Got back from the conference yesterday afternoon. I’m not quite sure where to start in writing about it.
We had a great time. The workshops were awesome — even better than we’d expected. We learned a lot there. Most valuably, I think we got a much clearer picture of the work that lies ahead of us in starting an intentional community. It’s a truly enormous amount of work — we learned the adage that it’s like getting married, starting a small business, and taking the most challenging personal growth course of your life, all at the same time. (Actually, it’s not so much “like” that as it, you know, actually is that.) But we left feeling energized and inspired and overall in love. We bought Creating A Life Together by Diana Leafe Christian,** which is, as far as we can tell, the essential handbook for community founders. I’m a few chapters in; all four of us are going to read it. It’s a great book already. Do read it if you’re thinking about this kind of thing.
We also learned about the many options for community structure, from ecovillages to cohousing. We’re not yet sure what structure is right for us — that depends a lot on the state of the world (will cities be safe places in ten or twenty years? will we have to grow our own food?), how many members we end up with, and where we all are in our lives.
Among other insights: the phrase “accidental family” is more accurate for us than “intentional community.” We’re among the youngest seriously forming groups around, but lots of people get land and get started shortly after college (like we’d like to). We’re more insular than a lot of other groups, just because of our personal dispositions. It’s very important to have shared values and goals; fortunately, we’re very, very cohesive. It’s very important to love, trust, and understand each other; fortunately, we do. It’s very important to be able to acknowledge differences and deal with conflict; fortunately, so far, we can and do. It’s very important to clearly articulate one’s group’s mission — we’re working on it. Etc., etc. I think a lot of the challenges that some groups face will be relatively simple for us, since we’re all such close friends. We’re different in a lot of ways, but remarkably similar in others (values, priorities, aesthetic preferences). I’m sure we’ll have difficult struggles of our own; many of the interpersonal ones, however, were worked out already, or are far along in the process of being worked out.
Onto the pitfalls and challenges.
Because we were around a large group of overall New Agey people much older than ourselves, we knew from past experience that there was the risk of inappropriate sexual/emotional interactions. We were aware of this ahead of time and decided to travel as a pack or in pairs for self-protection. There were disturbing a few incidents, but we managed to make sure no one got seriously freaked out. This is my rant about all that:
You may be a very open person — that’s great. Do not assume all other people are similarly “open,” or have interest in intimately connecting with you. Not everyone is looking for profound, intimate emotional encounters with strangers. Don’t touch people without asking. If the other person(s) are obviously uncomfortable and you continue pushing them to share themselves with you, you are being a creep. You are not being kind or enlightened — you are being inappropriate. You are being inconsiderate. You are being rude.*
Whew. Also, young straight single males: please get over your pervasive assumption that all pretty girls are heterosexual and available. Seriously.
Also, there was a good deal of talk about “spirituality,” which is to be expected, but nonetheless of absolutely no interest to any of us. We came up with an excellent trick, though: mentally replace “spirituality” with “sexuality” whenever it comes up, and you end up with funny statements that actually match our values.
“Sexual fulfillment is an important issue for communities.”
“Make sure everyone’s sexual needs are met.”
There’s more to say, but I’ll leave it at that for now.
* I want to note that there were a lot of fascinating people there, with whom we very much enjoyed talking. This applies only to a small handful of truly disrespectful people.
** I originally linked to Amazon out of habit; changed the link when Tony commented below, reminding me that one can buy books from the FIC’s community bookshelf online.
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