Dear lovely people, I am thinking about joining an intentional community and was wondering if anyone of you ever made any bad experiences? What do I need to be careful with? Which problems could occur? Checking different websites, all the communities sound lovely but is there a hook to them? Or is it as peaceful what it is described as?
I lived on communes as a child, so I was pretty oblivious to the adult dramas. And there were plenty, apparently.
I think it's really important to have legal and interpersonal/communication/relationship stuff clear right from the start.
From what I've seen, especially in the old-style 'hippy communes', people didn't get things sorted out when things were good, because things were good
And when they went bad, it was too late and no-one agreed and people couldn't stand each other.
I think intentional communities generally have very well-developed legal and conflict-resolution frameworks though.
There's lots of threads that might be helpful.
https://permies.com/forums/posts/list/40/6560#89699 https://permies.com/t/1693/intentional-community-city-repair-ecovillage/ Diana Leafe Christian's books might interest you.
One word of wisdom is that contracts aren't about marriage, but divorce. Not to be a cynic, but I avoid all relationships that assume it will always be a honeymoon. Those who think that way will have a rude awakening, and I honestly don't want to be around when it happens.
And I listen carefully for anyone who is more focused on what they get out of the relationship, than what the group does. This is fatal in my opinion. There are lots of selfish people out there, and many of them have no idea they are selfish, they just feel everyone has to be for "number one".
Recently, they have declared narcissism as not being a mental disease, I guess because it is so normal. :
Sustainable Plantations and Agroforestry in Costa Rica
I agree with Leila - suggest you check out Diana Leafe Christian's book which has a lot of sensible information.
What problems can occur? Well, life has a way of happening - and the things and people you are counting on change. People get divorced, or become vegetarians. Or paleo-carnivores. They have fights, lose their jobs, go bankrupt, win the lottery. Fall in love with the wrong people. Come out of the closet. Get "born again" (or backslide into heresy). Or their adorable, helpful children become .... teenagers.
I think a very high percentage of ICs don't make it through the first 5 or so years - after the initial euphoria wears off and after dealing with whatever life has served up one discovers that under the right circumstances even the most reasonable intelligent easy going person (ie me) can behave like a complete and total .... jerk.
All of this can be dealt with, and the struggles are (in retrospect) often some of the most intimate times. But not everyone or every group is prepared to deal with people.
As I mentioned in another post, my husband and I have toyed with the idea of starting some sort of intentional community for years. We still have not done it primarily because we are asking ourselves the same questions I see here and not coming up with suitable answers -- or at least answers that make us feel like it might work out okay.
In concept, having a bunch of people (or in our case not so many -- we are really looking at only one or two other couples so we do not overburden the land or multiply the potential conflicts of interest too greatly) with different strengths and talents all working together to create a comfortable and sucessful community, sounds great. In reality, the very differences between people are likely to be the downfall of the community. Americans in particular are so used to the idea of individuality and personal expression that we seldom think about the big picture -- in this case, the community (village or in a sense, the hive). These sorts of things probably work out much better in places where people are used to working together for common goals from the get go. Places like Asia and in areas where small villages still practice traditional farming and other skills. People in those places are not only more likely to be reared with a traditional community point of view, but they are also more used to living closely with many other people and doing more with less. What they would take as a matter of course, most Americans -- coming as they do from a "more (or bigger) is better" framework, where the rights of the individual are paramount -- will feel claustrophobic and frustrated in most community environments. My opinion, of course.
Originally, thinking about this, we sort of came down to the idea that we would offer a place to a couple or couples as a "free" homestead for them to build on as they pleased (within the one restriction that the home must be green, and considerate of its surroundings, both plant and animal) in exchange for help on the rest of the place. Of course that immediately led to the question of what would be a reasonable amount of "help" for each of us to feel we got our fair share from the bargain. Then that led to the sticky question of what we -- as the original landowners -- would do if the couple turned out to be incompatible. Would we be able to evict them from a homestead they built themselves on our land? What sort of compensation would be enough to pay them for what would then revert to us? Or would it revert to us? Would the homestead become something of a right-of-way or squatter situation where the other people would have earned right of place through their homesteading actions? How many years or how much work would it take to make that case if it came to a legal action?
The ramifications hit us like a ton of bricks and we stopped considering it that way. Years went by while we tried to sort out other ways to do this. We considered just going with a "hired hand", where someone would merely live here -- through the traditional arrangement of the landowner providing a home and a small salary in exchange for a set amount of help on the place. The problem with that is that we would first have to build a house for them and that is the sort of thing we were wanting help with in the first place, so a Catch-22. Also, we live very hand-to-mouth, so providing any salary is problematic.
We considered offering a "you scratch our backs and we will scratch yours" arrangement where we could help them build if they helped us build, but realized that was just the same thing we came up with originally -- and with the same set of potential problems.
The only thing we could think of that seemed equitable and lacking in potential legal problems was to simply sell land to someone else -- with payment being that help we needed instead of cash. But... again, there came the little voice saying... "What is an equitable amount of help?" "What if we don't like them? Now it is their land and we CAN'T kick them out!"
So, we are still thinking about it, but we haven't been able to come up with a good solution that considers the needs of both sides (or multiple sides). Our ideal situation would be one in which 2 or 3 vegetarian/vegan singles, couples or families lived on a restricted section of this piece of land (75 acres abutting Mark Twain National Forest near Hercules Glade Wilderness in SW Missouri) -- with the majority of the land managed as a wildlife sanctuary. We would join together for gardening enough food to allow everyone to grow enough for the vegetable needs of their family. We might join together in an online sales of arts/crafts, possibly a small eco-tourism venture and/or farmer's market type business for our cash needs while maintaining private lives "after hours". [NOTE: My husband and I are artists and naturalists. In addition I also write and have a degree in anthropology/archaeology and have worked as a teacher. We also have extensive experience in pretty much every aspect of homesteading -- from animal husbandry to growing gardens, preserving foods, foraging for wild foods, blacksmithing and carpentry skills, sewing and so forth -- and conservation skills (we restored the limestone glades on our land with the aid of the Missouri Department of Conservation and we are skilled with both chainsaws and controlled burn equipment). We also have broad experience with wild animals as we are both ex-zookeepers, as well as longtime rescuers of a huge number of domestic animals from abusive situations. Those are some of the things we could bring to a community relationship.]
Anyway, I am rambling, but I wanted to put in my two cents on this topic as it is one I consider almost daily. I think the secret to sucess may be as simple as finding the right people -- those folks who share your goals and aspirations. In our case, the planet is the most important thing to us. Far above personal comfort or financial sucess. We want to live as green and on as small a footprint as possible. We want to leave this place tied to a conservation easement to prevent development when we are gone, and others would have to be like-minded and supportive of all that. If anyone reading this has any interest in discussing a possible relationship like this, PLEASE contact me.
I have lived at two intentional communities. VISIT BEFORE YOU COMMIT.
My first community experience was with an expense sharing community (pay $400/month to be there) and I lived there for 6 months. It seemed great in the beginning but I think it was just new. And I should have paid attention to the warning signs in my gut that were there from the beginning.
At any rate, it was quite a learning experience. I learned that "polyamorus" there really meant you sleep with everyone or you sleep with no one (I was celibate for the duration). I learned a little about non-violent communication, and that having a community mental health counselor was immensely valuable. I learned how to remodel a 1970's singlewide (I'd hoped to learn about aquaculture and gasification). I met some really awesome people, and some people who really pushed my buttons. I learned that everyone we encounter in community is reflections of aspects of our selves, and although it was difficult, I gained the most when I could suspend judgement and really try to understand the issues I saw reflected back at me. I learned that being raised a middle class American meant I was culturalized with an unconscious attitude of entitlement and individuality that makes for a very steep learning curve in seeking community. I learned I have issues with authority figures, especially older males. (I kinda knew that already).
When I left that community I felt very used (I pay $400/month to work for somebody else? WTF???)
I wasn't ready to give up on community though. I went to a community I had visited several times previously, located on land I knew I was madly in love with. This was one of the 70's "communes" and was much more laid back and anarchistic than my other experience. This is an income sharing community (all the income goes into a common pot, and the needs of the community and members are met from the common pot (in theory). The decision making process is full consensus (in theory). I learned so much it would take really long to try to express it here.
I think it is critically important that everyone has their own private space to be alone in. I think we are not yet evolved enough for full consensus to be an effective decision making model. I think income sharing (communism) doesn't work. I realize that the people make the community. It is extremely important to have a shared vision and values.
I had many ecstatically happy moments at this community. My most stated phrase at the first community was "Are you f-ing kidding me?" > ??: My most stated phrase at the second community was "It's SO beautiful!" Not that the second community was without it's drama, personal learning curve, and moments of angst. It's impossible to get a group of people living and working together and not have drama.
This was/is an amazing place, and I have been privileged and blessed with the opportunity to begin de-programming my destructive ingrained societal patterns.
I left the second community after 1 1/2 years. I burned myself out trying to do too much, to help however I could. When my hard work and initiative came under accusations of tyranny from one individual, and the rest of my "family" failed to stand up for me, I decided to leave. I also had difficulty with the constant change (always new visitors to entertain/babysit/educate) and with the amount of communication and social time needed on my part to be effective. (I've always been kind of antisocial and needed my ME time)
I highly recommend experiencing community. Your life will be deeper and richer for it, and you'll have good stories to tell (that's what it's all about anyway, right?) Community experience can help shift your mindframe and paradigm so you can manifest a positive, beautiful future for yourself and humankind.
Just don't expect it to be a permanent arrangement. Always have an out. (I live in a van and have lots of handy, useful, marketable skills)
My Mom bought land a few miles up the road from this last community. My next adventure is developing a permaculture site with her and two other like minded people we met at this last community. It could be Utopia. It could be a complete clusterfck. Probably it will be somewhere in the middle. But life is never boring. I am happy. I live in a wild, clean, beautiful environment and I am no longer a wage slave. My life feels free and meaningful. I am learning and improving.
Before I decided to seek community I was just another miserable smog-cog, feeding my body poison and rotting in front of the boob tube, desperately lacking any authentic human connections.
I am truly, deeply grateful for my community experience.
I hope this helps. Good luck.
You can't fight the waves but you can learn to surf.
It will give me the powers of the gods. Not bad for a tiny ad:
Permaculture Playing Cards by Paul Wheaton and Alexander Ojeda