Feed aggregator

Group Works: Honor Each Person

Laird's Blog -

This entry continues a series in which I'm exploring concepts encapsulated in a set of 91 cards called Group Works, developed by Tree Bressen, Dave Pollard, and Sue Woehrlin. The deck represents "A Pattern Language for Bringing Life to Meetings and Other Gatherings."

In each blog, I'll examine a single card and what that elicits in me as a professional who works in the field of cooperative group dynamics. My intention in this series is to share what each pattern means to me. I am not suggesting a different ordering or different patterns—I will simply reflect on what the Group Works folks have put together.

The cards have been organized into nine groupings, and I'll tackle them in the order presented in the manual that accompanies the deck:

1. Intention
2. Context
3. Relationship
4. Flow
5. Creativity
6. Perspective
7. Modeling
8. Inquiry & Synthesis
9. Faith

In the Relationship segment there are 10 cards. The sixth pattern in this segment is labeled Honor Each Person. Here is the image and thumbnail text from that card: 

Respect each person's essential human dignity. View others' unique beliefs, approaches and concerns as a resource for group wisdom. Tolerate and even embrace idiosyncrasies, knowing that each person brings their gifts to the whole more fully when affirmed and appreciated.

This is a rich and subtle pattern. On the one hand, it's obvious. Who would speak against honoring each person (or in favor of purposefully dishonoring others)? 

Yet we are largely unaware of custom, of the water we swim in—unless we're swimming in someone else's pond, such as when we travel abroad. For the most part custom becomes an unnoticed backdrop that rises to our consciousness only when something is different. And the more different, the more we notice. When you take into account that most of us have been deeply conditioned in an individualistic culture, where identity is tied to the sense in which we are unique (rather than in a cooperative culture where we celebrate the ways in which we are similar), then difference tends to be strongly associated with distance. People who are different tend to become "other."

We may feel threatened by customs that are different than our own. We may feel confused. We may feel unwelcome.

Worse, styles may clash. A person who grew up in a blue collar family where mom and dad shouted and occasionally threw crockery when upset may behave in a way that feels overwhelmingly unsafe to a person whose family never raised their voice at the dinner table and only one person spoke at a time. Words and phrases that are precise and comfortable for a well-educated person may come across as unintelligible and manipulative to someone who barely finished 8th grade. Swear words are straight-talking to some; blasphemous to others.

In short, it's complicated. The trick, of course, is to focus on what's in the package, not on the wrapping.

The simple version of this is doing the work to not be triggered by the package (which includes dress, diction, skin color, emotional affect, physical disability, adornment, disfigurement, word choice, facial expressions, etc.), or at least to manage one's reactions. Yet this pattern runs deeper. It is not enough that you can parrot the words (or even the delivery); the object is to get what it feels like to be the other person; to see the dynamic through their eyes and their being. That is the deeper meaning of "honoring." It is much more than sharing the microphone.

Note the final portion of the text for this pattern: "... each person brings their gifts to the whole more fully when affirmed and appreciated."

The point here is that you will often not get what you might have gotten if you handle the opening poorly. Simply put, when people don't feel honored (or welcome) by their standards, they are far less likely to share what they have to give. If when they speak the audience stares back glassy eyed or checks their watches, it's not reasonable to expect them to pour their hearts out. 

In truly parochial settings, non-regulars can get labeled uncommunicative and surly for not sharing, yet the regulars may be altogether clueless about how unwelcoming they were. The newcomers experience no warmth or genuine interest in who they are or what they bring; the regulars experience boorish guests with off-putting habits, odd diction, and obscure reflections. It's a train wreck.

Does this mean you need to learn every culture's customs? No, but you can remember to ask a person what their customs of greeting are—rather than assume they'll be knowledgeable and comfortable with yours. 

When playing at home, the hallmark of honoring behavior is to be more curious than conforming; more accepting than judging. At an away game, it tends to work better if you watch and listen ahead of acting and speaking—the better to get a sense of local custom, before you inadvertently put your foot in something you'd rather you didn't… such as your mouth.

Vancouver's first cohousing project breaks ground - MetroNews Canada

Cohousing News from Google -

Vancouver's first cohousing project breaks ground
MetroNews Canada
A new East Van development is being lauded as friendlier, more affordable and greener than most – but don't plan on moving in if you can't stomach the idea of cooking for 31 families every so often. Vancouver's first cohousing project broke ground on ...
Developing Story: Vancouver's first cohousing complex breaks groundVancouver Courier

all 2 news articles »

The Seven-Year Stitch

Laird's Blog -

Tomorrow, Ma'ikwe and I will recommit to our marriage.

While that may not seem such a momentous occasion given that the original ceremony was April 21, 2007 (which means our marriage is older than this blog, and not exactly above-the-fold front-page news), tomorrow is the one-year anniversary of Ma'ikwe's decision to divorce me. It's also Bastille Day, the anniversary of the start of the French Revolution (325 years ago), marking the overthrow of tyranny and the French monarchy—just as Ma'ikwe was prepared to throw off the yoke of matrimony.

So it's no small thing to schedule our recommitment for July 14. Think of it as smudging the calendar. Right on the brink of dissolution, Ma'ikwe and I were carefully—over the course of the last 12 months—able to pick our way back from the edge of the falls without going over the edge and crashing on the rocks below.

It's been quite a year.

Marriage By the Numbers
Seven years ago we celebrated for four days. In the course of those four days we invoked four circles of community and enjoyed special meals with each: blood family, intentional community family, FIC family, and our spiritual family. The commitment ceremony featured four parts: past, community, who we are, and magic.

The first time we got married in the fourth month of a year ending in seven. Now we're getting re-married in the seventh month in a year ending in four. Balance. Ma'ikwe is an Enneagram Seven: the epicure and adventurer. In the seventh year of our marriage she'd had enough struggling and was ready to try something new. Yet she was also aware of the work set out for this type to mature and thrive:

Your spiritual journey is to search for right work and focused concentration. Spiritual growth will come to you when you approach life with disciplined sobriety instead of getting high on new ideas, options and plans. Like a stone skipping across a lake that sinks deeply when it comes to rest, you will do well to slow down, experience your inner depths, and focus on completion.

Freedom will exist when you accept the limitations of the present moment. Remember that envisioning something is not the same as manifesting it. True freedom comes with commitment and hard work—not from having unlimited options.

When I responded well to her decision to end the relationship (my therapist deserves a lot of credit here—I didn't know I had it in me), Ma'ikwe thought long and hard about whether to stay in the relationship longer, to see where additional work could get us. In the end though, she agreed and here we are.

Time on the Couch
Since last July, I've had 15 appointments with our therapist and couples counselor in Quincy IL (60 miles away). Sometimes Ma'ikwe and I went together; sometimes I went alone.

I've been working on my reactivity, clarifying what I want from the partnership, and delving into the murkiness of my sexual response. In turn, Ma'ikwe has been working on her tendency to withhold what she's thinking about, and to stop imagining that I'm upset with her whenever she catches me talking to myself (which I do a lot).

Recently we've been working on how to handle the situation when we both feel solid in our positions yet they don't match up. While this doesn't happen a lot (whew), it's not rare, and we've been learning how to accept occasional non-agreement without jeopardizing the partnership. The essential point is that we don't have to work through everything.

We have also been working on protecting intimate time together on a regular basis, and the primacy of consulting with one another before making major commitments. Slowly, we've been learning how to be better partners.

The Fork in the Road
It became clear to me last summer (in a way that I was loathe to face before Ma'ikwe's announcement last July 14) that I was going to have to choose between my marriage and my community, Sandhill Farm. This was not something I'd bargained for when we said "I do" seven years ago, and I had been resisting it even as Ma'ikwe was asking for more time together (after all, she had the option of moving to Sandhill; why did I have to be the one who gave up my home?).

But you only have to hit my on the head with a 2x4 once, so Ma'ikwe's divorce announcement got my attention. Facing the certainty of losing one, I was able to let go of my home and stick with the marriage—if Ma'ikwe would have me. (If she turned me down—a distinct possibility—then I still had my home of 40 years.)

I took a leave of absence from Sandhill right after Thanksgiving and have been living with Ma'ikwe since then at Moon Lodge, her house at Dancing Rabbit. While there have continued to be some things that go bump in the night (and sometimes during the day as well), we're mostly doing quite well. Well enough, in fact, for Ma'ikwe to put her seven-year itch behind her and recommit to the marriage.

Tomorrow, as we purposefully resew the threads of our commitment to one another—and begin wearing our rings again for the first time in a year—I'll be thinking of it as our Seven-Year Stitch.

Yours with Words

Laird's Blog -

Ever since working on my high school newspaper (1965-67), I've wanted to be a journalist. While that has by no means been the only thing I've wanted to be, communication has been one of my enduring passions.

Slowly, over the decades, I've succeeded.

Starting in the 80s I occasionally authored magazine articles about community living. Concurrent with that, I launched a career as a process consultant, which inexorably led to report writing—lots of report writing.

Lost in the Fun House
Then things took a jump in 1992 when I negotiated FIC becoming the publisher of Communities magazine, taking over from Charles Betterton, who had lost the resource base to keep things going. This opportunity opened three doors at once: writer, editor, publisher.

—Over the two-plus decades that FIC has been behind the wheel, I've typically authored 6-8 magazine articles annually. Given that the road to effective writing is pretty much the same one that Lily Tomlin points out as the way you get to Carnegie Hall—practice—this steady work has been enormously beneficial in the development of my craft.

—Having apprenticed at my father's knee as a snob about words and their proper usage, I've also worked the other side of the aisle: editing. Even as far back as the early '90s, a network compatriot wryly gifted me a red pen for my birthday, because, after receiving my mark-ups of his draft white paper, he knew I must go through them faster than a garlic eater consumes breath mints.

—Rarest of all is the chance to be a publisher. While the circulation of Communities has never been above 1600, in our own small way we are a market-maker when it comes to grammar, spelling, and the meaning of words. We get to be ruthless in stamping out the cutesy disease of interior capitalization ("CoHousing" and "EcoVillage" make me want to vomit), expurgating unneeded hyphens ("e-mail," "by-laws," and "non-profit" are so '90s), and arbitrating a non-sexist solution to the need for a third person singular pronoun when gender is unknown (we prefer "they," making the plural do double duty in the same way that we ask "you" to be of service as the singular and plural second person pronoun).

I just eat that stuff up!

Throughout the last decade of the 20th Century and the opening stanza of the 21st, I gradually accreted an increasing number of communication offerings onto my workshop menu. Today my offerings include Conflict, Facilitation, Power Dynamics, Consensus (which comes in two flavors), and Humor (think of it as spumoni).

Blogging a Dead Horse
Then, in 2007, I dipped my toe into the blogosphere. Seven years and 770 entries later, I'm still at it. While I encountered an existential hiccup a few years back—wondering if I'd run out of fresh ideas and fall prey to reheating leftovers—I've been able to put that particular devil behind me. 

I've discovered that all I have to do is pay attention to what's happening around me! Life is never dull for an itinerant community networker who is domiciled in a thriving ecovillage (note the clean spelling), and there is always a new foal or filly gamboling about in the landscape of my life, offering itself up as inspiration for my next blog (think of it as the virtual equivalent of My Friend Flicka). There's really no reason to be anxious about slipping into a morbid fascination with describing dead horses.

Communities as a Pathway to Community

Even though publishing our quarterly magazine steadily loses money (we've finished in the black only twice in 22 years), it's something that FIC holds dear and we're doing everything in our power to keep it in print. The magazine was first launched in 1972, and has established itself as the source for information and inspiration about community living and cooperative culture.

We cover the Intentional Communities Movement in its full breadth: from cohousing to ecovillages; from ashrams to student co-ops; from group houses to agricultural communes.

At its best, Communities chronicles both the triumphs and the heartaches of cooperative living. We take you behind the scenes to examine what challenges people are encountering, and what solutions they are discovering in their day-to-day experiences of living together. 

Cooperative living is messy business and we try to cover it all. We don't sugar coat it, and we let authors disagree about the lessons to be learned. Our editorial mission is not to promulgate a party line; it's to make the lines shorter for getting into the party. If there's one thing we've learned from living in community, it's that we're all in this together and we're only able to do our best work when we listen to everyone's piece of the truth.

How You Can Help
This is where you come in. Nothing would make a more immediate impact on our bottom line than new subscribers. If you do not currently have a subscription, please consider clicking here and signing up. If you are a current subscriber, thank you!—and please consider giving a gift subscription to a friend or loved one. 

The timing couldn't be better! We've recently overhauled our website to offer content either as paper or plastic digital, and all back issues as either available as in-print copies or as digital downloads. We're also offering a completely revised collection of the Best of Communities on 15 different themes, where we've gathered together 15-20 of the best articles we've published on a topic (including Good Meetings; Leadership, Power, and Membership; Elders in Community; Challenges and Lessons of Community; and Cohousing) and created dynamite packets of 55-65 pages each. Buy one or buy them all.

For the truly inspired, we offer a complete back issue set—all 161 of them—for the bargain price of $500.

For those especially moved by what Communities has meant to you and will continue to mean in our collective effort to manifest a more cooperative future, I invite you to consider making an earmarked tax-deductible donation in support of magazine operations. It all counts.

Your support today will help keep our cooperative flame burning brightly—and all of us cooperative authors in print (and off the street).

How This Residential Care Home Bumped Employee Engagement Into Overdrive - Triple Pundit

Cohousing News from Google -

Triple Pundit

How This Residential Care Home Bumped Employee Engagement Into Overdrive
Triple Pundit
Her experience includes work with small-scale solar energy installations and utility-scale wind farms. She earned an MBA in sustainable management from the Presidio Graduate School and she resides in Belfast Cohousing & Ecovillage in Midcoast Maine ...

Google News

Profits at Home

Laird's Blog -

Have you ever noticed how people start to appear wiser the further they get from home? You may laugh, but this is a dynamic of biblical proportions. Matthew 13:57 says: … but Jesus said unto them, "A prophet is not without honor, save in his own country, and in his own house."

It's enough to make you want to take a road trip.

In this day of upward spiraling travel costs (we really are running out of oil), it seems prudent to contemplate the future for consultants. Being one, I think about it. After 27 years of going to my clients (or to events where I can showcase my wares in workshops), I am pioneering a webinar series that will offer a half dozen of my most commonly requested workshops, plus a seventh Q&A session styled Stump the Chumps, where Ma'ikwe and I try to hit whatever cooperative process curve balls people toss our way. While being connected via video and audio is not the same thing as being in the same room, it starts to approximate it, and no one has to travel. I figure my future will definitely include more of this.

[While the webinar series was scheduled to start July 2, we aborted when the software (GlobalMeet) started spontaneously malfunctioning 20 minutes into the presentation—gremlins started arbitrarily muting the speaker and unmuting the audience. The whole series has now been moved back one week and will begin July 9, and will run every Wednesday through Aug 20. It will be live 2-4 pm Central time, and will be available as a downloadable recording to anyone who signs up. This Wed we'll be switching to Adobe Connect to frustrate the gremlins. So if you missed our opening (comedy) act last Wed, the boat has still not left the pier.]

Webinars aside, I've been aware for a long time that there's been little interest in my skills within my zip code. Yes, I've facilitated my share of meetings at both Sandhill Farm and Dancing Rabbit, but I'm almost never asked to facilitate conflicts, which is probably the number one thing I'm known for on a continental level. (On a state level, I've only been hired to facilitate five times outside of 63563 in 27 years, yet four of those were to teach about or to facilitate a live conflict.)

Of course, at Sandhill—which is a very small community, usually around six adults—it was nearly impossible for me to be sufficiently neutral (or perceived to be sufficiently neutral) to be acceptable as a conflict facilitator. But it's more than that. My community hasn't even been interested in learning my theory of working with conflict.

I recently witnessed someone in tears over his frustration at how little interest there had been among his fellow community members in taking advantage of his offer to help people be more financially successful (this guy works only 15 hours a week and generates enough surplus to make annual donations north of $20,000, so he's demonstrably good at being financially generative). While I felt his anguish, it's no longer acute for me. I'm a good bit further down that road and my disappointment is more of a dull ache because I've grown accustomed to it—and because I get plenty of work in different time zones, which satisfies my primal desire to be helpful. I've adjusted my expectations and no longer look for people to seek my talents at home.

I'm also seeing another shift. Now that I've moved over to Dancing Rabbit (to live with Ma'ikwe) I'm not centrally involved in community dynamics and people are more open to me as a result. At my new community I'm highly selective about what community issues I insert myself into, and I'm not seeking influence as I did while living at Sandhill. Oddly enough, two people at Dancing Rabbit have approached me in the last half year to be a mentor for them. This is something I very much enjoy doing yet have done precious little of my first 39 years of community living (excepting twice I served as adjunct faculty for Prescott College, guiding—by email and phone—students doing independent studies on intentional community). Having let go, the opportunities have come to me, which I experience as something of a cosmic joke (which is better, I think, than a cosmic tragedy).

While part of this may be about me (can you ever rule that out completely?), I think part of what's going on is a generic avoidance of the schizophrenic dynamic where two people are simultaneously in a peer-peer relationship (by virtue of being fellow community members) and in a teacher-student relationship. It can be awkward to navigate the shifting power gradient, and some would rather avoid it all together, accepting the price of foregoing whatever might be learned (either from the teacher, or from juggling the roles).

When the teacher comes from outside—especially from way outside— all of that awkwardness can be neatly sidestepped. The consultant goes away Monday morning. At Sandhill, I think I'm more valued for my tomatillo salsa, my skill at wildcrafting morels, and my knowledge of how to file the community's tax returns, than for my ability to be sure-footed when navigating complex community dynamics.

While it remains to be seen how my opportunities to be an honorable prophet (much less a profitable one) may diminish as gas prices soar, for now I'm savoring that I still have work all around the continent—which may be extended by my nascent career as a webinar presenter (and indefatigable blogger).

It's a quirky world out there, and every now and then you need to stop and make sure you're still heading in the direction you intended.

Would you ever live in a cohousing community? - Frederick News Post (subscription)

Cohousing News from Google -

Would you ever live in a cohousing community?
Frederick News Post (subscription)
Would you ever live in a cohousing community? Total Votes: 0. Yes 0 0%: No 0 0%: Not sure 0 0%. Loading… Rules of Conduct. 1 Keep it Clean. Please avoid obscene, vulgar, lewd, racist or sexually-oriented language. 2 Don't Threaten or Abuse. Threats of ...

and more »

Sharing Circles and Square Pegs

Laird's Blog -

I attended a workshop recently on The Circle Way, based on the 2010 book of that title by and Ann Linnea. The workshop leaders were very promotional of groups using the Circle format to do deeper, more connected work. While I agreed with much of what they offered, their pitch reminded me of Shaklee distributors touting the universal benefits of Basic H (the miracle cleaning concentrate of the '70s) and I have the same reservations about sharing circles as I did about Basic H: although the Circle is a fine format some of the time, it isn't the best choice all of the time.

As someone who has lived in intentional community for 40 years and worked as a group process consultant for two-thirds of that time, I've been to an untold number of meetings, read gobs of books about group dynamics, and witnessed many different formats. Ever since workable models of secular consensus were first evolved to meet the emerging needs of the East Coast anti-nuclear groups of the '70s (thank you, Movement for a New Society) there has been an explosion of work done to develop cooperative processes—abandoning the arcane and susceptible-to-back-room-manipulation world of parliamentary procedure (think of all the murky and morally questionable process shenanigans that accompanied the passage of the 13th Amendment abolishing slavery in 1865, as showcased brilliantly in the award winning 2012 Spielberg film, Lincoln).

Here are some trends that I can distill from the broad sweep of my immersion in cooperative dynamics the last four decades:

o  The hunger for cooperative culture (in contrast with adversarial, competitive culture) is very wide and growing. (If anything, mainstream dynamics are getting increasing shrill, uncivil, and dissatisfying.)

o  Having the intent to be cooperative is insufficient to consistently produce cooperative behavior—especially when people disagree and the stakes are high.

o  The essential difference in cooperative group dynamics is that participants have to engage productively on the energetic plane as well as the rational plane. Among other things, this means that how something gets done matters as much as what gets done. On a practical level, this means that good meetings are ones where all participants feel that their input is welcomed, heard, and respectfully treated without their needing to change personalities, or to check their passion at the door.
o  While energy work can be significantly supported by the thoughtful choice of formats, there is no single format that works best (or even well) all of the time. If, as a carpenter, you fall in love with your hammer and neglect your other tools, pretty soon everything starts looking like a nail.

Circling Back
Let's return now to Circles as a format option. Mostly I'm aware of these being used in cooperative groups as a change of pace when it's more important to focus on energy than problem solving. An example would be a Grieving Circle when a dear one departs the group (perhaps by moving away or by dying). It could also be a celebration, as in a marriage, an anniversary, or an Appreciation Circle on the eve of someone's departure. In each of these instances, there is no problem to solve; the Circle is called so that people can share their hearts and deepen their connections.

Another common use of the Circle format is when doing a check-in (and it's twin sister, the check-out). While participants may or may not actually be arrayed in a circle, the concept is that everyone will get a chance to speak in turn, one at a time, saying briefly how they're doing and perhaps naming something on their mind that they'd like to set aside to attend to the purpose of the meeting. The point is to be better connected with everyone, and to allow a graceful opportunity for everyone to energetically arrive in the room before any heavy lifting is attempted.

Circles are also employed to get at the feelings connected with a topic prior to engaging in problem solving. The concept here is to clear the air of significant distress prior to discussing what action the group wants to take—mainly to eliminate or at least diminish the distortion and brittleness that typically accompany upset or reactivity. Groups that engage directly with "what to do" and skip this clearing step (either because they are unaware of the distress or because they lack confidence in handling it well) generally suffer difficult and exhausting meetings. With the idea of streamlining the process, they inadvertently wind up getting bogged down, or suffer relationship damage that takes longer to repair than the time they thought they were saving by not attending to the initial upset. Ugh.

While there are certainly more applications of the Circle, that's sufficient to lay out common uses among cooperative group that mainly operate through open discussion.

At this point I want to introduce what Baldwin & Linnea label the Components of the Circle. In their words this is an overview of what they advocate:

The Circle, or council, is an ancient form of meeting that has gathered juman beings into respectful converation for thousands of years. The Circle has served as the foundation for many cultures.

What transforms a meeting into a circle is the willingness of people to shift from informal socializing or opinionated discussion into a receptive attitude of thoughtful speaking and deep listening and to embody and practice the structures outlined here.

Intention shapes the Circle and determines who will come, how long the Circle will meet, and what kinds of outcomes are to be expected. The caller of the Circle spends time articulating intention and invitation.

Welcome or Start-point
Once people have gathered, it is helpful for the host, or a volunteer, to begin the Circle with a gesture that shifts people's attention from social space to council space. This gesture of welcome may be a moment of silence, reading a poem, or listening to a song—whatever invites centering.

Establishing the Center
The center of a Circle is like the hub of a wheel: all energies pass through it, and it holds the rim together. To help people remember how the hub helps the group, the center of a Circle usually holds objects that represent the intention of the Circle. Any symbol that fits this purpose or adds beauty will serve: flowers, a bowl or basket, a candle.

Check-in helps people into a frame of mind for council and reminds everyone of their commitment to the expressed invitation. It insures that people are truly present. Verbal sharing, especially a brief story, weaves the interpersonal net.

Check-in usually starts with a volunteer and proceeds around the Circle. If an individual is not ready to speak, the turn is passed and another opportunity is offered after others have spoken. Sometimes people place individual objects in the center as a way of signifying their presence and relationship to the intention.

Setting Circle Agreements
The use of agreements allows all members to have a free and profound exchange, to respect a diversity of views, and to share responsibility for the well-being and direction of the group. Agreements often used include:
—We will hold stories or personal material in confidentiality.
—We listen to each other with compassion and curiosity.
—We ask for what we need and offer what we can.
—We agree to employ a group guardian to watch our need, timing, and energy. We agree to pause at a signal, and to call for that signal when we feel the need to pause.

Three Principles
The Circle is an all leader group.

1. Leadership rotates among all Circle members.

2. Responsibility is shared for the quality of experience.

3. People place ultimate reliance on inspiration (or spirit), rather than on any personal agenda.

Three Practices
1. To speak with intention: noting what has relevance to the conversation in the moment.

2. To listen with attention: respectful of he learning process for all members of the group.

3. To tend the well-being of the Circle: remaining aware of the impact of our contributions.

Forms of Council
The Circle commonly uses three forms of council: talking piece, conversation, and reflection.

Talking Piece Council is often used as part of check-in, check-out, and whenever there is a desire to slow down the conversation, collect all voices and contributions, and be able to speak without interruption.

Conversation Council is often used when reaction, interaction, and an interjection of new ideas, thoughts, and opinions are needed.

Reflection or Silent Council gives each member time and space to reflect on what is occurring or needs to occur in the course of a meeting. Silence may be called so that each person can consider the role or impact they are having on the group, to help the group realign with its intention, or to sit with a question until there is clarity.

The single most important tool for aiding self-governance and bringing the Circle back to intention is the role of guardian. To provide a guardian, one Circle member at a time volunteers to watch and safeguard group energy and to observe the group's process.

The guardian usually employs a gentle noisemaker, such as a chime, bell, or rattle, that signals everyone to stop action, take a breath, and rest in a space of silence. Then the guardian makes this signal again and speaks to why s/he called a pause. Any member may call for a pause.

Check-out and Farewell
At the close of a Circle meeting, it is important to allow a few minutes for each person to comment on what they learned, or what stays in their heart and mind as they leave. 

Closing the Circle by checking out provides a formal end to the meeting, a chance for members to reflect on what has transpired, and to pick up objects if they have placed something in the center. 

As people shift from council space to social space or private time, they release each other from the intensity of attention being in Circle requires. Often after check-out the host, guardian, or a volunteer will offer a few inspirational words of farewell, or signal a few seconds of silence before the Circle is released.
• • •Baldwin & Linnea are going well beyond suggesting that Circles be used as an occasional seasoning in cooperative meetings; they're boldly advocating that groups consider using Circles as their main mode of conducting business—that the Circle is robust enough to handle whatever comes along, and probably do it better. What's more, there are a number of groups that have accepted that invitation. 

With due respect to the ancient traditions which anthropologists inform us are the roots of Circle meetings—and which therefore testify to the vitality and resilience of that form—I want to raise questions about how far to take Circles in today's context.

Laird's Laager
I'm going to start by making some observations of contemporary Western culture, that provide a context for my recommendations regarding Circles.

1. In the sweep of human history, it's doubtful that human society has ever been more toward the "I" end of the I-we spectrum than we are today. I'm referring to how people tend to think first about how a thing impacts them as an individual, rather than how it affects the group, or the collective. There are even social and economic theories that the group is best taken care of when it's ignored and people only think and act on what's best for them.

While I think you can make the case that people are increasingly aware of the moral bankruptcy and unsustainable consequences of this approach (given how it supports gross inequality in the distribution of wealth and access to resources, and therefore widespread misery), the idea of the supremacy of the individual is not going to go away quietly.

That said, the steady rise in interest in intentional communities is testament to the appeal of purposefully trying to move back toward the "we" end of the spectrum—not to embrace the complete subjugation of the individual to the tribe, but rather to find more equilibrium.

2. Cultures that antedate post-Word War II overwhelmingly tended to be highly structured, which permitted far less latitude than we enjoy today regarding where you lived, class, sexual orientation, spiritual identification, choice of spouse, and even employment options. While there was a stronger sense of "we," it was packaged within hide-bound tradition, top-down hierarchy, and a level of xenophobia and parochialism that very few people today find appealing, or even acceptable. 

In short, we want a greater sense of connection, safety, belonging, and home, yet are unwilling to give up much individual freedom to get it. This is a challenge. A lot of us literally know who we are because we have views that differentiate us from others. Because deferring to others can be equated with loss of identity, many of us have learned at an early age that it's more important to focus on differences more than on similarities.

3. We are ritual starved. Though traditional cultures tended to offer much more ritual, in the name of religious freedom and separation of church and state people today tend to feel malnourished relying solely on Christmas trees, Fourth of July fireworks, Valentine's Day roses, and chocolate Easter eggs to connect with Spirit. While organized religion still provides an avenue for that, many are seeking to fill that void in other ways—and are not necessarily being successful in the attempt.

So here are my thoughts about the ways in which Circles are powerful, and the ways in which they are limited in their application:

o  In honoring the Circle's ancient roots, Baldwin & Linnea, they are offering a ritual-laden version with a set sequence, and defined roles that are purposefully rotated among group members. While I think the ritual will have resonance for many (addressing my third point above), some will chafe at the heavy attention to an arbitrary structure, losing sight of the prize: connection.

To illustrate my point, one of the workshop leaders (in the role of Host) took a moment to chide the other (in the role of Guardian) when that person chimed three times to indicate a shift in the process, instead of twice—even though attendees had not been told a thing about the significance of the number of chimes. You don't have to step back very far before you realize the ridiculousness of focusing attention on the number of chimes (a la the number of angels that can dance on the head of a pin), when you are principally trying, in a workshop, to introduce the concepts of ritual and tone. That was an excellent illustration of how substance can be lost in attention to form.

Thus, while I think the purposeful introduction of ritual to cooperative meetings has merit, don't get hung up on the exact form it takes. Make it be your group's form—and don't take yourselves too seriously.

o  Along similar lines, you don't need to employ all of the roles outlined by Baldwin & Linnea above, nor do you need the roles to be strictly rotated among the membership. Better, in my experience, is to encourage roles to be filled as widely as possible, yet allowing members to opt out if any particular role is too uncomfortable for them.

While I'm in favor of helping people get over their anxiety about trying on unfamiliar roles and making the opportunity available to everyone, I'm not in favor of twisting arms or applying peer pressure to enforce rotations. I just tends to traumatize the reluctant and result in the group being poorly served. Yuck.

o  Not everyone is going to find Circle work appealing. Perhaps because they're uncomfortable with the unfamiliar; perhaps because the ritual overlay is too evocative of the unpleasant childhood church experience (from which they're still recovering); perhaps because the pace is maddening slow (not matching their metabolism or Latin style of expression and engagement); perhaps because it's too woo woo for hard-boiled pragmatists.

While the workshop leaders assured us that the initially skeptical will come around in time—and I buy that that will be true for some—I doubt it will be true for all. In fact, I'm confident in predicting that a good portion of initial skeptics will not come back to give it a chance to grow on them. You'll just lose them. Some pegs are simply too square to find affinity with the Circle.

o  Circle process will tend to work better among the soft-spoken (because there is protected air time), among those who take longer to process what they think and be ready to articulate what they want to share (the deliberate pace helps with that), among those more comfortable sharing at the heart level (as distinct from the head level), and among those who tend to be overwhelmed by strong feelings, especially anger and rage (because of the deliberate, reflective pace, and the emphasis on honoring requests for a pause whenever anyone wants one). 

In pointing out these tendencies, I'm not trying to favor the soft-spoken over the loud-spoken, the slow over the quick, the emotive over the rational, or the passionately expressive over the subdued. I'm only making the case that in searching for a truly level playing field, Circle ain't it, and it's naive to think otherwise.

o  If you're part of a group that uses Circle as its main way of conducting business and you're happy with what you have, by all means keep doing it. I'm a big fan of doing whatever works. If you're thinking about moving in that direction, I advise that you to consider my reservations and see if you think they have substance in the dynamics of your group.

o  Personally, I like preserving Circle as a contrast from the main way of doing business, partly because you can then be more judicious about employing it only when it's the right fit for the need (which I believe are the times when aligning energy is more important than making progress on resolving an issue), and because you'll maximize the boost you'll get from the Hawthorne Effect, the temporary uptick in enthusiasm you'll experience simply because you're doing something different.

While I don't think Circle is the one ring to rule them all, and I don't know if the Circle will be unbroken, I think it fully deserves an honored place in the pantheon of format options for cooperative groups.

Retiring with roommates: The merits of shared living as you age - Yahoo Canada Finance - Insight (blog)

Cohousing News from Google -

Retiring with roommates: The merits of shared living as you age
Yahoo Canada Finance - Insight (blog)
In Barrie, members of CARP's senior housing committee as well as local builders and community members joined forces with Solterra Co-Housing Ltd. for a new form of housing. In a nutshell, it works like this: four to six people are tenants in common ...


Subscribe to The Cohousing Association aggregator