Friday, April 16, 2010

The Importance of Feeling Excited about a Member Prospect

In the spectrum of intentional communities, Sandhill Farm is more of an intentional family than an intentional village (such as our neighbors, Dancing Rabbit, who have a population of 50 going on 500). That said, we nonetheless have been serious about growing—just not as much or as fast.

Sandhill has 12 bedrooms, yet we only have five adults living here as members now, with a couple and their two-year-old son slated to join us in June. That will still leave us with immediate openings, and begs the question about how selective we should be in choosing among prospectives. Because we'll never be large, each member has a decided impact on the group's flavor, and the nuance we wrestle with is how important it is that we're excited about a candidate, as opposed to there being no red flags. It's the difference between insisting on being positive, versus settling for the absence of dissonance.

While my group is not of the same mind about this, I lean toward a minimum that at least one other member really wants the person to join. Absent that, I'm worried about the dynamic where the new person holds a strong view on some issue that no one else agrees with. While a person could live here for 10 years and never be in that position, if it does occur, what will sustain us through the awkwardness?
Knowing that the relationship with that person is genuinely valued by someone I already have a commitment with to work through tough issues, will help me respond with compassion—instead of with irritation—when there's tough sledding. While I don't expect to be best friends with all community members, I want to feel optimistic about our prospects for being allies in the creation and sustenance of cooperative culture.

Over the years, we've learned that one of our most important criteria in assessing a candidate's prospects for being a good fit is not how well they match up with the community's values (very few get as far as an extended visit unless the match is excellent), but how well we think we can work out tensions and resolve disagreements with them. We look closely at how well the person takes critical feedback when someone has a problem with their behavior. We look more at a person's capacity to work constructively with differences than for signs that there will be few occasions to find out.

Why will you labor with someone when there's tension? Because you care about them and value your relationship. If you're not sure whether you'd hang in there with someone when you disagree, think twice before saying "yes" to having them as a fellow member, where you'll be largely obliged to make a good faith attempt to do so.

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