Diana Leafe Christian’s book
Creating a Life Together lays out in painstaking detail the process to create an
Intentional Community. She is unapologetic about airing the dirty laundry of the 90% of Intentional Communities that
have failed, because these are the lessons that must be learned if the next generation of communities is to succeed. “This”, says Patch Adams in the book’s preface, “is the work
for political activists who want to live their solutions.” If we want to change the world, we need to Be the Change, and create the model that others can look at and say “See, it
works! There is a better way to live!”.
Diana’s book is address to founders, and assumes that someone will be ‘in charge’ of the community. And while the book carefully lays out the principles of consensus governance, it warns that such governance isn’t right for every community, and unless done properly ‘structural conflict’ can be the community’s undoing.
Here’s the process outlined in the book, in a nutshell:
One interesting exercise in the book has each member identify “things, situations and systems that must be or must not be present” in order for them to go forward as a member of the community — a brilliant and innovative process to level-set and clarify expectations. Another exercise has each member use red dots on a large easel to define minimum acceptable and ideal standards and values for the community on matters as diverse as what foods will be raised and eaten, the use of automobiles in the community, and moral and aesthetic standards. The exercise quickly shows where there is, and is not, consensus, and which members are going to be uncomfortable with the group’s consensus.
There’s an interesting discussion on privacy. It turns out most people’s initial concerns about not having enough privacy in an Intentional Community is unwarranted. “It’s much easier to get solitude in the midst of community than to get community in the midst of solitude”, notes Tom Moench, a member of one community. When people opt out, it’s more likely to be over personality incompatibilities, unmet or changed expectations, or financial, power or principle disputes — the same problems that cause many marriages to fail.
Just as in marriage, however, moral issues, differences and lifestyles are a big issue. In the 1960s, a lot of communes collapsed because of differences over monogomy vs. polyamory philosophy, over the acceptability of nudity and public displays of affection (especially in front of children), and over ‘it takes a village to raise a child’ issues of responsibility for others in the community. The book presupposes the continued existence of monogamous relationships and personal property, and there are many Intentional Communities for which these are critical, contentious issues.
But on the whole this is a thorough, brave and valuable handbook for creating Intentional Communities.