Professor Jem Bendell

Notes from a strategist & educator on social & organisational change, now focused on #DeepAdaptation

Gathering in groups as society falls apart – by Vicki Robin

Posted by jembendell on November 8, 2019

VR.SMILE_.JIM-1x1-350x350A guest blog by Vicki Robin, best-selling co-author of Your Money or Your Life, author of Blessing the Hands That Feed Us, and member of the Deep Adaptation Forum.

“Everyone wants community. Unfortunately, it involves other people.” I used that line in lectures on frugal living when talking of the loneliness of consumerism and the benefits of sharing resources. We idealize the good old days of people helping people out. But can we live them, given who we have become?

Individualism is one of the many privileges of ‘the privileged’ in Western society. We have options and choices about where we live, with whom, of what genders, ages or races, whether we are child-free or have a brood, what we eat, what we believe, jobs we’ll accept, and on and on and on. As people look at civilizational breakdown in detail, though, they realize that to survive, other people might not be optional – joining a group, a farm, a small town might be necessary.

Survival is not a solo sport. If it happens, it will happen in community – intentional, multi-generational family, accidental – where we can share the work, grow food, trade, defend ourselves, socialize, learn, teach, repair. Civilization, it turns out, has a lot of services built in that will need to be maintained as long as possible or created anew… or done without.

How do we, who are so accustomed to individualism, enter into a new reality of living in concert with others? Not as a condiment but as a necessity. Not through idealistic eyes but as a sober process of surrendering attachment to the ego’s demands and entering a state of belonging to a people and a place.

I’ve lived in several communities and learned many lessons, surprising ones and hard ones. Here are some ideas for those of you contemplating moving to an existing rural community or forming your own, given your perspective of deep adaptation.

In short…People. Power. Process. Projects. And sex. These will arise in any group that bands together for mutual aid. Best to talk about this – early and often.

aerial view of rice fields with houses

Photo by Tom Fisk on Pexels.com

Diversity of perspectives bring depth and wisdom to choices

I lived for a number of years with a team of ten people who had a series of shared goals in a larger context of service to others. I used to describe it as a cross between a monastery and the crew of the Starship Enterprise.

We developed many rituals and lots of mottos (and plenty of shadow). One motto was: “People before Projects and Projects before People’s ‘stuff’.” In other words, our relationships were primary. If our projects turned our relationships into merely team functions and we failed to remember our humanity and care, we would stop and reset. But if our projects were stalled because people indulged in public reactivity (fighting, pouting, gossiping, rejection, etc), we would ask them to work it through within or with one another.

We also developed rituals and simple tools for staying current. At least once a week we’d ‘circle up’ for heart sharing, which is very much like council or a talking stick circle. We’d share dinner daily, a time to catch up. For many groups even this much time together is noxious, but if you are in surviving-together-mode, the need for coordination increases. We also had a bulletin board and a notebook in a central place for messages. These days you’d have a Facebook group – though consider that we may be back to 20th century tools in the future.

Proximity will surely stimulate sexual energies and interests. Sticking in monogamous couples or singles dating responsibly is often the safest, but it’s good to acknowledge that people may well develop powerful feelings for their not-mates. Unacknowledged sexual attractions are wrecking balls for communities. Good communication channels and practices can at least provide ways to process these often-destructive disturbances.

Who makes decisions, and how, can be unexamined and therefore slip towards unequal, sometimes unconscious, power-over. Some conscious groups try to reverse the privilege scale by having women and people of colour speak first and white men later. In council we talk about “be lean of expression” and to not speak again until everyone has spoken once – just two of the rules that help all feel heard and all contributions get made.

In my team we explored a number of personal development paths to become more conscious of ourselves and group dynamics. When we found the Enneagram, we realized that among the ten of us we embodied all nine of the personality-types it describes. The Enneagram is just one language to describe diversity of personalities. The Meyers Briggs framework sorts people out in a similar way along dimensions of introvert/ extrovert, thinking/ feeling, intuitive/ concrete, process oriented/ completion oriented. Organisations often use this tool to help workers get along with impossible others.

We chose to regard our archetypal personalities (or perspectives) as assets to our harmonious functioning and wise decision making. Faced with a choice, we’d have each person reflect briefly on the pros and cons and from this we would most often, with little discussion, hit on a choice with a “ring of rightness”. It wasn’t consensus per se. Sometimes there would be one perspective that captured all of us as right. Sometimes we’d scrap the whole thing. Sometimes we’d see that the idea was good but not ripe. Sometimes we defaulted to the “theory of the strong opinion” – that if one person was passionate and no one objected, they could act with support.

As individuals we often see others as competitors, allies for our cause, or irrelevant to our goals.

For communities with shared goals, such a diversity of perspectives in a container of love and respect is crucial. The goal could be anything from keeping the streets clean and the gardens tended to building a water wheel to generate power, to evolving spiritually while avoiding the cultic tendencies of all groups.

A diversity of talents held in a container of common purpose

Community survival is not the same as survival skills like fire building or hunting. Communities need a range of skills. Gardening, cooking, raising animals for food, fiber and fertility, foraging, turning dandelions (and beets and apples etc) into alcohol, natural building, natural medicine, composting waste, food preservation… and on and on. However, it also needs talents like mediators, meeting facilitators, priests or shamans of all sorts (for confession, for learning from mistakes, for healing from pain, for solace, and on and on), comedians, actors, artists, group game leaders, meditation (and other transformational) teachers, wise-elder leaders, and on and on…

People accustomed to ample space, time and independence will need to have gotten a grip on themselves, their reactivity, their shadow elements, their capacity for forgiveness and apology, and their ability to take a wider view of any circumstance. They will need true sobriety, not just from addictive substances but from any immaturity.

As you gather in a group, intentionally or improvisationally, beware that your current friend network or Facebook group may lack some crucial talents. Liking one another – when you all have separate lives – is no basis for joining forces to move together in anticipation of collapse. A talent inventory can help. If major talents are missing, people need to (joyfully hopefully) step up to learning. The quality of leadership is crucial as all this gets sorted out. Everyone can be a leader in being self-aware and in service to the group. Some are comfortable with holding and distributing power for the sake of the group. But leadership isn’t the same as wielding power.

How to join a village

As people realize how dependent cities are on the surrounding rural communities for food, environmental refugees might migrate. First, one or two early adopters. Then more. And more. You can’t just show up in town expecting open arms and hot meals. Rural communities stick together and take care of their own because that’s how they survive. Trust is earned. Your city ways (how you talk, the assumptions you make, your habits, your expertise) may strike folks as arrogant. You need to do things that people who belong do: show up for the small tasks of daily life, like volunteering in schools, churches, social service agencies. You go to the pancake breakfast and the fish fry. You usher at the local theatre. Or try out for a part. Or join the community choir.

Everything about deeply adapting to an unfolding collapse of modern society will grind away at your preferences and identities. If you think you might be one of the people who moves to a small town or onto a farm with a group of people here are some ways through which you can prepare yourself:

Starting to learn and practice Non-Violent Communication, or any process that teaches you to own your feelings, observing your projections, taming your demand that others change so you might continue to be comfortable, or manipulate and lie.

Joining a board or work on a project team to observe how you function in groups, how you judge others, how you offer your ideas, whether you talk a lot and over-talk others or hang back, your fears of being seen or looking stupid or doing more than your fair share.

Starting to learn some facilitation skills, like council, or active listening (“this is what I heard you say”), or organizing open space (where groups self-organize into interest groups) or consensus.

Starting to learn some coaching skills, how to ask questions and offer practices to others as they find their way. For example, friends and I developed a circle practice called Conversation Cafes that is now used globally.

Beginning or deepening a meditation practice that allows you to witness rather than identify with your thoughts, and to let go of stress, tightness and defensiveness though simply watching your breathing and tracking your thoughts and feelings without interacting with them.

Consider getting some therapy so you experience the beneficial effect of being listened to with warm awareness by someone who sides with you, not your inner critic.

These are suggestions for while the good times are still rolling. When the pressure is on and individuals find themselves in groups for survival – in collective households, in villages, on food lines, in camps – those who are mentally healthy, self-aware and skilled at working with others will be necessary for success. Frictions will arise. The skill is to work with them as they do. These are lessons from voluntary affiliations that can help us as we work to stay alive and keep our people well. To help, Diana Leafe Christian has written a wonderful book, Creating a Life Together, full of deep wisdom and practical advice. Much wisdom from the Eco-Village experiments worldwide has been captured in this excellent book by Karen Litfin, EcoVillages: Lessons for Sustainable Communities.

A final note…

Sh*t happens. As Robert Burnes said, “The best laid schemes o’ mice an’ men, Gang aft a-gley:” People fall out of love. People have kids, need to move on, are banished, sink through quarrelling. At the end of the day, maturity is the bottom line. And humility. And good will.

 

Over to you:

Thank you Vicki, for fascinating reflections on this important issue, which is live for me and many people I speak to.  Have you got experience or advice for living in intentional communities? Please consider sharing this in the Community Action discussion group of the Deep Adaptation Forum. If you want to find or create a group on Deep Adaptation in your local area, start here


The Deep Adaptation Forum would welcome any financial support you can offer via patreon.com.

16 Responses to “Gathering in groups as society falls apart – by Vicki Robin”

  1. Reblogged this on The Most Revolutionary Act and commented:
    How do we, who are so accustomed to individualism, enter into a new reality of living in concert with others? Not as a condiment but as a necessity. Not through idealistic eyes but as a sober process of surrendering attachment to the ego’s demands and entering a state of belonging to a people and a place.

  2. Sha'Tara said

    All those rules, oh my, I can already tell that such a style of living would never work for me. I could never surrender that much of who I am to any group dictatorship… um, dynamic. This approach rivals the surveillance state IMO. And before anyone says don’t judge until you try, I was raised out in the boonies of northern Alberta, Canada, on a homestead carved out of the cottonwood and quaking aspen forest. Our community comprised about 20 families. That was 60 years ago and not much has changed today except for a paved main road and some street lighting.
    The conditions for real interdependent community living require dire needs that can come only if/when society as we know it collapses. Even then, as we see in dying cities across the USA, few successful communities arise. Earthians are fiercely individualistic. Can citified people regain a sense of interdependent tribalism? That takes a long time to develop, and it doesn’t happen on the way down within a collapse, but on the way back up.

  3. […] via Gathering in groups as society falls apart – by Vicki Robin « Professor Jem Bendell […]

  4. Sounds intriguing…but there needs to be some likemindedness for compatability. These experiments last in the short, but longterm it can be very difficult to keep it cult free and where everyone has a voice without coercion or power over. Especially sex, class, race, sexual orientation and religious differences.

    Getting past biases can be very very difficult. I am still having a difficult time adjusting to living rurally and the monochromatic nature of this area.

  5. Michael Baker said

    Having co formed and lived in community for over 33 years and now a representative of Findhorn but currently living in Andalucia, I am in total accord with the ideas and ideals of community. There are definitely ways to make it work with guiding principles that each group can bring into being in a harmonious way. If anyone contacts me please be aware I’m 85 and a bit slow.

  6. Marc Wilson said

    Having lived most of my life with people beyond my immediate family, I see so many things you have put forward as reality in my experience. AND it is hard. I have not found LONG TERM living together with the same people, but have kept at least some as long term close friends and still value living with others for ecological and personal challenge reasons. I wonder (reference Sha’Tara’s comment) how we can create urgency now. Certainly for MANY PEOPLE in the world IT IS urgent/necessary NOW, without the likemindedness FeistyAmazon proposes. Why do many of us not accept that as our reality now? Live as if your life depended on living in community? Perhaps I can realize that my individual life has no meaning without living as though it was seven generations in the future. And perhaps live as though I am the one who is going to keep the community functioning. A lot of internal work, but something worth doing so we can figure it out going forward, I think. It really is necessary now!

  7. […] Gathering in groups as society falls apart – by Vicki Robin […]

  8. Nikki said

    Seems to me this sort of lifestyle would require a level of maturity and social skills most people simply don’t possess.

  9. I just recorded this and created a “Vicki Robin” playlist on Soundcloud, with several other excellent posts of hers. Connie and I are staying at her house for a month, caring for her cat, Bella, so it seemed a good time to honor her by making this and the other posts available in audio form, for those who enjoy listening to their Deep Adaptation “scripture” 🙂 See my “Jem Bendell” and “Post-Doom Soul Nourishment” playlists, too. Lots of great stuff there!
    VICKI ROBIN: https://soundcloud.com/michael-dowd-grace-limits/sets/vicki-robin

  10. Jayzane said

    Wow. I’ve thought of these things so much and even experienced tiny bits along the way. But the idea that someone is actually practicing this in a community!? Fantastic. I want to know where! I want to apply! Or help start something like this. I’ve seen so many “communities” fail, usually because of conflict that people avoid like the plague. And yes yes we are so used to our precious individuality!

    Seriously, where can I find this?

    • matslats said

      See ecovillage.org and ic.org for directories of intentional communities. Those lists are far from exhaustive, but they at least show you some open communities where you can start your journey.

  11. Jayzane said

    This articulated so much of what I’ve experienced, longed for and struggled to find! Thank you! Especially regarding our individuality and how attached we are to it in this society. And power differentials – can be subtle and devastating. People want things to be somehow “easy” but it just never is. Takes time to make it work.

    Sign me up! I want to do this more than anything.

    Seriously, is there really a place where this is happening??

  12. […] necessary coexistence without all our comforts and crutches and entitlement. Published originally here on November 8, […]

  13. This article is timely with insightful, practical information regarding what will be needed in our small groups as society decomposes. My only wish would be for you to increase the point size of the font. Thanks you.

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