that many communities never succeed because they don’t have the people power. In my last post I also mentioned a community attempt that had all sorts of great stuff, but basically consisted of two people, a couple. I personally know of at least two other situations just like this, where a ‘community’ with great ideas was basically a heterosexual couple and having difficulty growing beyond this. My sense is that there are hundreds of situations like this, where there is either one person or a couple (and I know of at least one situation where it was a gay male couple). Lots of them have great ideas and even the know-how to do the hardware. But how do you go from ideas to community?
I’ve recently been reading a book on Twin Oaks, Living the Dream, by Ingrid Komar--one of three books on the community and the only one not written by Kat Kinkade (a founder). While this isn’t my favorite book on the subject, I did notice that Ingrid Komar devoted a chapter to ‘The Many Support Systems of Twin Oaks’. One reason that I think Twin Oaks (and other long term communities) do well is that they provide support for their members, ‘software tools’ so to speak.
Twin Oaks has lots of support systems, as does Acorn (especially their clearnesses but they also use transparency tools and parties and games) and Ganas (which focuses on ‘feedback learning’ but also has lots of birthday parties and the occasional NVC or transparency tools group) and Dancing Rabbit (where they talk about ‘inner sustainability’ and have women’s groups and men’s groups among other things). I will focus on tools used at Twin Oaks, Acorn, Ganas, and Dancing Rabbit because these are all places I’ve spent some time at and all of them have been running 20+ years and all seem to be going strong. And they all use some of these tools.
Here’s a list of some tools. This list isn’t comprehensive but it should give folks who are interested in building communities some idea of what’s available to help with people and relationships. Take this as a beginning, and know that there’s lots more stuff available. Remember: you can’t build community without people. It sounds obvious, but I have seen so many places where folks were worried about everything else. And then they wondered why no community was happening. Maybe the most important thing is to support and encourage people and to have fun. If you’re dour and intense and discouraging, I don’t think you’re going to succeed.
- Listening I think this is the first and most important tool. I believe even that if you only are able to listen well to each other, it will take you a long way.
- The Clearness Process I’m referring to the Acorn version where people check in with each other to make sure that things are okay between them. Simple but very useful.
- NonViolent Communication It’s more than the four step process that many people learn first and it begins with the desire to really understand and connect with another.
- Twelve Step Groups Again, a peer approach, this one primarily useful with addiction and dependency issues, but really looking at the human condition. (Like it or not we are all more powerless than we care to admit.)
- The Seven Habits I’ve written in extensively in this blog about the Seven Habits, ending with the posts Synergize!, 9/15/11, and Sharpening the Saw, 2/21/12.
- Transparency Tools This is a collection of techniques for getting to know people better. It may simplistic, but often it’s more revealing than expected.
- ZEGG Forum This comes from the ZEGG community in Germany and is a process that has influenced many communities, including Ganas and the Network For a New Culture.
- Parties/Dances Having fun is important. Parties, dances, etc, let people relax and interact--often to great music. Why would you join a community where no one has fun?
- Games Another way to have fun. Games played as a group--both competitive and cooperative--can help build community. These can include team sports, board games, and role-playing games. Ultimate frisbee is popular at Twin Oaks and Magic and Dungeons and Dragons are often played at Acorn. I think the game Pandemic is a great community building game.
- Team Building Games (as above) but also specific exercises and particularly the experience of working on a project together can be very community building.
- Women’s Groups/Men’s Groups They have these at Dancing Rabbit and Twin Oaks and are helpful building safety as well as cohesion.
- Other Identity Groups Particularly for social category that’s a minority within a community (queer folks, people of color, etc) having a group restricted to folks in that category can, again, build safety and cohesion. You want to avoid an us vs them mentality but use the groups to build strength to work within the community. Sometimes fishbowls are helpful to help others outside the group learn what it’s like for people within the group.
- Spiritual Practices These include prayer, meditation, chanting, Sufi dancing, Jewish and Pagan Rituals, Quaker and church meetings and services, and even humanist/agnostic gatherings.
- Discussions Acorn has two meetings a week, the business meeting, and an evening discussion where they pick a single topic and discuss it but make no decisions. Ganas has had some success with a Residents Dinner where folks ask questions and the group tries to answer it. What’s important is that these aren’t business meetings. People just get to hear each other talk about things they think are important.
- Group Works A deck of cards with each card giving info on a different group process. You can use them systematically to learn a whole lot of group techniques or randomly for inspiration.
As I said, this is far from all of the possibilities. Perhaps it’s only a beginning. But I’m hoping it’s a good place to start, particularly if you have a group focused on all the ‘hardware’ of community building and ignoring the ‘software’.
Quote of the Day: “The biggest mistake is believing there is one right way to listen, to talk, to have a conversation -- or a relationship.” - Deborah Tannen