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Pitch Downward Divergent

Laird's Blog -

In aeronautical parlance, "pitch downward divergent" refers to how a plane can get into real trouble if its angle with respect to the horizon is pointing downward too far. Essentially, it loses lift and the aircraft starts dropping like a stone. While that's a sure fire way to gain speed, it's accomplished at the risk of dying if you are not able to pull out of the dive fast enough.

I've used that as the title for today's blog because there's an apt analogy in group dynamics: once interpersonal dynamics start heading south, they're susceptible to getting locked into a negative feedback loop that reinforces the downward spiral. 

In short, the more that a group encounters interpersonal turbulence among members that doesn't get resolved, the more likely it is that future exchanges will land poorly. Current events are seen through the lens of past hurts hurts (resulting in questioning good intent), people start expecting a higher percentage of encounters to go poorly (thereby measurably increasing the likelihood that they will go poorly), and there's increased brittleness in how problem-solving unfolds (as people start associating flexibility with being taken advantage of). Yuck.

When there's unresolved interpersonal tension in a group it impacts the group negatively in a number of ways:

1. It distorts exchanges between the protagonists
Perhaps the most obvious way in which unresolved tensions are expensive is that the people directly involved are less likely to enjoy working together—either as members of the same team, or as members of the same group. While this may not be so bad in a group of 60, where the impact is diluted over a large number, it can be excruciating in a small group (or committee) where the two people are expected to be in regular contact and communication.

This greatly complicates the task of figuring out a good response to the issue in which the tensions first emerged, because trust between the players has been damaged. Grace has been diminished and even innocent statements or actions are more likely to be misconstrued.

2. When upset goes unaddressed, if changes the lens through which the players see future events
Where once there was openness and open-mindedness, there may now be caution and wariness. When in the grip of unresolved tension, a person will tend to feel isolated and uncared for. They will be quicker to assign bad intent to future exchanges. Misunderstandings that would have been easily corrected in the past, are now a constant risk. It can be exhausting.

Worse, players with lingering hurts will be less likely to even reveal that they have placed a bad spin on current events—because they do not expect a good outcome from revealing hurts (what good would it do?). Without knowledge that something has landed amiss it is nearly impossible to clear it up.

3. It can distract the group to the extent that it's aware of the ongoing tension
If two parties are known to be at odds with one another, others in the group will become sensitized to the dynamic and on guard for its reemergence. Especially if the group as a whole does not have a robust track record when it comes to working conflict constructively, there will be a tendency for group members to be watching for the needle going into the red instead of tracking the conversation. In fact, if the topic seems likely to be subject to the gravitational pull of the unresolved tension (perhaps because it's so dear to the heart of one of the protagonists), the topic may be avoided all together as too risky.

4. Prospective members pick up on the unresolved tension, even if they don't know where it's coming from
You want new members to be sensitive to group energy, yet the group is at risk of inadvertently selecting against this trait if it allows unresolved tensions to persist (the message being that the group is either oblivious to the tensions or ineffective in responding to them). Thus, the group presents as less attractive. Of course, that may not be a problem if the prospective member is clueless about group energy, but who wants clueless new members?

The good news is that even if the group stumbles in trying to engage with conflict, a good faith effort is likely to be attractive to prospectives for whom this quality in the group matters. That is, you'll get partial credit for trying (as opposed to no credit for ducking).
• • •To be sure, working constructively and accurately with conflict is a major skill and requires a significant investment of group time and energy to become good at it. My point though is that not learning to work with it well as also expensive. You can run, but you can't hide.

While there's no guarantee that engaging with interpersonal conflict will result in success, isn't it better to go down attempting to work effectively with whatever is in the room—the full range of human expressions—than to suffer the consequences of being too timid to try?

Giving Thanks

Laird's Blog -

Today is a travel day (not that that's an unusual occurrence in my life as an itinerant group process consultant and community networker). Over the course of 11 hours I'll wend my way from Boston to Duluth, by way of Charlotte NC and Minneapolis MN. In addition to supplying me with a suitable block of time in which to craft this essay, the end result will be my arrival on the shores of Gitchi Gummi, where I will rendezvous with my sweetheart, Susan Anderson, in her local habitat—for the third time since our romantic adventure commenced in June.

This visit comes at an especially propitious time for me. I've been crazy busy the last three months, in the course of which I've donned pretty much every hat in my closet: process consultant, FIC administrator, workshop presenter, fundraiser, facilitation trainer, friend, book peddler, brother, and lover. Now, for the week of Thanksgiving, I get to enjoy a string of days where my priority is simply being with my partner, enjoying each other and exploring what we want our future to be.

To be sure, I still have some reports to write and planning to do for a facilitation training that I'll be conducting Dec 3-6 in Portland. But all of that can be accomplished while Susan works weekday mornings in the office of St Paul's, the Episcopal Church of which she's a member. When we're both in the house at the same time the emphasis will be on the dance of intimacy—cooking, laughing, eating, walking, and touching, not necessarily in that order.

Susan and I are both 66, and are happily surprised to find so much joy and vitality in each others company. We are at an age where it's hard to tell when will be the last time we're asked to dance, and we intend to make the most of the serendipity of our coming together. My life has gone through major upheaval in the last year, representing a jumble of loss, gain, and transition: the emergence of chronic torso pain, my wife ending our marriage of seven years, a loss of home in northeast Missouri after 41 years, relocating to Chapel Hill to live with close friends Joe & María, stepping down as FIC's main administrator after 28 years, and starting a partnership with Susan. It's a lot to digest.

Amazingly, Susan and I are not just dancing together: we seem equally willing to let the other into our lives and take a chance on the vulnerability of love in exchange for the chance at great joy and companionship. It is this feeling of being well met that seems especially magical to me, even more than the attraction. Am I seeing this with rose-tinted lenses? Absolutely. Yet I am also a manifestor—someone who has never let improbability stand in the way of taking a chance if the reward was sufficiently compelling (feint heart never won fair goal). I believe in the power of positive thinking, and I'm bringing that into play with Susan without apology.

Further, it seems uncanny that this possibility has emerged precisely at the moment in my life that is least settled going back to 1974 and the founding of Sandhill Farm. Just when many people are settling into the routine of their retirement years, here I am unexpectedly in the process of reinventing myself when this tantalizing possibility with Susan has crystallized in front of me. Well, you don't have to beat me over the head with a 2x4. I'd be an idiot to not see where something this good can lead.

Thus, above all else, this week I am thankful for the chance to not be an idiot.

Traveling on a Wing and a Prayer

Laird's Blog -

My partner, Susan, has been enjoying a week-long whirlwind visit to Morocco. She got a good deal to fill out a tour group and is traveling with friends from home (the Duluth contingent comprises seven of the 40 spots on the tour). She's been having a blast, squeezing out one more week of mild weather in North Africa before the onset of winter in northern Minnesota (where many are cold but few are frozen).

She's in Casablanca tonight, in position to start her return journey at 5 am, when the bus is scheduled to collect everyone from the hotel and take them to the airport. What with crossing six time zones, tomorrow was setting up to be a long day anyway: three flights and 30 hours long.

Her day was only 15 minutes old, however, when Air France sent her a brief message indicating that her journey home was going to be more complicated than expected: her flight from Casablanca to Paris had just been cancelled. Presumably this is related to tightened security in the wake of Wednesday's police raid that resulted in a firefight and the death of Abdelhamid Abaaoud—the alleged ringleader of the Nov 13 terrorist attacks in Paris.

While Casablanca is a long way from Paris, it appears there will be no commercial flights through the capital of France tomorrow. 

While I'm sure that Susan will be rerouted through another European city and will ultimately get home safely, it's sobering to realize how far terrorism can disrupt lives. Of course, having your flight cancelled is trivial compared to the loss of 130 lives in the attacks of a week ago, yet it's instructive to understand how far the shock waves extend.

It also makes me wonder about our chances to resolve differences peaceably. Terrorists have given up on that possibility, even to the point of suicide bombers and sacrificing one's life to gain attention for their grievances. It is a terrible price to pay and it makes me wonder how people can get that angry and that desperate. 

A lot of this hinges, I think, on the question of how much people with privilege are aware of it and are willing to have that be on the table—how much we're willing to look at the advantages we have enjoyed by virtue of being born Americans, white, male, heterosexual, Protestant, to parents with money, etc. 

On the international level, the US runs the show, often to the detriment of other countries and other cultures (whence the bumper stickers, "How did our oil get under their sand?"). If we see this as God's largesse, then terrorist attacks will continue. (While I abhor violence, I can appreciate the frustration that leads to it when more peaceful methods consistently fail to get someone's attention.) If, on the other hand, we're willing to start talking about how there's only one Earth and we have to make the best of it together, then there's a chance for a different, less militant outcome. But I don't see much evidence at the national level that we're willing to give up our privilege, or even to question the outrageous assumption that we're God's chosen people.

On the community level, I run into this same dynamic when it comes to race, class, and sexual discrimination. It even shows up on the personality level—people who are soft spoken, good listeners, and patient tend to be more welcome and more successful in community then the demonstrative, outspoken, and let's-get-'er-done types. To be sure, I don't see suicide bombers in community, or even much threat of physical violence, but there is plenty of frustration with intolerance or the lack of a willingness to look within for signs of unconscious discrimination. There's plenty of room for all of us to get better at meeting people halfway, rather than insisting that conversations be held in our preferred mode—essentially requiring that others come to us as a precondition for meaningful dialog.

The truth is, we are not particularly good as a species at getting along with people who are other than we are. As a process consultant to cooperative groups I am regularly called upon to demonstrate what getting along with each can look like, helping people find bridges they couldn't see. Will the peacemaking that I'm undertaking in intentional communities ultimately lead to a world without terrorism? 

I don't know, but I think it could and I have to try. Meanwhile, I pray for world peace. And while I'm at it, I'll take a moment to pray for Susan's safe return.

Editorial: Get Goshen Millrace Canal fixed and keep water levels up - The Elkhart Truth

Cohousing News from Google -

The Elkhart Truth

Editorial: Get Goshen Millrace Canal fixed and keep water levels up
The Elkhart Truth
Townhouses and a cohousing community along it are going there in part because of the aesthetics. Life in the Maple City has rolled on, even though water isn't flowing down the millrace. But it's time for the city to get this stretch of water flowing ...

Developer of Eugene's Oakleigh Meadow condominium plan says he'll move forward ... - The Register-Guard

Cohousing News from Google -

Developer of Eugene's Oakleigh Meadow condominium plan says he'll move forward ...
The Register-Guard
But opponents of Oakleigh Meadow Cohousing vow to keep fighting to stop construction, even if they have to take the fight to a courtroom and name the city of Eugene as a possible codefendant. Local architect Will Dixon says he and 23 other families ...

Urban Village CoHousing

New listings on ic.org -

Website: http://urbanvillagecohousing.org City: Ashland State: Massachusetts Zip: 01721 Contact Email: urbanvillagecohousing@gmail.com Content Phone: 610-220-5500 Contant Name: Valerie Paul & Carol Kunik

Directory Campaign Starts Today!

Laird's Blog -

Today the Fellowship for Intentional Community is launching a Kickstarter campaign to raise $6000—the funds needed to assemble a new print version of our flagship publication, Communities Directory. This will be our seventh edition, and first since 2010.

If this FIC resource—which is celebrating its 25th anniversary this month—is important to you, I urge you to click here and help us reach our goal, and to share this blog widely among your friends.

While we've made our listings available as a searchable online database since 2004, there continues to be a steady demand for it in book form. Here's why:

o  You're not always near a wifi signal, especially when out in the boondocks trying to track down rural communities.

o  The book version contains an incredibly helpful set of cross-reference charts that sorts listings by the most commonly asked objective criteria (things like acreage, population, how long they've been around, economic model, decision-making process, etc). This chart is not available online.

o  It's easy to scan the maps for how communities are geographically distributed in the book. Online we offer maps telling you where each group is located, but not their proximity to other groups.

o  The book features a handful of key articles about how to use the information intelligently.

o  The book includes a thorough index. 

What's more, the money raised through the Kickstarter campaign will be used both to defray costs of producing the print version and to overhaul our online Directory at the same time.

Enhancements to the latter include:

—A complete rewriting of the listing questionnaire, so that the information collected better matches what seekers want to know (after 28 years in this business we have a solid idea what people want).

—A much tighter protocol for removing listings that have not been updated or verified in more than a year. That means removing the dead wood more promptly.

—Starting to post response rates so that inquirers will have a decent idea of what to expect from listed groups, based on the percentage of inquiries that that community has addressed within 10 days over the course of the preceding 12 months. (We have been fielding some complaints that listed communities are not getting back to seekers in a timely way and we want to shine the light on that phenomenon.)

—We will reorganize the information into three major groupings:

Established groups 
These are ones that have four or more members that have been living together for two or more years. We think of this section as the backbone of our Directory.

Forming (and reforming) groups
This category is a good deal more volatile than the preceding one and we think it's a substantial service to seekers to let them know this up front. On the one hand, attracting additional energy in the early years can make a life or death difference to tenuous groups—which is why we include them. On the other hand, new groups are inherently less stable and it's important that seekers understand that expectations need to be adjusted when trying to contact communities in this category. 

Groups that used to be listed but no longer are
As groups disband or become unresponsive we'll move them into this category—which we'll be making available online for the first time. Listings here will be "gravestones only" (name, location, and years of existence to the extent known). Because people often search for a particular group by name, it can be a big help knowing that they no longer exist. This data can also be important for research purposes, and who's in a better position to collect it than us?
So the money we raise from the Kickstarter campaign is intended to cover a lot—all of which is geared toward making the Directory a better tool, both as a book and as an online reference.

Directory History
Here's our production history:

Year                 Number of North American communities listed
1990                 304
1995                 565
2000                 585
2005                 614
2007                 908
2010               1055
2016                     ?

Over the course of the quarter century that we've been chronicling the intentional communities movement, every time we've published the book the number of North American communities listed has grown. Though we don't yet know the final number for the edition we release next spring, we're expecting something around 1400.

Partly this is because there's been an actual rise in the communities extant; partly it's because it's easier than ever to report a community's existence; and partly it's because FIC has established itself as a trusted network that will fairly display the information.

The Directory was FIC's first project. We committed to it in 1988 and we published our first edition two years later. At the time—still ahead of the tidal wave that would become the world wide web—a book was the way to go and we sold 18,000 copies of each of our first two editions. For the first 10 years the Directory was our cash cow that enabled us to develop all our other programs, such as becoming the publisher of Communities magazine, creating Art of Community weekend events, and taking over Community Bookstore.

By 2000 however, the web had made substantial inroads into the bookselling market and there was a growing sense that reference material ought to be free—never mind that it took thousands of hours to collect, compile, and display the information.

As our commitment to providing the information ran deeper than our commitment to the business model, we swallowed hard and started offering the information online at no charge in 2004. While this has worked well for meeting our mission to disseminate the information broadly, we've had to scramble to make up the shortfall in income via advertising and donations.

It's a measure of our faith in this approach that we're relying on our supporters to be our partners in making the next evolution of Communities Directory a reality. If this incredible resource has been an inspiration in your life—or that of a community dear to you—we're asking you to take a moment to pay it forward for all those who will follow in our footsteps, seeking cooperative alternatives.

Together, we're making a difference.

Michigan Ecovillage

New listings on ic.org -

Website: http://www.miecovillage.org City: Madison Heights State: Michigan Zip: 48071 Contact Email: karl@miecovillage.org Content Phone: 8102415240 Contant Name: Karl & Gaylyn Kaufman

What It Takes for Groups to Be Less Conflicted about Conflict

Laird's Blog -

About half the time, when I get hired as a cooperative group consultant, I'm asked to work one or more embedded conflicts—things that have been festering for a while and the group doesn't know what to do with them. Sometimes I know that going in, and sometimes I don't. The group may be hiring me to look at something else yet the conflict intrudes into the conversation and then we're off to the races. While it's better when I know ahead of time, conflict goes with the territory, and I'm no longer surprised when it pops up. I just deal with it.

I have a reputation for this, and it's often an element of why I'm hired: either to help a group extract itself from deep mud, or to demonstrate why it's valuable to learn that skill, or both.

Even though all groups experience conflict (by which I mean non-trivial distress in response to something another group member is perceived to have said or done), only a small fraction of groups have sufficiently invested in developing their internal capacity to handle it in the flow of everyday life. Here are the steps I think it takes to get there:

1. Recognizing that conflict is going to occur and learning not to pathologize it. In other words, moving away from the mistaken notion that the incidence of conflict is a metric of the group's health (low conflict=health). Groups need to develop an understanding that conflict is naturally occurring, and the main challenge is working with it well; not trying to extinguish it.

2. Accepting the necessity of the group providing support for people who struggle to find their way through conflict on their own. While I think it's a great idea that groups encourage members to learn to be less reactive and develop their ability to work through their own distress (Nonviolent Communication, for example, can be good for this), it's naive to think that everyone will get good enough at this to never need assistance.

3. Identifying one or more methods for engaging constructively with conflict. There are a number of decent ways to productively approach conflict, but it is not enough to have only a general agreement that there will be help—you have to spell out what methodologies are on the menu, so the would-be user can have an inkling of what will be asked of them. Expecting people in distress to step forward to be black box guinea pigs is not a good plan.

4. Developing the capacity to consistently deliver positive results with the methods selected. Beyond agreeing on how support will be extended to members, the team needs to demonstrate that it can deliver in the clutch. This goes beyond being able to explain the theory of support; you need to show that you can manage the dynamic moment. For the most part the acid test is functioning in the presence of fulminating rage—though for others, rampant tears may be the litmus test.

5. Orienting all members to the availability of support and how to access it. It won't work if the team is hiding its light under a bushel. It has to actively make clear to members what the team offers, how support works, and how it can be invoked.

Beyond that, there are a few forks in the road that you need ot be aware of when setting this up.

Key Question A: Is the support group authorized to be pro-active? Must it wait for conflicted parties to agree to ask for assistance, or can it initiate inquires on its own judgment, or at the request of third parties?
Best answer: All too often, conflict resolution teams are underused (see my blog of Nov 24, 2014: Why Conflict Resolution Committees Are Like Maytag Repairmen). In part because people are reluctant to ask for help (or to admit that they need it); in part because there is a lack of confidence in the skill of the committee; in part because we come out of a culture that considers it meddling to insert yourself into other people's tensions. In recognition of that, it can make a big difference if the committee is authorized to initiate inquiries when there's the appearance that dynamics are stuck and starting to leak into group business. The bottom line here is getting out of the mud, and it's painful to watch stubborn people tolerate longstanding feuds because they're too proud to ask for assistance.

Note: Authorizing the team to be pro-active will not work unless there is a concomitant agreement that all members will to make a good faith effort to resolve tensions if they are named as a player in a conflict—regardless of whether they think they are.

Key Question B: What are the standards for transparency, in tension with confidentiality?

Best answer: Lean toward transparency as far as you can. Learn to describe distress even-handedly in minutes and reports, and then let all group members know the outline of what happened: what the tension was about and what the resolution was, including any agreements about how things will be different going forward. The flow of information is directly related to trust in the whole group. Thus, while it may be unintentional, a consequence of keeping information confidential is that trust is eroded. This is not what you want.

If you keep information confidential for fear that it will be misused, you are helping to create the environment  where that very thing will happen.

Note: I am not advocating that transparency be rammed down people's throats. I think it's best to allow protagonists to set their own limits about what is shared with others. That said, I'm encouraging groups to purposefully work toward an atmosphere of wide sharing within the group, with the clear expectation that individuals will use appropriate discretion when it comes to sharing beyond the group.

Key Question C: How are new members made aware of what the committee does and how to access it? If you are relying on osmosis, that's not a very good answer.

Best answer: Conflict teams should take it upon themselves to help create the culture in which they can thrive. This means regularly educating members (both new and old) about how to be better communicators, how to employ the methodologies for working conflict that the group adopts, and how the committee can help.

Risparmio energetico e vita di comunità: il co-housing piace alle famiglie di Ferrara - Dire

Cohousing News from Google -

Risparmio energetico e vita di comunità: il co-housing piace alle famiglie di Ferrara
cohousing FERRARA – “Tramite il nostro progetto di cohousing puntiamo al risparmio delle famiglie, alla tutela dell'ambiente, alla solidarieta' tra generazioni, a invertire un modello di vita in cui la solitudine e l'emarginazione sociale avanzano ...
Risparmio energetico e vita di comunità: il co-housing piace alle famiglieRedattore Sociale

all 2 news articles »

Denton Cohousing

New listings on ic.org -

Website: http://www.meetup.com/Denton-Cohousing/ City: Denton State: Texas Zip: 76205 Contact Email: francespunch@gmail.com Content Phone: Contant Name: Francis Punch


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