Monday, September 22, 2014

Where's Weirdo?

I just sent out an email to friends and family with the title "Where's Waldo?"  One of my cousins misheard me briefly and thought I said "Where's Weirdo?"  I liked that enough to use it for the title of the post.  It's fitting enough.

I'm currently in Hanover County, Virginia, in an extended stay with cousins.  I had a good time at the Communities Conference on Labor Day weekend and then came over here where I am helping my cousins set up a small business.  It's been fun and I'm planning on staying here until the middle of October.

My current plan is to return (very briefly) to Boston and then turn around and leave for New York City.  I'll be in NYC until the next week.  After that I'm hoping to be in Boston for a little while.

What's going on?  At the moment I'm in a situation that some of you will recognize from job hunting.  I'm pursuing several community leads and right now I'm focusing on two of them.  Like someone pursuing job leads, I'm going after both of them, in the hopes that one of them will end up as community for me.

The first is with some of the folks from the group that I was involved with this past year, trying to build community in upstate New York.  There are some people that I liked that are still trying get something together up there and I'm in dialogue with them.  We'll see what happens.

Meanwhile, at the Communities Conference I met a woman who is trying to start an urban community in NYC and that's where I'll be going mid-October.  Again, I want to see how realistic this is.

So my two prospects at the moment are in NY state--one in urban NYC and the other in the more rural upstate.  Of course, neither of these may work out--and I may well end up pursuing something completely different.  I'll just have to wait and see.

All this leads to my current thinking on community. I now believe strongly that it needs both a clear mission and vision and strong, positive connections among the members.

The group I was part of in upstate NY had a very compelling vision and a direction I really believed in, but the organizer wasn't good with interpersonal skills and ended up discouraging and alienating folks.  My cousins, who I'm currently staying with, are wonderful people and the energy here is very positive and encouraging.  This house is a lovely, loving environment.  I really hope I can bring the kind of positive energy they have here to whatever community I end up with. However, this is suburban America (far from simple and sustainable) and while I'm enjoying being here for now, this isn't anywhere I'd want to live long term.

What I wish is that I could take the kind of strong vision of the NY group and merge it with the loving positive energy my cousins have here.  I think a bold clear vision and a very supportive atmosphere are what a community needs in order to have a good chance of success.

Of course, having that loving positive atmosphere depends on having a core of people with those attitudes and a strong determination to remain positive no matter what is happening.  The vision is incredibly important but it can be developed and even borrowed from other sources in a way that basic attitudes can't.  How to find people who have those attitudes and can sustain a clear vision, that's the question.

I can see several things supporting all this from a more theoretical viewpoint.  First of all, Donella Meadows in her book Thinking in Systems (which I've written a bit about in my posts Leverage Points and Graphs of the Future, 2/15/12 and Thinking in Circles, 1/6/13) says that "...a system must consist of three kinds of things: elements, interconnections, and a function or purpose."  Also, in my post on Equality and Leadership (10/2/08), I talked about Bruce Kokopeli and George Lakey arguing that leadership functions could be broken down into two major catagories: 'Task Functions' and 'Morale Functions' and that in order to survive any group needs to pay attention to both.

Now I have some visceral examples of all this.  The elements of a community are the people, but it's not a community without the interconnections and these need to be paid attention to.  This is Kokopeli and Lakey' Morale Functions, and it's what my cousins excel at.  But it's not enough.  A group, a system, a community needs a function or purpose.  This is what the Task Functions address.  The NY group was a clear example of focusing on the task and purpose and neglecting the connections, the relationships, the morale.  My cousins have the interconnections down pat, but I'm not on board with their purpose.  Now for something where we do both and we do them well.

So.  Knowing all this and doing it are two different things.  We'll see what's next.

Quote of the Day:  "The path is uncharted.  It comes into existence moment by moment and at the same time drops away behind us.  It's like riding a train sitting backwards.  We can't see where we're headed, only where we've been.
"...Now is the only time.  How we relate to it creates the future. ... What we do accumulates; the future is the result of what we do right now." - Pema Chödrön