Monday, March 24, 2008

What’s Up with Laird?

During Sandhill’s annual retreat (which ran for five days last week), we do planning for the growing season ahead, approve the budget, and generally take stock of where we are as a group. Thursday we did a session on Feedback at Sandhill: how are we doing it now, and how do we want to be doing it?

Like a lot of groups, one of our trickiest dynamics is how to keep the channels of communication open when someone is upset. Our group is small (just six adults at the moment), and it wasn't too difficult to spotlight our most challenging pattern: we have two members who are generally willing to wade into volatile emotions, and four who are conflict averse and tend to get paralyzed when feelings escalate. Realistically, what are our options when one of the two who doesn't mind the heat gets triggered by the other? Unfortunately, this is the most common choreography for tension in our group, and while we all now have a better map of the forest, that doesn't mean there's an easy path through the trees.

In general, I think having a clear group understanding of a difficult dynamic does enhance the chances for future progress—because then it's possible in a stormy sea for even one person to name the known pattern and have the group latch onto that as a life preserver, pulling itself out of high water. We'll see how well that serves us in the months ahead.

• • •
The other feedback dynamic we discussed is a pattern involving me: the phenomenon of visitors who ask members, “What’s up with Laird?” There is an appreciable fraction of the people who come through our cmty who don't understand how I fit into the group, and some of them ask about it. This is a complex dynamic with a lot of factors, yet it's tender to me as someone who devotes his life to building cmty, yet is perceived by some to be unavailable for relationship.

Here are the factors:
o I am away from home about half the time. I travel both as the main administrator of FIC (attending a variety of mtgs and events focused on cmty) and as a process consultant. I love this work and it's good income for my cmty, yet it's obviously difficult for someone to get to know me when I'm not there.

o On top of that, my wife lives in Albuquerque and I'm highly motivated to spend time with her. Sometimes she comes to Missouri, but mostly I've gone to New Mexico. That means even more time away. (Fortuitously, that's about to change: Ma'ikwe intends to move to nearby Dancing Rabbit this summer, and there's a world of difference between having your partner live a 45-minute walk away or a 45-minute talk away.)

o A lot of my work at Sandhill relates to my networking and consulting work, which rarely overlaps with what others do. While they're interested and supportive, it's work I do alone.

o In addition, my Sandhill homesteading work tends to be stuff that others don't want to do. While it wouldn't have to be that way (no one has asked me to do this), I figure I'm most useful to the group work scene contributing in this way.

o I tend to work long hours and I tend to work quickly, both of which tend to be uncomfortable for others and reinforces my working alone.

o It is relatively common for people at Sandhill to report that their plates are full to overflowing and there are frequent calls for help with tasks. I try to respect this dynamic by looking for opportunities to help others while rarely asking for help with my tasks (I don't want to contribute to the sense of overload, I am OK with my own workload, and I don't mind working alone).

o My diurnal cycle doesn't match up that well with others'. While it's rare for others to work into the evening, I do regularly. Thus, while others tend to be socializing, I'm often at a computer keyboard crafting one more letter or report—or even composing a blog entry!

o I don't hang out much. That is, most people at Sandhill enjoy sitting around and casually connecting around the edges of the day, but that's not my style. I do it some, but not nearly as much as others. This kind of informal social intercourse is an important part of most member's relationships, and I don't tend to join in.

[To be clear, I value relationships by never missing mtgs, never spacing out in mtgs, periodically inquiring about how others are doing, and making it my highest priority to be present for direct communication whenever someone asks for my attention. I prefer to build relationships through focused conversations more than through casual ones.]

Beyond all this, my personality is off-putting to some. While most Sandhill members encourage visitors who ask "What’s up with Laird?" to ask Laird (a good response), at least some of the time the questioner replies that they’re too intimidated to make the attempt. Yikes!

When I asked last Thursday what other members understood that to mean, I got this smorgasbord of responses:
—I’m too busy
—I move too fast
—I miss evening meals more than others (and don't tend to linger when I do eat with everyone)
—I’m too intense
—I’m always on my way to something that seems important and it’s daunting to interrupt

While I don’t necessarily buy the “too” part, there’s truth in all of these perceptions. I'm different, and sometimes it's too difficult for others to attempt bridging the gap. I'm sad about this. It's awkward for the cmty, and I'm inadvertently contributing to low-level dissonance in the social flow of everyday life. Implied is that I'm missing out on some level of relationship that others are available (and even eager) for. That's not good.

At the same time, I like my life.
I have lots of meaningful and rich relationships (most of which are not at Sandhill), plus I'm comfortable with my pace and workload and am not asking others to match me there (though I am asking others to accept me there). It turns out that living with me is a diversity issue—which feels a little weird, but here we are.

What to do?
Though I remain at peace with my personality and my lifestyle, I want to move more toward the group, to reduce the tensions encapsulated in the query, "What's up with Laird?"

I'll be looking for ways I can work more frequently with others, and trying to attend a higher percentage of meals. I've also asked other members to tell me the next time a visitor has posed the magic question and then reported an unwillingness to approach me directly. Once I know about it I can take responsibility for initiating a conversation. Scary as that may be for the other person, I promise not to bite.

1 comment:

Chris said...

Hello Laird,

Thank you for your reply to my comments about Geoph and health as it relates to community living. I certainly agree being in relationship, being happy and eating together is far more healthier, almost regardless of what particular diet is being practiced.

I'm replying to this post because you have once again mentioned that your wife is planning to move to dancing rabbit. I bring this up not because I want to know particularly the details of your relationship. I fully realize that is no one's business except your own. Still, you have chosen to publish this blog, publicized it and now you have shared intimate details about your life. I think it's great because, and whether it's true or not, it seems to me you are close to the epicenter of the present day "intentional communities movement". Not that there aren't many others, but you are part of, I believe, those who decide what gets printed in communities magazine and what gets put on the website.

It's not that I believe you wish to "propagandize", you seem very much the truth seeker, nevertheless egos are involved, whole lifetimes devoted to "the cause" and of course there is always money and advertisers to consider. As I alluded to in my other comment, my purpose is to explore, and try to understand what's going on. How's that for a broad undertaking? LOL

More specifically, it's about choices that I'm speaking of. It's about what is "out there" or unavailable; what are the choices? And what do these choices mean? What does the words mean: egalitarian, cohousing, eco-village, cooperative, organic farm, "center" and so on. I'm not looking for a definition to these words, I'm well aware of a established definitions. My question, which isn't so much to you, but more broadly asking questions about the entire "movement" and asking what are the actual numbers in all these different situations? How many children are there and how many are couples? How much time are people spending working to get by? And so on.

Recently on one of the Yahoo discussion groups about community Alan Butcher who has written much about community revealed that Kat Kincade who founded East Wind And Twin Oaks said that if she was doing it over again she would try to come up with a model that wasn't totally egalitarian. I think that's fascinating. Personally I think there might be a way to live cooperatively, actually quite communally, and not be egalitarian. Presently I only know of a few projects that advocate something like this, at least large ones. One is Co-Op Village out of Pensacola Florida and the last I checked, their website was not up; but they have had a banner ad on the IC website for a long time.. The other person advocating something like this is Jack Reed, of the community project and another is the Renaissance proposal. The Renaissance project proposal is actually egalitarian, but I mention it because it is proposing that work time need only be four hours a day.

Coming back to you and your wife, and again I only mention this because of my interest in this whole subject and not your personal life. For instance, I think there's a problem when human liberation and freedom is not a primary goal. Granted, people can define these things very differently. Nevertheless, having to work five or six days a week to survive is a lot different than having to work two days a week; and I'm talking about basic survival here, primarily food and shelter. I also think there is a difference between uniting over an idea and goals as opposed to taking advantage of an opportunity i.e. having a piece of land. Another factor perhaps, is what people think is possible or desirable.

I'm going to conclude by saying that also in the "alternative world", including the intentional community world, there seems to be a problem between men and women forming relationships. Of course I'm generalizing and yet to prove otherwise, communities would have to publish exactly how "coupled up" they actually are and exactly what kind of communities they are.

What I find interesting is how you are attached to "place". I'm perhaps guessing it is more about place than strict egalitarianism. I'm well aware of the potential difference between living at a community like Sandhill and an eco-village like Dancing Rabbit. There is potentially far more freedom at Dancing Rabbit. But personally, after being very taken myself with the "eco-village" concept I have come to believe that generally speaking the actuality the most of the time will be neither ecological nor very free. To Dancing Rabbit's credit they have always visualized a very large community which if they could pull it off and were pretty much self-sufficient in food, yes, they probably would be an eco-village then. But even then, if they didn't share resources and work cooperatively to quite a degree, it still might not be that freeing.

So ultimately the question comes down to why is your wife at Dancing Rabbit? If you guys don't want to live together at dancing rabbit, why don't you create a community together that would be to both your likings? Again, I'm really not prying, what interests me of the implications regarding the communities movement. And also, what has been my present and has been my past experience with fellow "alternative" women is that it is indeed hard to come to consensus as two about some of these things. And it's not that I have not been in relationship with the opposite sex. I have been married seven years to one woman who I had a son with. And I've been married another seven years. But I can tell you, if you put a personal ad out there on greensingles, you say you want to live in a cooperative community, intentional community, that you're an organic farmer; well all I can say is, good luck.

PS my proposals are at