Tuesday, February 14, 2006

Thoughts on Community

Last weekend I had a wonderful experience of Community. It was the second workshop in Tree Bressen's intensive facilitator training series. We went to a cohousing community in Northern California to learn about the consensus decision making process and to support the community members in talking about an issue of their choosing.

I enjoyed myself so much because I really resonate with the sensibilities of facilitating and cohousing: inclusion, supporting everyone to speak their truth, deep listening, bringing the whole person to the table--especially including our emotional and intuitive selves, and trusting the wisdom of the group. After spending four and a half days with people who are committed to these principles I feel really blessed and "fed." My faith in humanity is restored.

It also made me realize that I have been focusing most of my attention in this blog on the "hard" side of community building--the information we need to know to prepare for a low energy future and the infrastructures that will support this. But there is another, equally important aspect to community building, and that is the web of relationships.

The cohousing community chose the topic of "participation," which is one of the ongoing dialectical tensions in every community. How much is enough contribution to the maintenance of the community? What are the ways of participating? Is everyone able to balance their community and family experiences? What about resentment when people don't appear to "pull their weight?" What about the burden of guilt and obligation when life circumstances preclude participation?

We started out by asking them to consider the question: "what kinds of participation make up the fabric of this community for you?" Then they spoke in turn around the circle. One theme that emerged was the importance of the informal kinds of interactions--the spontaneous meetings, parties, child-care swappings, etc. The formal kinds of interactions--community dinners, meetings, landscaping, committees, etc. weren't necessarily where the action was.

Another outcome was that people shared more about what was going on with them around their participation. This had the effect of helping those that had resentments or judgments that others weren't pulling their weight empathize with them. It helped people let go of their judgments. When we listen and really receive another's point of view we find our own point of view broadens. We are able to include and hold more. The complexity of life shows up instead of black/white, right/wrong categories.

The group realized that the root of the problem wasn't really about participation after all. What it was really about was "connection." It was a thrilling moment when that distinction came forward. I was honored to be a part of the team that was supporting the group to do this deep work.

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