Friday, October 23, 2015

Some ‘Software’ Tools

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.

  • Intentional Community Organizations  There are a bunch of these including the FIC, FEC, the Cohousing Network, GEN, NASCO, and Point A.  I’ve also written about the phenomena of Communities of Communities, 6/9/12.  Because even communities need social networking.

  • 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

Friday, October 16, 2015

‘Hardware’ vs ‘Software’

One night at Ganas, we had a discussion about sustainability and someone started talking about the difference between what he called the 'hardware' and the 'software'. (Obviously he was a computer person, but we all started using the terminology.)  The hardware, in this case, is all those cool eco-things: solar panels and gardens and greywater systems and ... (the list is very long).  The software is the people and relationships (and community).

Twin Oaks doesn't focus much on sustainability. They have a few solar panels and (as I mentioned) one half of one house that's off the grid. But when someone did an energy audit on them, they found that TO produces almost 80% less carbon emissions than what the average American produces--and that's because they share so much. On the other hand, I recently went on a tour of a 'community' that had tons of amazing 'eco-groovy' stuff. I was pretty impressed with all of it and learned about a bunch of things I didn't know. But I noticed that, other than the folks on the tour, there was no one there. Someone asked about how many full time members there were and the tour guide admitted there were two, him and his wife. Obviously they weren't doing well with the 'software'.

So communities that succeed, are communities that get the software right.

One of my interests in communities is as laboratories for social change.  In a sense, you could look at the whole Soviet Union as a social change experiment that demonstrated that communism doesn't work--at least if it's done from the top down. On the other hand, communism seems to be working very well at Twin Oaks (and Acorn, etc). Someone wrote a comment in an article about Twin Oaks (that they didn't seem to have read very well) that Twin Oaks wasn't going to work. But this kind of communism been working at TO for nearly fifty years
and they're going strong. It works there and Twin Oaks works.

I think of intentional communities as small enough experiments so that if something doesn't work, the community simply comes apart, people move on, hopefully we learn something, and few people are hurt. (Contrast that with what happened with the USSR.)

This is why I see community building as my social change work. I want to be part of creating working alternatives--to see what works and what doesn't and to create those simple systems (communities) out of which we can grow a new society.   But one thing I do know, getting the ‘software’ (the people and relationships) working is as important (if not more important) than getting the hardware to work.  The best designed community won’t work if it doesn’t attract and take care of people.

Next: Some ‘software’ tools.

Quote of the Day:  “Relationships are all there is. Everything in the universe only exists because it is in relationship to everything else. Nothing exists in isolation. We have to stop pretending we are individuals that can go it alone.”  - Margaret Wheatley