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Kids Gardening Eden

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Website: http://www.gofundme.com/KidsGardeningEden City: Lafayette State: Oregon Zip: 97127 Contact Email: tulsi.flower859@gmail.com Content Phone: Contant Name:

Visiting Family

Laird's Blog -

From left to right: Laird, Kyle, Richard, and Alison
For the past five days my youngest sister (Alison) and I have been visiting my middle sister (Kyle) and her husband (Richard) in San Antonio. Above is a picture of the four us on our last night together.

Back in March my siblings (there are five of us all together) and I were moving toward orchestrating a reunion in San Antonio (we had not all been together there since Kyle & Richard’s daughter, Alana, married Kevin in March 2008) this summer to help with a remodeling project in their backyard—converting an idle garage into an apartment they could rent. But those plans got shelved when Richard had a stroke in late April, losing use of his right side.

Miraculously, Kyle happened to come home within minutes of Richard being stricken and was able to get him into emergency treatment stat. Richard has been highly motivated to regain as much function as he can and gradually he’s been recovering use of his right arm. During rehab yesterday, Richard was able to lift a medium-sized ball, which required coordinated use of both his left hand and his right. That was a big breakthrough, and he practices exercises between his twice weekly physical therapy sessions to sustain the forward momentum. Most stroke victims have a window of about two years in which to regain functionality (essentially it’s the brain developing work arounds to replace neural pathways, bypassing blocked sections damaged by the stroke). It’s incredible how clever the brain is, yet patient motivation is a large factor in how far someone recovers.

As it happens, Richard is right-handed, which means that in addition to working to regain functionality on that side, he has to train his undamaged left hand to be more sensitive. It’s a lot of work. As an artist used to expressing himself through drawing, it has been very frustrating.

Reading email updates is nowhere near as helpful as being with Richard for several days to experience how he’s adapting and responding to the wicked curveball life delivered his way. In addition, it was great to see how Kyle is coping (the garage makeover got backburnered in favor of remodeling the back corner of the house to create an ADA bathroom). As hoped, Kyle took advantage of Al and me to handle some of the domestic chores and be available for conversations. It can be quite a strain on the primary care provider (who is also holding down a full-time job) when their partner goes down and many of the routines of 35 years of married life are turned on their head.

As a bonus, Alana & Kevin—and their two boys, Jack (6) and Henry (4)—came over Friday from Galveston and stayed until Sunday, lending youthful energy and willing backs to the main project of the visit: digging out the lean-to back porch that had become Richard’s “resource yard" over the years and was chock-a-block full of stuff of questionable utility and unknown provenance. This was necessary in order to uncover the back door, which was going to be relocated as part of the bathroom overhaul.

It was fun watching Alana, as mother, work patiently yet with clarity with her boisterous boys, expressing support while setting limits at the same time. Kyle commented on how amazed she is to see how competent her daughter is as a working mother (she’s second mate on a deep sea oil rig operating in the Gulf of Mexico)—not because she thought Alana wouldn’t be, but because she wasn’t confident that she was such a great role model (and how else do you learn?).

Kevin & Alana loaded their truck with whatever items they thought they could use back in Galveston, and the rest disappeared overnight when placed curbside beneath a homemade sandwich board sign that advertised “free.” (Whew.) It’s fascinating how one person’s junk becomes another’s treasure. Alison and I both departed Tuesday, leaving Kyle & Richard’s house ready for the contractors.

While we left being no clearer about that postponed family reunion, that's due to ongoing uncertainty about Richard’s capacity. He’s making too much progress to predict how far it will go—which is a nice problem to have.

Sustainable farming community thrives in Adams County - Evening Sun (subscription)

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Sustainable farming community thrives in Adams County
Evening Sun (subscription)
There are ten energy-efficient homes in the cohousing community, part of a community owners association, located near Seven Springs Tree Farm. Many families grow their own cooking greens and vegatables on their front lawns, and use photovoltaic and ...

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Bristol Village Cohousing

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Website: http://www.bristolcohousing.com City: Bristol State: Vermont Zip: 05443 Contact Email: jim@bristolcohousing.com Content Phone: 802-734-0798 Contant Name: Jim Mendell, Peg Kamens

Bullies and Boundaries Revisited

Laird's Blog -

Today's entry comes from the mail bag. I received from Vera a thoughtful reflection on my recent post on Bullies and Boundaries that I'd like to respond to:

I have never seen a definition of bullying that includes "making people uncomfortable." Generally, bullying is about demeaning, one-upmanship, name calling, using various fallacies in argumentation or even lying to score a point, and so on. While I believe people have a right to protect their groups and their discussions from this sort of behavior, I do not, and have not ever thought that I am deserving of being spared being uncomfortable. Neither do I think that "loud voices" per se are bullying. And I am wondering if you use those examples in order to minimize the seriousness of bullying in groups.

I am dismayed that I've done such a poor job of making my points. Bullying exists in many forms, some of which are pernicious, mean-spirited, demeaning, and even dangerous. However, I am trying to confine my focus to bullying in the context of cooperative culture, where this phenomenon operates at a finer level. I'm not saying it isn't serious; only that it's less of a bludgeon.

In the majority of cooperative groups there is an explicit agreement to be nonviolent. As such, any member who consistently puts others down, jeers at them, vilifies them, or calls them names would be subject to expulsion or ostracism (the withdrawal of community), so I'm talking about bullying in a more subtle context. Rarely are we talking about a threat of physical violence.

The bullying behavior I see in community is about purposefully choosing behaviors or communication styles that make others ill at ease, for the purpose of getting them to back off or still their voices in opposition to the bully's viewpoints (if you speak against me I will make you pay). So yes, trying to make others uncomfortable is part of the picture.

I am not saying that bullying doesn't exist in more stark and nasty terms, only that these kinds of overt power plays are rarely seen in community—mainly because they don't work. The group won't stand for it.

In my experience, bullying is always about power (as in power-over), whether it is intentional or unintentional, conscious or subconscious.

While I agree that the motivation to bully is to exercise power over (I'm setting aside sadism as a possibility), it is reasonable to question how successful that is as a tactic in cooperative culture.

In community, the bully talks louder than others, speaks without being called upon, hogs air time (if allowed to), and is not afraid of confrontation and outright disagreement. In its more extreme forms, the bully may threaten to call in outside authorities or even to sue if they don't get their way. (Please understand that I'm painting in broad strokes and all bullies don't exhibit this exact pattern. I'm trying to be suggestive more than prescriptive.)

If the bully persists in their provocative behavior despite being asked to shift, they are at risk of being labeled a bully and thereby marginalized, which effectively undercuts their ability to influence others—which is the heart of power. Thus, at some level, bullies (in community) are at risk of shooting themselves in the foot if they don't adapt in response to critical feedback.

To be sure, bullies sometimes get away with behavior that everyone agrees is unacceptable because the group does not have the will to object, or to hold people accountable to operating within acceptable bounds. Bullies tend to be more comfortable with confrontation and they tend to know how to get others to back down first. However, even where this obtains, that will not prevent the bully from being isolated as a clear troublemaker, which limits their power.

This dynamic puts pressure on bullies to be no worse than intermittent in their frequency of being difficult, or even more subtle in how they attempt to manipulate others (because only behaviors with ambiguous meanings will be tolerated—perhaps sarcasm; occasional outbursts; in-your-face pressure questioning; late, difficult-to-integrate input on sensitive topics). 

Perhaps the subtlest form of all is when bullies learn to wrap their behavior in the flag of orthodoxy, such that the bully can put pressure on outliers by insisting that they behave "normally" (as defined by group culture) as a precondition to having their input considered—knowing full well that it's difficult for outliers to comply.

I agree that it is difficult to know the intention of another person, and it helps to focus on the behavior, not the intention. (Sometimes intentions are so murky that even the individual in question does not rightly know.)

We see this the same way.

If someone in group demeans me or another regularly, what is the proper response? Is it to ask that I grow a thicker skin (thus helping the bully)?

I don't get where developing a thicker skin (becoming less reactive to the bully's irritating behaviors) helps the bully. I'd say it's in everyone's interest to learn to be less reactive.

And that brings me to the issue of boundaries. They are lines drawn by a person that specify what is, and isn't acceptable to me, in the way others treat me. Being put down, jeered at, vilified, called names are examples of behaviors a person might draw a boundary about. A boundary simply means that I will not permit another to treat me that way without consequences.
There are two points to make here. First, the gross behaviors listed above are almost certain to undermine trust and good will between the giver and receiver, resulting in the giver having less power over the receiver—unless the receiver is so intimidated that they become silent or withdraw.

Second, there can be considerable nuance in determining whether a boundary is appropriate because of bullying, or a boundary isn't appropriate because the group hasn't really tried enough to work productively with the behaviors of the difficult person (the would-be bully)—because it's a diversity issue. For example, when is a pattern of loud, challenging statements bullying, and when is it a class issue based on family of origin?

After having looked into the issue of boundaries at length, I have never seen anyone saying, as you do, that "giving up on the prospects for productive communication with someone" is the essence of boundaries. I would say that is the extreme boundary when everything else has been tried, and disengagement and distance are the only things left. But there is a long long road with many options before coming to that point.
I'm not sure we're that far apart. I was using a particular community as a point of departure for my blog and that is how the term "boundaries" is being used there: as giving up on someone. I agree that a person could say that they need x in order to attempt to make common cause with someone, but how different is that from saying, in effect, that if the form is not acceptable, then I may ignore your content?

Are boundaries triggered? In my experience, boundaries are trespassed, or not. Boundaries are set and defended, or not. Some boundaries are firm, others are negotiable. 

My discomfort with this is that it pretends that whether the boundaries have been crossed is an objective assessment and it often isn't. Most often it comes down to: "I feel that you've crossed my boundary and therefore I'll impose restrictions and blame you for there being boundaries." Yuck.

If a group sets (and commits to defend) the boundary of, say, "no name-calling" then agreed upon consequences follow the breach. The simplest consequence being the interruption of the content, calling out "process!" and dealing with the boundary breach before moving on. And by the way, genuine apologies go a long way toward healing a boundary breach, and are the fastest way I know to return to the content of the group discussion.

I'm in full support of surfacing instances of unacceptable behavior wherever they're perceived to occur. I'd like, however, to start with making room for each party to talk about what they think happened and what it means to them, as many breaches are simply misunderstandings, rather than attempts to bully. I'd rather that the emphasis be on repairing relationship damage, rather than dogging down the passageways between air-tight compartments.

Ponte di Nona, Marino in visita al residence anziani: "Cohousing sociale sia esempio per il Paese" - RomaToday

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Ponte di Nona, Marino in visita al residence anziani: "Cohousing sociale sia esempio per il Paese"
Il primo cittadino ha fatto un giro nella giornata di ieri tra gli alloggi Erp dove si sta sperimentando anche il cohousing sociale e dove risiedono, in diversi appartamenti, numerosi anziani, circa 160. Case dotate di cucina e con anche una palestra ...

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Wastewater: Plumbing the Alternatives - The Vineyard Gazette - Martha's Vineyard News

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The Vineyard Gazette - Martha's Vineyard News

Wastewater: Plumbing the Alternatives
The Vineyard Gazette - Martha's Vineyard News
For whatever reason, composting toilets have been better received on the Vineyard, with about 50 installations, beginning in Chilmark in 1978. All 17 buildings at Island Cohousing in West Tisbury have composting toilets, which typically allow for a ...

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Le opere di Ilaria Bernardi in mostra al cohousing di via del Moro - Lucca in Diretta

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Le opere di Ilaria Bernardi in mostra al cohousing di via del Moro
Lucca in Diretta
ilaria bernardi Oltre una ventina di opere pittoriche esposte nella sede del co-housing Del Moro, nell'omonima via del centro storico di Lucca. E' il vernissage d'arte Proposte dissimili in programma venerdì (18 settembre) alle 17,30, in via del Moro ...

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Visiting the Dark Side

Laird's Blog -

Community tends to be a trusting environment that brings out the best in people… mostly. 

This is especially true at community-focused events, where attendees are getting a long, cool drink of cooperative water amidst the competitive desert of their everyday lives. Attendees often respond by becoming more casual about leaving things in common spaces and having them be there when they return—something they might never do otherwise. This is not about risk taking or tempting fate; it's about trusting the village once you sense its presence and feel a part of it. Mostly it's a good thing.

As a veteran community networker, I've been to gobs of community events over the years, something in the vicinity of 100. (This year I'll attend four, for example.) And my personal experience pretty well lines up with the generalities I've stated above. Thus, it was all the more jarring when I encountered a couple bumps in the road last week.

The Missing Cushion
Over Labor Day Weekend I attended the annual Twin Oaks Communities Conference in Louisa VA—something I've been doing for at least the last 20 years. Per usual, I ran the conference bookstore (for the Fellowship for Intentional Community) and positioned myself in the midst of the books, both to assist with book sales and so that folks who wanted a conversation with me as a community resource would know where to find me.

Since I injured my lower back last October, I've taken to traveling with a cushion so that I have back support wherever I sit, and I naturally set that up in one of the two chairs located inside the book area. It's common for me to leave a certain amount of personal stuff in the bookstore area overnight, to eliminate schlepping it around every day, and in two decades I'd never had a problem with it getting messed with.

While everything was proceeding normally (excepting for the thundershowers that drenched the conference site in hail and rain Friday afternoon), when I got to the bookstore Sunday morning I noticed right away that my cushion was missing. What could have happened? Frustrated, I looked all around the bookstore area and on nearby seats and hammocks, but to no avail. When no one brought it back during the morning, I made a public announcement at lunch about its having gone missing, but that produced no joy either. It was just gone.

While it made eminent sense why my cushion might be desirable amidst all the wooden seating, how do you just take something that doesn't belong to you and then ignore the plea of the person who needs it for support? I felt taken advantage of, and it shook my sense of trust. In the end, I never did find out what happened and I didn't recover the cushion. I don't know if it was stolen, or simply borrowed temporarily and then left in a place I never looked.

To be sure, by itself it was not that big a deal. The cushion was not a needlepoint heirloom and my back is better enough now that I don't strictly need the cushion as I did when first injured, and it had as much sentimental value as practical (as my trusty support and a memento of my life together with my ex-wife). That made it no less precious, but I also knew I would function OK without it.

Then it got worse.

The Missing Money Box
For more than 40 years I've been living in northeast Missouri, which is the headquarters of FIC. Almost always, when participating in the Twin Oaks Conference I'd drive out to VA with a carload of books and DVDs and then turn around and drive back with the unsold products and the money (cash, checks, and credit cards slips). I'd be the one unloading the car in Missouri and handing in the paperwork.

This year was more complicated because I'd moved to North Carolina in June. I made arrangements to visit northeast Missouri ahead of the conference so that I could drive out as usual, and I made the trip with someone from Dancing Rabbit, a videographer named Illly (yes, he spells it with three l's)—both so that he could shoot footage at the event in preparation for an FIC crowdfunding campaign, and so that he could drive the rental car back to Missouri afterwards while I traveled north from Virginia to conduct a facilitation training weekend outside Boston.

Though the conference continued through Labor Day Monday, Illly needed to depart late Sunday afternoon in order to get back home in time to turn in the rental car within a week, to avoid extra charges. That meant we needed to conduct a final inventory and pack everything up for the trip home expeditiously Sunday afternoon. While the weather was good, there was a lot to do and Illly was going through the routine for the first time. While his attitude was great and we worked together well, it was all on Illly's shoulders to get everything back to Missouri in good order.

When I got confirmation Tuesday that Illly had made it home safely, I breathed a bit easier. (I wasn't expecting trouble, but you never know when someone needs to drive solo long distance.) I figured at that point that conference logistics were behind me, but it turned out they were just about to bite me in the behind, which is not quite the same thing.

The day Illly had returned I got an email from Kim in the FIC Office, asking where the money and sales records were. Huh? The cash, checks, and credit cards receipts were all in a cigar box that we've been using for that purpose for years, as Kim well knew, and the sales records were in a manila file folder. I had been present when these were packed up at the conference and was sure they were in the boxes shipped back to Missouri. How could they be missing?

As you can imagine this started a series of emails with gradually escalating anxiety as no one had any idea where the cigar box and sales records had gotten to. After none of the innocent suggestions solved the mystery, dark thoughts started creeping into our collective consciousness.

Did Illly take it? Was he careless at a rest stop? Did I do something I'm not remembering? Could someone at the conference have ripped us off while Illly went to the parking lot (suddenly more thinkable following the missing cushion)? All of these thoughts were awkward and led to a sense of being violated (excepting the scenario where I had done something stupid; which was simply embarrassing).

We had never had this happen before, nor was there any solid reason to think that it had happened now—excepting that the money box was missing and had to be somewhere.

After two days of fruitless back and forth, where everyone was asking each other to rack their brains and check twice (and thrice), we were beginning to contemplate asking the event attendees to help us out in recreating what had happened. While the cash was gone, we might be able to stop payment on checks and credit card charges—about two-thirds of the total income. While this was an unsavory task, it was better than just kissing all the income goodbye.

Then the sun came out from behind the dark clouds. 

The Missing Sunshine
Three days into this misery, Kim remembered that part of what Illly brought back were some things for me, to be temporarily stored in Missouri. Perhaps the records and money box had been mixed up with those items? And that turned out to be the needed insight: the cigar box and file folder had been inadvertently covered up beneath my yoga mat. Whew! It turned out that none of those bad things had happened at all. Everyone one collectively sighed.

Part of the problem was that Illly was doing all the transporting home and he hadn't ever been through the drill of unpacking from an event. It was just so many boxes to him, and he was under some time pressure to get the car unloaded an returned to the rental company. He did his job fine, but everything didn't get placed where it could easily be sorted properly: there were books to be reshelved; unsold auction items to be stored until next year; Laird's personal stuff; Illly's video equipment, and records and money to be handed in for accounting. 

Someone once said that the veneer of civilization is only about three meals deep, and it was humbling seeing how quickly dark thoughts started surfacing when the money went missing for three days. While we were holding out hope for a happy ending, our confidence had been shaken. I think Kim summarized it well when she wrote, after the money had been found, "We can all regain our faith in humanity again :) … maybe."

Now if I could only get reunited with my cushion, I'd be able to put this unpleasantness behind me entirely.

Bullies and Boundaries

Laird's Blog -

I was recently in a conversation with a prospective client about the possibility of my working with their group about the dynamics of bullying and boundaries. As I thought about it, I figured the first challenge was defining what those two concepts mean. Here's what I came up with:

Definition of Bullying
Let me start with this online definition from a school website:

Bullying is unwanted, aggressive behavior that involves a real or perceived power imbalance. The behavior is repeated, or has the potential to be repeated, over time. Bullying includes actions such as making threats, spreading rumors, attacking someone physically or verbally, and excluding someone from a group on purpose.

In community, I'd modify this to say it's the perception that someone is purposefully communicating or behaving in a way that is uncomfortable, threatening, or disrespectful in order to put others at a disadvantage with respect to engaging on an issue. The effect of bullying behavior is often that engagement is unpleasant, tense, and ineffective. Sometimes it doesn't happen at all—because the person being "bullied" is too intimidated to even attempt it.

There is the perception that if the bully's behavior is tolerated, then the playing field has been tipped in their favor. This is seen as an abuse of power, and the bully comes across as being more interested in getting their way than in working it out with others. (If they were really interested in relationship or collaborative problem solving, they wouldn't behave that way.)

Note #1: The fact that the bully's behavior is unwanted and that this has been communicated to the bully (perhaps even repeatedly) does not necessarily mean that the bully knows another way, or that everyone experiences that behavior as bullying. Further complicating the dynamic, what is scary, aggressive, and threatening in one context, may be culturally appropriate or acceptable in another. This can be a diversity issue.

Note #2: While the most common way that bullying is understood is when a person uses forceful or threatening behaviors to get others to back down (perhaps the bully can tolerate being in a tension-filled environment better than others), the essence of this dynamic is when people use a communication style that is known to be awkward, difficult, or inaccessible to others, thereby placing the other person at a distinct disadvantage.

Thus, two people with very different communication styles can each feel bullied by the other. Because each may come across as insisting that the other person adopt their style as a pre-condition of being willing to communicate, it can lead to a stalemate with each blaming the other for the impasse.

One of the tricky aspects of bullying is that there is often an assignment of bad intent to the bully's behavior, and it is very difficult to know intent. It is not a simple matter to distinguish between an action that is deeply conditioned versus one that is calculated to cause distress.

All of that said, you do not just have to lump it if another's behavior or communication style doesn't work for you. You can still try to discuss it and explore what's possible with regard to the "bully" making efforts to move towards the comfort zone of others without becoming too uncomfortable themselves. Similarly, this can be worked from the other end as well: to what extent can those who struggle with the 'bully" learn to cope with their behavior, assuming good intent? (If you tense up in the presence of loud voices, are you willing to work on that response?)

Definition of Boundaries
In the context of a cooperative group, "boundaries" have to do with how far individuals (or the group) are willing to go to in attempting to engage with others in a good faith effort to work through issues. It comes into play when people feel they've tried enough and it's OK to disengage in integrity. You don't have to think very hard about this concept to appreciate that if boundaries are easily triggered, it leads to a lot of unresolved tension and general unhappiness. So healthy groups try to develop a culture in which there is ready support for people in tension, ostensibly so that those good faith efforts are easy to attempt and more likely to be productive.

While you can be sympathetic to the desire for boundaries (who wants to keep butting their head against the wall?), the danger is reaching for the boundary card prematurely. There is the general sense that Pontius Pilate was too quick on the trigger in writing off Jesus, and thus there is nuance about when you've tried enough and when you're simply trying to avoid something awkward while wrapping yourself in the flag of moral virtue.

While I believe that setting a boundary (giving up on the prospects for productive communication with someone) has to be an option (I've reached that point half a dozen times over the course of four decades in community and cooperative networking), the overwhelming danger is not trying too long; it's giving up too soon. The most seductive version of this is when there's a difficult individual with low social capital. Time and again I've witnessed groups embracing the story that the outlier's behavior is the problem and it's on that person to conform. Absent that, they'll be ignored.

Stretching, by definition, entails a certain amount of awkwardness, trying to figure out how far you're willing to move outside your comfort zone to find an intersection with a person you find difficult. If you're going to give up on them, you need to be able to sleep at night with having made that decision. Most people think of themselves as reasonable and compassionate. Have you lived up to your own standards with respect to adjusting how you come across in order to reach the other person? (Note: I'm not talking about trying the same thing over and over and it still not working; I'm talking about trying different things and none of them working.)

When people invoke boundaries—limiting their future engagement with people they find difficult—it makes it that much harder for the group to succeed. Communication and bridging are the lifeblood of the community and boundaries cut off the communication and block the bridges. It is an act of withdrawing the possibility of community with the person with whom you have established a boundary. It's a serious deal, and should only be taken after everything else has failed.

Too often, in my observation, people are willing to establish boundaries in retaliation for what they've experienced as disrespect (and perhaps disregard) by the other person (perhaps someone who comes across as a bully), without actually testing to see what the other person intended or checking for what they'd like their exchanges with you to be like, or are open to working on.

In effect, we're setting boundaries around unpleasantness, forgetting that it can have a profound impact on the people and relationships. If someone promised you that community living was not going to involve awkward dynamics, I have some oceanfront property in Utah that I'd like to talk to you about.

Back on Stage

Laird's Blog -

Teaching is one of the most fun things I do.

Sometimes it's spontaneous, like explaining to someone how and why to use a steel to hone kitchen knives (you'd be amazed how often that comes up). Sometimes it's a discrete package, like a 90-minute workshop on Membership (such as I just gave Sunday at the Twin Oaks Communities Conference, where I walk through a number of questions that all groups should address—or else pay the price of ambiguity).

While I enjoy both of those kinds of opportunities, nothing compares with the challenges and possibilities that are available in the context of the two-year facilitation course I've been offering since 2003. It has been almost eight months since the last training ended (in mid-January, when Ma'ikwe and I wrapped up a course in North Carolina) and that's a long time between sessions. The good news is that I'm starting a course in New England tonight (working with Alyson Ewald from Red Earth Farms).

The even better news is that I'll also be starting a course in Portland OR, Dec 3-6 (working with Ma'ikwe again), and a third in North Carolina with María Stawksy, beginning Jan 14-17. So I have a lot of fun queued up for the next two years.

One of the most important features of the course is that I get to work with the students eight times, with approximately three months between training weekends, which affords students an opportunity to practice between sessions—an essential aspect of integrating the material. (It's one thing to understand the theory underneath a practice and even to see a thing demonstrated; it's another to be able to do it yourself in the dynamic moment.)

The training is heavily focused on hands-on learning. Fully three-quarters of each weekend is devoted to preparing for, delivering, and debriefing the students facilitating live meetings for the host group. These are not role plays; they are actual meetings where real issues are being addressed and real solutions are being sought. I figure the students learn to swim faster if if they're thrown in the deep end of the pool, under the close supervision of life guards who will step in if things get overwhelming or ineffective—we don't let anyone drown.

The key aspect of this is that the trainers can redirect in the dynamic moment, where the student will learn the lesson viscerally, not just in their head.

While the primary objective of the training is teaching high-skilled facilitation in collaborative settings, it turns out that the course is also cooperative leadership training because there is so much overlap in the skill set and orientation. Both facilitators and leaders need to:

o  Be excellent listeners
o  Work unflappably, yet empathetically with chaotic energy
o  Be minimally defensive
o  Be able to sort the wheat from chaff in complex conversations
o  Be able to focus a conversation
o  Be able to articulate agreements that pull the group together
o  Be able to see and articulate bridges between different perspectives
o  Be able to patiently explain why they're doing what they're doing and where they want the group to head
o  Support others learning the skills needed to competently replace them

Thus, this training is not solely for people who aspire to run meetings. It's also for those who want to develop the capacity for healthy leadership—both so that they can fill that role themselves and so that they can support it in others.

The facilitation training program works for me personally at three levels:

a) Passing on my knowledge about how to run great meetings
This was my foremost objective when I pioneered this training a dozen years ago. In the US I see a society that is desperate for more inclusive and less divisive ways to solve problems—and it's only getting worse. Consensus and cooperative facilitation offers a promising alternative to Roberts Rules of Order and the tyranny of majority rule.

When I contemplate some the challenges ahead (climate change, chaotic economies, increasing disparities between the haves and have-nots) and take into account the need for skilled facilitation to midwife the transition from competitive to cooperative culture, I've come to the conclusion that my greatest calling as a social change agent is to train facilitators. And it's not a moment too soon.

b) Developing a larger pool of professional facilitators
As you might imagine, the skill level of people drawn to take the training varies widely. While I was concerned at first about the range being too wide (the experienced might be bored while the neophytes were overloading their circuits), that's not turned out to be a problem. The more seasoned have appreciated the chance to understand the theory better and gain nuance while helping the newbies get a solid grounding in the art of facilitation. Further, it often works well to pair the more experienced with the less experienced, letting them help each other.

At this point there about 80 people who have gone through the two-year training (which has been delivered in its entirety eight times), and out of that number there are about 8-10 who have a skill level that's professional grade or nearly so. They represent the cream, and are those most likely to put themselves forward as for-hire facilitators (which a number of them are). To be sure, mostly these folks were already pretty skilled before they took the course; I was simply polishing gems.

For the most accomplished students I offer the opportunity to accompany me as an apprentice when I'm hired as an outside facilitators (so long as it's OK with the client). While they don't get paid, they get one-on-one time with their mentor and they get professional exposure (why would someone hire a facilitator with no work resumé?). I didn't have that kind of help when I started out, and I'm committed to giving my students a leg up.

c) Developing a cadre of trainers
Finally, there is one more circle, even smaller than the last. The very best students are not only professional grade facilitators, they are good enough to be trainers, and I am committed to helping them get exposure in that capacity—mainly be having them pair with me as teachers of the training.

Thus, I will be working with three different co-trainers in the three different trainings about to start—Alyson, Ma'ikwe, and María—all of which are former students in the program.

It's incumbent on me as both a leader and a trainer to be working with purpose toward the day when I will no longer be able to do either, such that the spirit of my work, as interpreted and owned by the new people in whom it resonates, can continue after I cannot. It's part of the human dance.

Meanwhile, the lights go up on the teaching stage again tonight, and I can smell the roar of the greasepaint.

Millennials and Sustainability

Laird's Blog -

I just finished attending the annual Twin Oaks Communities Conference in Louisa VA. One of the most interesting ideas that surfaced for me was a comment made by a thirtysomething woman who reported that people in their 20s and 30s tend to be more drawn to community living for reasons of economic sanity than enhanced social engagement. That was a new perspective for me.

She suggested that it might be a generational difference, and perhaps she's right.

Certainly there's more economic upheaval than 30 years ago (when I was a thirtysomething). Millennials are seriously questioning why they should take on school debt when it's not at all clear that a degree will lead to meaningful work—or even work of any kind. I recently heard a startling statistic: three years in the future 90% of people under 35 do not expect to be working in the same place they are now. They expect chaos.

Because community offers a larger safety net, significantly reduced costs through sharing, and perhaps the promise of meaningful work (depending on the community), it makes sense that economics may be a bigger driver today in attracting millennials. That said, community economics will come in a package that will necessarily require greater social skills to navigate than a traditional job. In a community (or cooperative) business you can expect there to be as much attention given to how workers and management function together as what gets accomplished. That necessarily gets you into social territory, whether you meant to go there or not.

It is not enough to simply aspire to sustainable economics, where there's agreement that business activity should be measured against the standard of the triple bottom line (people, planet, and profit), or that work should be well aligned with values and enjoyable. If you're in for a penny (hunting better economics), then you're in for a pound (learning better communication skills, and the ability to distinguish what's best for me from what's best for the group)—because you won't secure the former without mastering the latter.

Are millennials approaching community living with better social skills than my generation did? I'm not sure. I certainly believe they're capable of learning them every bit as well as my generation did (or didn't), and in the end what does it matter in what order someone is inspired to pick up the skills needed to become more sustainable? The important thing is that they did and that they came to understand how one set of skills relates to another.

The point of entrée is significant from a marketing standpoint (maybe FIC should be emphasizing more how intentional communities provide real alternatives to the mainstream job market, rather than the authenticity of friendships forged in the crucible of community living), yet doesn't change the overall mix of what intentional communities offer, and just serves to underline how much all roads lead to home. Wherever you start, the trail will eventually bring you to all aspects, because, at its best, community living is integrated living, where we aspire to close the gap between our dreams and our everyday reality.


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