Monday, September 15, 2014

Outcome-based Expectations

Most intentional communities expect members to contribute in non-monetary ways to the development and well-being of the group. While there are all manner of questions to address in setting this up fairly and sensitively (see my blog Working with Work for an outline of the key questions), today I want to drill down on what happens if you define expectations in terms of output or accomplishments rather than hours.

The impulse to go this way comes from the realization that all hours are not equal. Everyone is not interchangeably proficient at the same tasks; everyone doesn't lean into the work with the same enthusiasm; and everyone has a different idea of what a 10-minute break is (or how frequently it's OK to take them). Thus, there can be considerable variance in how much productive work people accomplish in the same unit of time, and basing expectations on outcomes is an attempt to get around that. ("Take as much time mopping the kitchen floor as you like; just do a thorough job.")

The downside of this approach is the difficulty in equalizing baseline contributions—which is demonstrably one of the goals in setting participation standards. For all their faults and crudeness, hours is a uniformly understood concept and easy to equalize. Thus, the concept that every member is expected to contribute 10 hours per month is straight forward to grasp; yet it's awkward establishing how many snow shovelings of the front walk equate to balancing the community's checkbook, or how many deep cleans of the common house kitchen amount to the same contribution as convening the committee that oversees common house operations.

Embedded in this rat's nest are a number of questions:
o  Does all work count equally (even assuming equal proficiency)?
o  How do you determine task equivalents excepting by comparing the amount of time it takes to accomplish them competently (which gets you right back to hours)?
o  Even if you were able to parcel out jobs equally (which I'm questioning), how will you take into account that people are not equally thorough in how they clean a floor (never mind how fast they are)?

For all these reasons groups tend to find it simpler to go with expectations based on hours. I'm not saying it's perfect; I'm saying it's simple and a reasonable approximation.

That said, I am in favor of laying out what's needed to do a job well. Thus, "cleaning the kitchen floor" can be delineated to mean:

Every Sunday morning:
—remove all containers and furniture from the kitchen, dusting and cleaning surfaces as you go.
—sweep the floor.
—wet mop the entire floor.
—empty all recycling and trash containers, cleaning the containers if needed.
—on the first Sunday of each month, hand scrub the floor instead of wet mopping.

While there will still be differences in the degree to which people scrape up blobs of waxy residue that resist coming off with scrubbing, spelling out expectations will definitely reduce the range of how differently people perform a task.

In deciding how to set up a standard of work expectations, it behooves groups to think through what they're trying to accomplish. In addition to the work itself (getting the kitchen floor cleaned), there may be the desire to:

o  Create a sense of unity among members (we're all in this together—in part, because we all contribute a baseline amount of volunteer labor to the group).

o  See that labor expectations are fair, adjusted for capacity and life circumstances.

o  Promote camaraderie among members through working together (thus cleaning the kitchen as part of a team is seen as superior to encouraging cleaners to do it alone at 2 am). 

o  Teach members new skills, which suggests that people be given work assignments partly based on desire, and not solely on credentials or proven competency, It may also suggest term limits on how long one person can retain a popular assignment. 

There is also a subtler value here: by encouraging members to try many things it creates more familiarity with the full range of tasks being done. In turn, this promotes sympathy and understanding with what others are doing, helping to reduce tensions related to martyr and slacker dynamics.

• • •
The point of illuminating the richness of things that groups hope to accomplish through members' non-monetary contributions is to give a sense of how much nuance is involved. When you digest that, I wouldn't worry too much about measuring expectations in terms of hours. While outcomes may be a truer measure of what's wanted, they're a booger to quantify and at the end of the day what's most important is that there's good energy—not how efficiently someone cleaned the kitchen floor, or that everyone did exactly the same amount on the groups' behalf.

Friday, September 12, 2014

Money, Sex, and Power in Community

I recently had an email exchange with a friend who wrote about a presentation he gave entitled, "Money, Sex and Power.” He had this to say about it:

It dealt with "happiness" via the question of whether or not one's basics needs for money, sex, and power are being met or not. And how that is foundational for developing the elements of higher consciousness: compassion, creativity, collaboration, insight, spiritual growth, etc. [My friend’s point was that people will seldom focus on those other things unless basic needs are met first.] A favorite phrase of mine is: "I've never seen anyone reach enlightenment while being chased by a pack of hungry wolves (or hungry bankers)!"

Thus, if you want to know how happy the members of any particular group are, you might first ask how well their community handles money, sex, and power as a practical matter.

When I reflect on what I know about how communities relate to money, sex, and power, it seems to me the patterns play out distinctively for each need, and it's instructive to examine them one at a time.

First though, I want to offer an overarching caveat. How members of intentional communities are faring with respect to money, sex, and power is not causally related to whether the community wades into these topics, and good answers on the individual level may not be matched by good answers on the group level. So don't conflate the two. That said, they can be related, so let's look at what intentional communities do, and how that impacts the odds of their members being happy.

Money
In community, many people (especially those whose lives are grounded in the community and don’t work outside) are largely divorced from the day-to-day world of money. They may have already established a secure lifestyle through savings or passive income, or may have considerable access to community resources and that’s good enough. Their security is based on relationship more than money in the bank and they feel “rich.” To be clear, this does not negate my friend’s point, but it shows that money needs can be satisfied without a lot of attention to money, or, in some cases, without a lot of money.

All of that said, the majority of non-income-sharing groups (which 88-90% of intentional communities are) do not tackle the issue of members' needs for money excepting in the limited sense of what it takes from each member to cover common elements (debt load, road improvements, common facilities, capital replacement fund, etc.). That is, it's up to each household to figure out how to make enough money, and the community doesn't attempt to address it. 

It can even be worse than that. Some communities have a policy of not hiring members to provide services for the community—even when the need and the money are both present—to avoid the potential awkwardness of one member serving as another's employer.

While I think there is a lot good that can come from a community viewing itself as an economic engine and partnering with members to create flow, the other side of this coin is that most members who join non-income-sharing communities are not expecting the community to provide help with income generation, so it's not as if communities are failing to deliver on a promise.

Sex
Very few groups take this on. The overwhelming majority of communities consider this a private matter among consenting adults and that the group has no stake in sexual dynamics (outside of upholding group values around nonviolence and prohibiting illegal activities). This can get tricky when member choices lead to relationship tensions that don't resolve well (because the group is demonstrably affected by what's happening yet has no license to step in), yet it's rare for a group to create a forum to discuss what's happening.

To be sure, there have been some notable exceptions over the years—groups that expressly did take an active role in examining and promoting sexual development (and experimentation) among members—yet they stand out all the more for being exceptions rather than the rule. Here are half a dozen that did so for at least a part of their history, some contemporary; some historical:
—Kerista (who coined the term polyfidelity)
—Ganas
—Zendik
—Oneida (the 19th Century community in upstate New York that advocated for free love and practiced “stirpiculture,” a form of eugenics)
—Shakers (who were celibate)
—ZEGG (a German community which inspired the Network for a New Culture in the US)

While I agree that sex is a universal drive, that drive is not uniformly compelling for everyone. Intentional community can be a great place to find a partner if you're aligned with the group's values and it's important that your partner is as well. Otherwise, community living tends to be a house of mirrors, where things you were hoping to keep private don't tend to stay that way. 

On the plus side, it is often possible in community to weather a break-up without either party moving away. There tends to be enough no-fault support for both players, and enough psychic space to heal. This can be especially helpful when there are kids involved—yet this is more about damage control than getting one's sexual needs met.

In general, I'd say that most intentional communities want their members to be sexually satisfied, yet decline to play any significant role in helping to make that happen.

Power
Whether communities are comfortable with it or not, all group dynamics are exercises in the use of power, by which I mean how one member influences another. (If you question this, when was the last time you were in a meeting where no one had any influence over anyone else?) The question is not so much whether people are exercising power, as it is about how they're exercising power: is it power over (for the benefit of a subset at the expense of others) or power with (for the benefit of all)?

Amazingly, despite the universality of its presence, most groups do not openly discuss it, or have a clear understanding of how to handle the situation where there's the perception that power has been used poorly. While I can sympathize with this not being easy, it doesn't get better for being ignored and it can be a large plus if the group can find the gumption and facility to address tensions related to power as they emerge.

However,  I'm using power in a different way than my friend. He was talking, I think, about having a sense of personal power—not so much the ability to influence what others do as the ability to steer one's own ship—of being able to control one's own destiny. 

I think community can help with that because individuals are likely to get more support for what they want in a community of like-valued people, where it's the norm for members to help each other. (It may be true, as John Donne avers, that no person is an island, yet we are nonetheless each distinct and life tends to be more enjoyable if you live in an archipelago, rather than off by yourself, surrounded by nothing but water in all directions. Community offers connectivity, and ameliorates isolation.) 

At the same time, it's only fair to look at how this can go the other way. In community, lives are intertwined to the point where there's greater potential for others to monkey wrench what you'd like to do, and this can be highly frustrating.

On the whole, if community members are mainly using power cleanly then you'll tend to like the results and feel happier. The reverse obtains if members often use power in service to personal agendas not broadly shared in the group. 

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Putting a Lid on It

Colloquially, advising some to "put a lid on it" translates into a request to shut up, or shut down. Well, yesterday that's exactly what I did.

In this case, I was shutting up Sandhill's new 12,000 gallon cistern, which involved pouring 4.75 cubic yards of concrete. The trickiest part was getting the forming right over a rectangular hole that was approximately 8'x25', so that the concrete went where we wanted it—and stayed there while it cured. As that amount of wet concrete weighs something north of a ton, you don't even want to think about the mess we'd have had if the forms had failed and the concrete slumped into the cistern. "Dismay"is not even in the same solar system as the emotional response that would have ensued. Although I had configured the shoring entirely with wood—something I was doing for the first time—everything held and the pour went smoothly (if you don't count Sandhill's pet kitten who mistakenly thought it would be clever to jump onto the wet concrete, and who realized immediately that something was very wrong).

Afterwards, the driver of the concrete truck (Dennis) admitted that he was worried about the forming holding up to the task. As there is no end of the amateurs buying ready-mix for backyard projects, you have to assume that drivers see just about everything, and Dennis had been delivering concrete for at least a decade. When he complimented us on the stoutness of our forming, I knew it was because he was not originally confident that we knew what we were doing. And so, in turn, I complimented him on keeping that opinion to himself until we were done. Whew.

While there is still be a good bit of work left before we can start capturing rain from the roof, the hard parts are now done and that was the bulk of my assignment. In the days ahead I'll oversee the wiring and the installation of the submersible pump, and advise on how to handle the overflow and the best way to connect the guttering to the cistern intake, yet these oddments are relatively straight forward and it feels good to have honored my commitment to build Sandhill a cistern—something I promised to do when I left the community last Thanksgiving.

Noticing how sore my back is today I'm wondering how much it makes sense to undertake this kind of work for anyone in the future. While it's never been easy for me to accept physical limitations—especially for things I used to be able to handle in stride—it's all the harder when I feel my knowledge about how to do things and my understanding of good technique have never been greater. Nonetheless, it may be time for me to put on lid on heavy construction. Sigh. 

Maybe in the future I can be the guy who rescues the mischievous kittens and redirects the ill-disciplined dogs. Kind of like a New Age Walmart greeter.

Saturday, September 6, 2014

Show for Shirt and Shine

As a consultant I float a lot of bread on the water.

Every year I attend community events and offer workshops without compensation so that people can get a taste of what I know, and how I deliver it. Sometimes this leads to paid work directly (within 12 months); sometimes the seeds are slow germinating and the fruit doesn’t ripen for years (last year, for example, I worked for a group that I first interested in 2003—it was a long wait); sometimes nothing happens.

I was doing a version of that at the Twin Oaks Communities Conference last weekend, when I moderated a panel on Radical Sharing Platforms, conducted a discussion exploring Community Businesses (their challenges and opportunities), and led an introductory workshop on Consensus & Facilitation.

Following the weekend I spent three days in Floyd VA visiting my dear friend Annie. While there, I was approached by a nearby forming community who got excited about how I might be able to assist their formation based on the taste a couple members had gotten at the Twin Oaks event. Thus, on Thursday (while Annie worked for a neighbor) I was whisked away for three hours with the new group: a quick one-hour tour of the built facilities and the new construction in progress, followed by a two-hour power lunch with nine folks, none of whom had ever lived in community before. Happily, they were an eager audience, the conversation was fast paced, and I had a lot of fun.

I knew going in that this was a pro bono demonstration of what I might be able to offer as a consultant, and it’s too early to tell if any seeds I sowed with this group will sprout or not. In the restaurant business, they’d call what I did a “show,” where would-be customers are given a look at servings of what’s on the menu to see if it’s ample enough and mouthwatering enough to order. (For some reason this request is particularly common at barbecue joints.)

After two hours of fielding rapid-fire questions about foundational structure and community agreements (we ran out of time, not questions) people were in a pretty good mood. As a thank you, my host offered me a t-shirt with the community logo on it, which I gracefully accepted (I can always use a new t-shirt). While I’ve collected quite a few of those from clients over the years (as well as bill caps), I enjoy getting them. Then it got better.

Among the nine gathered for lunch was a neighbor who was somewhere north of 60—yet sharp, spry, and entrepreneurial. We'd had some productive exchanges and I'd enjoyed the repartee. As we were getting up from the table she asked me to keep a lookout on her behalf for a new husband. I double clutched for half a second to make sure she was serious (she was), and then promptly promised to keep my eyes open. While that request is much rarer than the offer of a t-shirt, it’s not the first time I’ve been asked to provide yenta services on the side, nor do I expect it to be the last.

When I related the story to Annie and Carla (a mutual friend who arrived at Annie’s for an overnight just as I returned from my “show”), they both wanted to know if the woman was indirectly inquiring about my availability to play stallion. While flattering on some level, I quickly quashed that idea. I’ve got all the woman I can handle back in Missouri.

Then it got more interesting still (so to speak).

In our final minutes together we somehow wandered into a light-hearted conversation about local culture, and before I knew it someone had gone into the kitchen and returned with mason jar of clear, local moonshine—which the husband-seeking widow was happy to sample straight from the jar (at one in the afternoon, mind you) offering me an on-the-spot testament as to its authenticity and potency—after which the remainder was pressed upon me as a token of their appreciation for the day.


This exchange immediately evoked for me the 2008 novel by Matt Bondurant, The Wettest County in the World, which describes (with poetic license) the wild bootlegging days of his forefathers in Franklin County VA (which is quite close to where this exchange took place). And I naively thought this activity had largely evaporated in the first half of the 20th Century. Ha ha.

There was definitely something different about this group, and they’d finally hit upon something I’d never been offered or requested before. While there’s no knowing where this might lead, one thing is certain: we took a shine to each other and I can’t wait to see what happens next.

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Brownie Returns!

Like a lot of kids, I had a favorite stuffed animal when I was young: a small brown dog I called Brownie. Unlike most kids, I didn't get Brownie until I was a teen. At an age when most have grown out of attachment to stuffed animals, I grew into it.

While I don't recall why I wanted a stuffed animal going into junior high, there it is and I became very attached to my little buddy. Not only did I have him next to my pillow all through my remaining years at home, but he was my faithful companion as I:
o  Attended four years at Carelton College (1967-71).
o  Went to Washington for my two-year stint as a junior bureaucrat at the US Dept of Transportation (1971-73).
o  Traveled across country in a motor home for seven months while Annie, Dave Oser, Margaret Loud, and I explored America, a la Charles Kuralt (1973-74).
o  Pioneered Sandhill Farm (1974 onward).

All of that said, somewhere in the mid-80s I lost him. I know Brownie was still a regular occupant of my bed when Ceilee was born (1981) and Annie and I have a picture of them sleeping together in his toddler years. But I changed bedrooms a few times in the 1985-95 era (it's a semi-pro sport in income-sharing communities) and somewhere along the line Brownie got put in a box for "safe keeping" and never resurfaced. Ugh. 

Though I had lost touch with Brownie, the memories remained. When I was in high school, some careless friends were visiting my house one day and decided it would be clever to stuff Brownie into the corner pocket of the pool table in our rec room. When they pulled him out as a surprise, they tore his shoulder. The subsequent suturing was not up to hospital standards and he's been slowly leaking stuffing ever since.

He came factory equipped with a squeaker in one ear (a feature I never enjoyed; I prefer my stuffed animals to be soft all over and mute—unless I'm talking directly to them), and Annie performed a squeakerectomy sometime in the early '70s. Though the operation was a complete success, he retains a worn spot on his ear where the squeaker rubbed the fur off.

For a couple years in the late '90s (1996-98) I dated a yoga instructor who also had stuffed animals: Alex McGee (while I don't think Brown Bear and Gray Bear were a major factor in our getting together, it didn't hurt). When we broke up, the two aspects of our time together that endured the longest were my yoga practice (Alex got me going) and Brown Bear (who came to me in the "divorce").

While Brown Bear (BB) has become well integrated into my life (though he rarely does road trips, he's a steady fixture in my bed), I've made sure over the years that Brown Bear does not suffer the same fate of as the wandering Brownie. This has been made easier in that my wife, Ma'ikwe, came as a package deal with Rufus, a stuffed gray sea lion of approximately the same size and temperament as BB. They hang out together a lot, and we have a stuffed animal friendly bed. In fact, on many mornings we also have one of our Maine Coon cats join us, either Kyre or Galileo. It can be a real menagerie.

The Prodigal Brownie Appears
Last month I made the momentous decision to leave Sandhill (my community home of 40 years) and move in with Ma'ikwe at Moon Lodge, our house at Dancing Rabbit. That meant clearing out all my stuff from Sandhill. Ugh.

Last week, while unpacking one of the myriads boxes pressed into service to facilitate the move, lo and behold I discovered Brownie. Holy shit! Where had he been the last 30 years? I couldn't even imagine how he'd gotten into the box (which was loaded with an array of miscellany from my room) without my knowing it—that crafty old dog.

It happened that this joyous reunion occurred while I was alone (Ma'ikwe, who had never even met Brownie, was in Chicago delivering Jibran to college) so all I did was place Brownie (lovingly) atop the headboard of our marriage bed, where he could get a little fresh air (finally) and survey the whole scene without getting tangled up with Rufus or BB (much less Kyre or Leo). 

Ma'ikwe and I only overlapped a couple days before it was time for me to head East for FIC meetings and the Twin Oaks Communities Conference, and it slipped my mind to tell her about my discovery. In fact, up until a few days ago I hadn't shared this news with anyone. However, once I arrived at Annie's it all came out. You should have seen Annie's jaw drop when I told her that Brownie had resurfaced—it was a resurrection of biblical proportions and she was gobsmacked.

When I skyped my wife yesterday I remembered to tell her about the discovery and Ma'ikwe promptly went into the bedroom and brought the little darlin' out for show and tell. Annie was overjoyed to see the rascal. We still need to give some healing attention to his old shoulder injury, but there will be plenty of opportunity for that this winter. No more time in the penalty box for Brownie!

• • •
As I think about it, it's turned out to be a great fortnight for connections:
—Visiting with dear friend Ella Peregrine in Louisville en route to VA. She's been struggling with Myalgic Enchephalitis the last seven years and it's precious to be with her, even for half a day.—Taking Jenny Upton out to dinner, celebrating all her selfless years of service to FIC.
—Having a power breakfast last Friday with Peter Lazar, who's reviving a cohousing project in the Charlottesville area (on property near Crozet).
—Working the Community Bookstore table at the TO Conference with Elke Lerman, an ex-partner (1986-89) and good friend who is also the mother of my daughter, Jo.
—Catching up with Scott Williams, who used to be part of FIC's Membership Committee back around 2001. He came to the Twin Oaks because he needed to be in the area to help settle his aging mother in a nursing home. He's living happily in Tucson now, and I hadn't seen him in a dozen years.
—Seeing Jake Kawatzki, a long-time member Twin Oaker, who had visited Sandhill any number of times over the decades. He attended the conference and I hadn't seen him since he'd moved to Savannah seven years ago.
—Visiting with Annie for three days before returning home. We share a son (Ceilee) and she's one of my closest friends—going all the way back to Brownie!
—Talking with Ceilee yesterday. He's life has been in turmoil the last 20 months and I had not spoken with him for more than three months. Yikes! It was great to hear his voice and reestablish the primacy of our caring for each other. 

All of that and now I have Brownie, too, the first stuffed love of my life. Life is good.

Sunday, August 31, 2014

The Business of Community Business

This weekend I'm at the annual Twin Oaks Communities Conference—something I've participated in for the last 20 years or so. It's a regular stop on my calendar.

I get to do some workshops, see old friends, sell books for Community Bookstore, help pull off a benefit auction for FIC (we made over $1300!), and have innumerable conversations with people seeking more community in their life. It's a lot of fun.

The best part (so far) has been pioneering a new workshop on Community Business. For the last few years I've been collaborating with my friend, Terry O'Keefe (Asheville NC), to figure out ways to help intentional communities have more robust economic activity, and we wanted to test the waters for interest in that focus.

Although our late afternoon Saturday workshop was not advertised in the conference program (we announced it for the first and only time at the opening circle Saturday morning), we drew about 20 folks and had a lively conversation throughout. It turned out that Terry and I were not the only ones with attention on economic sustainability. Hurray!

While it's too early to tell if that workshop interest can be translated into a business model (consulting with cooperative groups about how to be more business savvy), but it was an encouraging sign.

Here's are some of the questions that attendees were interested in:

o  When does it make more sense for the community to own a business, and when does it make more sense for individual members to own it?

It depends on whether it's an income-sharing community or not, what structure gives you the best chance of manifesting the management energy needed to operate the business, and how much you want the business to generate jobs for members.

o  What advantages might communities have in the marketplace?

—Often communities develop expertise in an area to meet their own needs, and that learning can have immediate commercial application (in ways that home-scale experiences often don't).

—Community members member tend to have above-average social skills (think customer service) and are happy to work part-time if they can work at home with flexible hours.

—Communities often control land or have commonly held buildings that are underutilized.

o  How tricky is it to navigate the dynamic where members are both peer-peer and employer-employee?

The hardest part may be when the employer gives the employee critical feedback about their performance as an employee—and these two are otherwise neighbors. This can be dicey, and a lot will depend on how well the culture of the community supports the expression of feedback.

o  How can we encourage non-income-sharing communities to develop their potential as an economic engine?

There are at least two parts to this: a) what can communities do to foster and support business development among entrepreneurial members; and b) what can groups do to help new businesses create jobs for non-entrepreneurial members?

o  To what extent is a focus on business development just buying into the (failed) paradigm of growth solves everything, and to what extent is it possible to use traditional business tools to support alternative economies?

While I think you can dial down demand (and live happily on less), it nonetheless makes sense to be smart about analyzing prospects for new business ideas with tried and true traditional queries (what's the market for your product or service?; what's the competition?; what do you do better than anyone else?; what do you love doing?; can you produce or deliver this product or service at a price people are willing to pay?; how is your business an expression of who you want to be in the world?)

o  How do handle the tension between the non-entrepreneurial (who tend to be risk averse) and the entrepreneurial (who tend to be risk tolerant)?

You had this tension already, whether you have community businesses or not. This is just another application of it. It's a better strategy to learn to deal with the breadth of attitudes among your members than attempt to eliminate opportunities for those differences to manifest.

• • •
Now all Terry and I have to do is sift through all the dialog and figure out how to offer services that help groups navigate this gauntlet of economic challenges. While I don't yet know what that looks like, I'm looking forward to it (which is a typical entrepreneurial response).

Thursday, August 28, 2014

231 Bottles of Beer on the Wall

Last evening Marty Klaif, Diana Malsky, Harvey Baker and I took Jenny Upton and Dan Questenberry out to dinner.

Among other things all of us have served, at one time or another, on FIC's Oversight Committee (the subgroup that steers the ship between Board meetings) and our "official" excuse for last night's dinner was recognizing that Jenny had recently retired from active duty with the Fellowship. We figured she'd appreciate dinner (and a bottle of Washington State chardonnay) with friends more than a commemorative bowl or a wall plaque.

Dan & Jenny and Marty & Diana live at Shannon Farm in Afton VA. Harvey and I drove there Tuesday for two days of Oversight meetings with Marty (we three continue to be actively involved with FIC while Dan, Diana, and Jenny have gone on to other things)  Even though it was a Wed night (not exactly the high point in a restauranteur's week), we had to wait for a table at the new seafood place in nearby Nellysford, and thus dinner stretched into a three-hour affair. 

While awaiting delivery of our hors d'oeuvres we calculated that among the six of us veterans we had a cumulative 231 years of community living under our belts—with another six getting tacked on every time we sing Auld Lang Syne. That's a lot of meetings. One of the very best aspects of community living is that you do it with others, and last night was a time to celebrate long standing connections in all directions across the table.

Ankle Boots and Raincoats
While the conversation was free-ranging, the one constant all evening was easy laughter. Which I suppose is as good a marker as any for what it takes to thrive in community. If you can't occasionally step back and be amused by the absurdity of some of the dynamics we encounter in the nutrient-rich environment of community, things can get pretty exhausting. If you take everything seriously, you're at risk of spending every day ankle deep in bile and embroilment, growing ulcers on the side.

How bad can it be? Earlier in the week the FIC office received this communication from a correspondent who was unhappy with my being firm about not permitting hate speech and anti-gay statements on our website:

The fake, truth and God-hating Laird Schaub deleted my account because of fraudulent emails that he sent. He is a member of the gay mafia and wants to legalize child molestation.
 

Then he created fake accounts on ic.org to make fun of me. With so called Christian Jews self identifying as khazars. If Laird Schaub is a real person, which I seriously doubt, he is a very sick person. Whoever is using that alias is a spineless, ballless coward; an absolute vermin of the nth degree.
 

When The Lord's vengeance is poured out upon him justice will be served.

Can you feel the love? I'm telling you, being in the community business is not dull. In the case of FIC correspondence, the forecast every day is the same: cloudy with a chance of nutballs.

The moment at our dinner table last night that brought us closest to tears (of laughter) was when we came to agreement about the necessity of having a fine-tuned bullshit detector when wading through community dynamics—and ankle boots and a raincoat help, too (so you don't have to wash your hair or change pants so often). Be sure to get yourself some.

Now that it's the morning after, I'm glad we didn't try something sophomoric last night, like toasting every year we've known each other. We have another day of meetings today and hangovers do not associate well with quality thinking. At least we had enough oversight last night to not make that mistake.