Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Tuesday with Caroline

This morning I woke up at Alpha Farm, a 38-year-old income-sharing community tucked into a finger valley of the Coast Range of western Oregon, just off the road from Eugene to Florence. After dancing between the rain drops (it is, after all, November and they say the rain will stop sometime in March... probably) from my guest accommodations in the old farm house to the New House (it was "new" about three decades ago, but the name stuck), I spent the next four hours communing over coffee and conversation with my dear friend Caroline Estes. It had been 18 months since I'd last seen her and we had a lot of catching up to do...

The Community
Alpha seems to be doing well. Although membership is low, the resident population (the pool from which members come) is high. There are about 16 adults living here now, with modest room for more. (It was sobering to realize that only three of the current folks were here 32 months ago, when I was last at Alpha, to help celebrate Caroline's 80th birthday. See my blog of March 19, 2008 for more about that.) A lot of the new energy is young and the community gardens are thriving.
One of the things I love about Alpha as an exemplar of a group committed to social change work is that they reserve a spot among their residents for "sanctuary." Under this program, the community accepts up to one person at a time who needs a safe home, yet may not be in a position in their life to give back in proportion to what they receive. It's just one way of the ways that Alpha tires to be an inspiring alternative to a mainstream culture that's fragmented and broken.
In addition to more long-term members, the community needs additional sources of income. Caroline has slowed down her career as a process consultant (see more below) and that income has not yet been replaced. They have a major deal in the works where they hope to get a large one-time cash payment from the federal government in exchange for conservation easements for portions of their 280 acres. on their property they have spotted owl habitat as well as some very old Douglas firs. The easements will protect forested areas from development and timbering. The money will be used to retire debt and capitalize a retirement fund.

The Work
Caroline is one of my mentors as a facilitator and a consensus trainer (I took courses from her in 1987 and 1991), and thus we talk shop when we have the chance. Sadly, Caroline's hearing has deteriorated to the point where she no longer thinks she can deliver solid work in large groups. As such, these days she's turning down invitations to work with groups larger than a dozen.

That said, she's thinking about reviving her 5-day introduction to consensus & facilitation workshops, where the size of each class is manageable. If she can get logistical support from the current batch of residents, she hopes to schedule three such trainings in 2011. As someone who was touched deeply by her teaching, I hope this happens. The world could definitely benefit from having more of Caroline's teaching in it.

The Community Network
Caroline and I also go back a long ways as community networkers. The first FIC organizational meeting was held in May 1987, and the first thing I did afterward was board a train for the West Coast. Not three days after that first meeting in Illinois, I was sitting down with Caroline for the first time, for coffee and conversation (just like today) at Alpha-Bit, her community's bookstore/cafe in Mapleton. A year later, Caroline joined the Fellowship Board—a position she still holds today.

Because she didn't make it to our recent FIC meetings in Massachusetts [see my blog of Nov 15 for more about that meeting] I filled her in on Board business and caught her up on all our mutual acquaintances. After 23 years of being allies in the change-the-world-for-the-better business, it takes a while to run through the list and tell all the stories.

It was my pleasure that I had a leisurely four hours today to devote to cultivating the garden of our friendship.

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Board to Death

I recently got the following email from a person in distress about how her community was being governed. After hearing what I had to say about options in organizational structure at a workshop, she wrote:

You mentioned that a community could allow everyone to be on the Board and still satisfy the bylaws. Could you provide more details about how to create that? My group uses consensus and there's tension between the Board and the group.
It's not hard to do. Most communities are legally structured as corporations and the law (established on the state level, but remarkably similar in most cases) requires you to have a board and officers. You can simply make every member of the community automatically a member of the Board, and then make the officer positions titular (that is, you give them no power). Under this structure, all the power rests with the plenary (meetings of the whole), or its designates.

To be clear, I am not advocating that all decisions be made in plenary; only that there be a clear understanding that all power resides there. Once a group gets past a certain size (6-8?) it generally works better if quite a bit of the group's work is delegated to managers or committees. At a slightly larger size (12-15?) it typically works well to have a particular subgroup, let's call it the Steering Committee, that handles coordinating functions and is available to exercise power on behalf of the group in case of emergencies—which is something that should not happen often, yet is nice to have in place ahead of need. As I envision it, the two main functions of the Steering Committee would be to draft plenary agendas and monitor tasks, troubleshooting as needed.

In the context of a community that uses consensus, one of the big problems with an active Board (if it's a subgroup, and not a committee of the whole) is that you effectively have two governing bodies (the community and the Board) and it can be a nightmare sorting out which body has power over what decisions. The most common division attempted in such arrangements is that the Board handles financial and legal functions, and the community oversees social functions. However, many issues don't sort themselves that cleanly into one category and it gets to be a real mess. (Imagine that a couple of community kids get into mischief and damage several air conditioners in the
neighborhood by pouring sand into the vents. One neighbor calls the police and files a formal complaint. How much of this issue will be tackled by the community, and how much by the Board?)

Goldoni wrote a play a few centuries back, a farce entitled The Servant of Two Masters. The humor is based on the ridiculous situations that a servant can get into when trying to please two masters who have differing ideas about what the servant should be doing and never discuss how to coordinate their requests. In my experience, communities that simultaneously try to operate by consensus and under the aegis of an active Board also tend to be a farce. It's much better, in my view, to have a single government—whether it be a community council composed of carefully selected members, or a plenary that operates by consensus—than to attempt employing both, where each trips over the others' feet.

I feel our Board does not represent our community; it is acting separately. Five households recently received a letter from a Board member that was an attempt to enforce a pet policy agreed on five years ago. In my view, this policy is outdated and no longer fit the needs of many members. On top of its being out-of-date, not all members of the Board saw it before it was sent out. How best can we respond in this situation?

Now the story gets more complicated, and I want to attempt to tease out the threads. While I'm a big fan of consensus, let's suppose the inquirer's group was persuaded of the folly of dual governments and decided to abandon consensus in favor of being fully governed by an elected Board (a representative democracy).

Issue #1: Good Representation
It can't be a good sign that a substantial portion of the membership feels that the Board does not represent their views. This raises a bunch of questions:

o How carefully were Board members chosen? (In general, it's highly valuable that a Board have balanced representation, such that everyone in the group feels there's at least one Board member that is easily accessible to them and understands their perspective. Note however, that "understanding one's perspective" is not necessarily the same as agreeing with one's thinking.)

o How good a job is the Board doing of educating itself about what community members think about the issues that the Board is wrestling with?

o How well does the Board make clear to community members the rationale for its positions, and why they believe their actions are in the group's best interests?

Issue #2: Updating Agreements
Maybe the 2005 pet policy needs to be reviewed for how well it fits the community today. Do community members know by what pathway policies can be reviewed and altered? The fact that the correspondent believes the pet policy to be outdated does not necessarily mean that all community members feel that way, or even a majority. Absent an agreement to change the policy, the old one stays in effect.

Issue #3: Board Members Going Rogue
While Sarah Palin is trying to breathe life into her ersatz political career by entitling her recent book, Going Rogue, for the most part there's a problem if someone attempts to arrogate to themselves the power of a governing body that they have not consulted with before acting. If that's actually what happened in this instance (as the correspondent implies), then it appears that the Board member may have overstepped their authority, and there needs to be a way to address that.

On the other hand, it might be a good idea to check with other Board members about the possibility that: a) consulting did happen, just not in plain view; or b) the Board member who wrote the letter had been authorized by the Board to handle pet policy matters without consulting. I'm not saying that their action was smart; I'm only cautioning that it may not have been bad process. Check your facts.

In summary, the correspondent may have a real problem with the group's pet policy, yet that might continue even if the Board were the whole group. You may also have a problem with how to handle the situation where someone perceives agreements to have been broken. Changing the governance system will not make these issues go away—though it may help provide a clearer pathway for dealing with them.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

How to Be a Savvy Community Visitor

This concludes my four-part series on how to be intentional about searching for a home in intentional community.

I. What does FIC already offer? [see my Nov 15 blog]
II. How to make full use of Communities Directory as a seeker's resource [see my Nov 18 blog]
III. Questions that will help you figure out what you're looking for [see my blog of Nov 21]
IV. How to get the most out of a community visit

Today I'll address the final question, what to keep in mind when visiting a prospective community. I'll break this into two parts:

A. What do you want?
This comes in various flavors:

—The Asking
After walking through the literature and identifying what factors are priorities, you should have a fairly good handle on what are the important things for you to be looking for. The relatively straight forward part of this is obvious: ask your questions, and notice how satisfied you are with the answers.

Suggestion #1: Ask more than one member the same question—you may get different responses. This could mean a variety of things, so be careful how you interpret it. It may be that the group is still figuring out its answer, it may be there's internal confusion, it may be that one of the people is new and mistaken.

Suggestion #2: Notice if you're experiencing any discord between how your head responds and how your belly responds. Your intuitive knowing may count as much or more than your intellectual knowing. Pay close attention to how the community feels to you. Discomfort may be triggered by being in a new or unusual environment—which is natural and not necessarily bad—or it may be an early warning that something is off and you'd be wise to figure out what it is.

Suggestion #3: Notice what people aren't talking about. If some questions being evaded or answered in vague generalities, it's a bad sign.

Suggestion #4: If you have special needs (this could be anything from Multiple Chemical Sensitivity, to cat hair allergies; from a place to play a baritone sax late at night, to a space to study tantric sex late at night), be sure to get those out on the table directly. Don't assume you'll work that out later. Going the other way, don't assume there's no flexibility even if what you want is not officially on the menu. If you don't ask, the answer is always "no"; but sometimes groups will bend in your direction if you're otherwise an attractive enough prospect.

Suggestion #5: Notice how accurately members hear your questions and are responsive to what you actually asked. In groups that get inured to a steady flow of visitors, you may be hearing canned answers that don't quite hit the mark—perhaps because they didn't bother to carefully hear the question. For some people, a conversation is merely an excuse to talk about whatever interests them, independently of whether the audience has any interest in what they're saying! Not good.
—The Milieu
Because community living is mainly a social challenge, it's worthwhile to see how members interact informally.

Suggestion #6: How much laughter is there? Is the humor easy and comfortable, or tense and competitive? Sarcasm or Don Rickles put-down humor may be entertaining, yet it may also be symptomatic of unresolved tensions, and wearying over time.

Suggestion #7: How much do members speak critically of one another or of the group in casual settings? This too may be indicative of unresolved issues. Note: There is an important distinction between gossip that vilifies someone not present, and venting that leads to constructive thinking about how to engage the person whose behavior triggered the upset.

Suggestion #8: Notice how comfortable members are in silence. Notice any tendencies for one or more members to talk a lot. Can you imagine this mix being a good social setting for you? Warning: Don't get swept up in your enthusiasm about a good values match and/or a lovely physical setting at an affordable price—at the end of the day, your ultimate satisfaction in community life will be based on your relationships with fellow members. Is this your tribe?

Suggestion #9: Are you finding any members who offer decent prospects for a close friendship? While it can be tricky sorting this out accurately in a short visit, you'll still have first impressions and this is an important data point. It will enormously benefit your transition to community life if you have one or more people with whom you have an immediate, easy rapport (people you can ask stupid questions to and not feel embarrassed).

—The Engagement
It's a good idea to look at the balance between how much the focus of conversations is about you and how much about others.
Suggestion #10: How interested are members in who you are and your journey to community? While it's inappropriate you expect everyone to drop what their doing and rush over to hear your story before you've set your suitcase down, it's reasonable that members take time to reach out to you at some point in your visit. Integration into a community is a dance where everyone has steps—it's not all about you adapting to the group. Look for the group's willingness to take you, as a unique person, into account.

Suggestion #11: If you do not come across as being interested in the members of the community (note that this is different than being interested in the community), you will not be a very attractive candidate to join the group.

—The Meeting
If at all possible, try to time your visit so that you can witness a community meeting. There is probably no single opportunity where you can learn so much in such a short time.

Suggestion #12: If the community does not let visitors attend meetings, find out why. If there's a delicate issue where the group is wrestling with a tough problem and has designated this as a members-only session, cut them some slack. If however it's just an average plenary, barring visitors from attending probably signals some unresolved trust issues in the group and that's a warning sign.

Suggestion #13: If you're allowed to attend a meeting, ask at the outset what are the boundaries of your participation, and then stay within bounds. Hint: Not respecting the limits will make a bad impression. Perhaps you'll be asked to observe only, maybe you'll be asked to participate in the opening check-in and the closing evaluation but nothing else; maybe you'll be expected to be quiet unless someone asks you a direct question; maybe you'll be allowed to use your discretion about when's an appropriate time to speak.

Suggestion #14: Observe closely how well members hear each other, how constructively they work with different viewpoints, how well the group protects opportunities for all to speak (note that this is not the same as how evenly the air time is divided), and how the group works with emotions if they surface. Do you like what you're seeing?

—Dynamics of the Stay
I advise you to think carefully about how to set this up to work well for you. there are a number of things to keep in mind…

Suggestion #15: Arrange to stay for a week or longer, if possible. Obviously, the amount of information you can glean from a visit is directly related to how long you're there. While your flexibility to travel and be away from home is probably limited, staying a week is much better than just a weekend; and staying for a weekend is much better than just taking an afternoon tour. For one thing, your mood and your hosts' moods (and perhaps the weather's mood) are likely to shift over the course of several days and it's good to see things through a variety of lenses, all of which are part of reality's everyday landscape. (If long-term member Chris never has a good day when it's overcast, you may as well know that now.)

The longer the stay, the more chances you'll have for conversations that arise in a natural flow, rather than through semi-awkward forced dialog that can result from a telescoped visit—where you're marking off people on your Members To Talk To bingo card, hoping you can score a blackout before the car leaves. Whew.

Suggestion #16: For many, it's a big plus to visit with a companion who's also interested in (or at least curious about) community. Even if this person is not a serious candidate to move into the community with you, you'll have someone you already know to hep process your experience. Sometimes, your buddy will notice reactions that you're having before you do. The flip side of this is that you will not get nearly as much individualized attention if you're part of a tour group. Depending on how much you're wanting to learn, this lesser exposure may be acceptable, but know that going in.

Suggestion #17: If the group asks for a visiting fee, be sure to pay it, or negotiate a mutually acceptable exception up front. (A group may be willing to exchange work for fees, or have a low-income option, but don't assume that.) If the group does not have a fee, seriously consider making a donation. The amount is not nearly as important as the message you'll be conveying: "I understand that you're stretching to accommodate me into your everyday life, and I appreciate it." This will land well.

Suggestion #18: Sometimes visitors are expected to lend a hand with group work; sometimes not. Sometimes this expectation is dependent on how long you're there. Find out what the expectations are and try to exceed them. Better yet, find out what needs doing that is unpopular and try to help there. Warning: be careful of volunteering for a skilled task where you have no expertise. While almost anyone can safely wash dishes and sweep floors, if the group has to train you to be useful your offer may not represent a net gain.

—Widening Your Palate
It's generally a good idea to not narrow your choices of communities to visit too quickly, since the live experiences can have a significant impact on what you'll ultimate decide which qualities are crucial. It's an interactive search process, where the criteria can shift as you get fresh data.

Suggestion #19: Consider visiting communities that have qualities that you think you want strongly, even if there are other characteristics that eliminate that group as a likely home. Sometimes you can test drive a theory about what's important by visiting a place simply for the purpose of experiencing that quality up close and personal—to see if it really matters as much as you think it does. This strategy is all the more appealing if the community is nearby and doesn't cost much in time and money to visit. Refining your tastes through such forays can help prevent very expensive mistakes later on—such as selling your house and moving across the country, only to find out that you don't thrive living on an all olive oil and mango diet after all.

B. What does the community want?
Okey doke. Now let's switch horses and look at this dynamic from the other side. Some communities get interested in visitors only when they're serious prospects for membership. Others are more liberal about witnessing what they're doing, and enjoy strutting their stuff for the casual visitor as well—they see it as a commitment to general outreach and education about cooperative values. Even though you may consider yourself a bona fide serious prospect, the community may be cautious about accepting that label; they've heard it all before. So don't assume everyone's dying for a chance to sit down with you as the new person just on the scene. Give folks a chance to warm up to you.

—Been There, Done That
If the group has been around for a while, they're likely to be somewhat jaded by a steady flow of visitors, and it's hard to greet them all with fresh enthusiasm. This is especially true if your questions run to the mundane ("How many acres do you own?" "What's the dog's name?" "How much of your food do you grow?") Hint: Try not to ask questions that you could have gotten the answer to by reading the website.

—The Telling
If you're visiting to learn, try to emphasize listening over talking. The group will be looking closely to see how self-aware you are about how much air time you use. They will looking at how well you listen and can understand community dynamics. Hint: If you're unsure what's happening or the meaning of an exchange, it's better to simply ask than to pretend you understand.

While it can be fun and stimulating to have visitors to show around, it isn't fun and stimulating all the time. If you're hoping to be entertained and regaled by your hosts nonstop, give it up. They'll want to know that you can entertain yourself for stretches of your visit—without getting into trouble by spontaneously putting the dishes away in a kitchen you've never seen before, or overfeeding the wood stove to where the windows have be flung open in January. Hint: think about taking a walk, checking out the community library, or lending a hand scrubbing potatoes for dinner. Or falling back on that timeless shamanic admonition: chop wood, haul water.

—The Meeting
The community will have its own checklist for observing you, while you're observing them. They'll be looking at your self-discipline about respecting their boundaries on appropriate meeting behavior. They'll be looking at how well you can follow the dynamics. Afterward, they may be interested in how well you understood what was happening, and any observations you have about how things went. Hint: For some groups, this is a key assessment about your communication skills, so be on your toes.

—Running a Positive Balance
Almost all communities want members who will contribute at least as much as they receive. While you may not be directly asked to self-assess how you would stack up in that regard, you can bet that the community is nonetheless doing that assessment. As such, your chances of getting a favorable response to a member application will be significantly enhanced if you discuss first the ways in which you're excited to lending a hand, and explore second what you're seeking in the way support. Hint: there's a significant difference between enthusiasm for ongoing projects, and excitement to bring your own projects to the community. Where the former may be viewed as supportive; the latter may land as a challenging diffusion. If you can dedicate your first year or two to helping the community finish what's already on its collective plate, you'll see a lot more smiles around the closing circle.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Getting Clear About What You Want

This continues my four-part series on how to be a savvy shopper when considering making a home in an intentional community.

I. What does FIC already offer? [see my Nov 15 blog]
II. How to make full use of Communities Directory as a seeker's resource [see my Nov 18 blog]
III. Questions that will help you figure out what you're looking for
IV. How to get the most out of a community visit

Today I'll address the third question, how to carefully explore whether intentional community living is right for you. This breaks into a two-part inquiry:

A. Is intentional community a good choice for you?
1. How much do you want to be in others' lives, and others in yours? While intentional communities come in a rich assortment of sizes and stripes, all of them are an explicit attempt to shift the boundary between public and private more toward the public. That is, community living intentionally means that you'll be involving others—beyond family and intimate partners—more deeply in your life. Is that something you want? If not, that's a warning sign. If so, to what extent (this is not just a yes-or-no question)?

On the one hand, community living offers the prospect of neighbors who share your core values (which are the basis of what the community has been organized around),
the opportunity to share resources instead of owning everything yourself, greater safety and emotional support. On the other hand, it means availability to work out how your core values should be applied to everyday living, talking through how you will share resources, the expectation of working through tensions with other members and being on hand when others need your support.

Community living offers a lot of support and camaraderie… and expects attention and energy from you in return. Does this equation work for you? If you're a parent (or expect to be), there's an excellent chance that you'll have access to child care help from other adults. That's the good news. This support comes with strings—the expectation that you'll take a turn caring for other people's kids on occasion. In addition, your kids will almost certainly be exposed to different child rearing practices, and adults who will set different boundaries than you do around acceptable behavior in public. Does this trade-off work for you? Are you prepared to have these conversations?

What to look for: Community may be a good choice if you have an overriding interest in being close to people who share a particular belief (perhaps a spiritual path, a burning desire to be a permaculture demonstration center, or a deep commitment to working with the homeless). If that common commitment is strong enough, it may sustain you through tensions over everyday frictions (such as how often and how carefully the dishes get washed or the front porch gets swept). Or it may not. You need to sit with the fact that sharing common values tells you almost nothing about whether you'll actually like the people. (Communities Directory is terrific with searching for a values match, and almost no help at all in predicting whether you'll find good chemistry with existing members.)

2. How much privacy do you need? However much you're excited by the prospect of living with like-minded souls, most of us also have basic needs for solitude, quiet, and reflection. Think about what you need in this regard in order to have a healthy, balanced life. Do you picture eating meals in a group once a week? Twice a week? Every day?

A related yet slightly different question is how much control you need over your immediate environment. How quiet do you need it to be? Just during sleeping hours, or all the time?

What to look for: If there is a significant kid population in the community, this is invariably going to translate into an elevated ambient decibel level, not to mention scooters left on the sidewalk, lights left on in empty rooms, and lemonade spills left to age on the kitchen floor.

If sound control matters, ask about noise attenuation in exterior walls. Caution: communities located in milder and warmer climates will tend to be noisier—with windows open more of the year, soundproofed walls won't make as much difference.

3. How much social engagement do you want? (This is the flip side of the previous question.) Note that it can be workable to get a significant portion of your social needs met outside of community, unless you picture a stay-at-home lifestyle (community does not have to be an all-your-eggs-in-one-basket deal). Warning: if your image of
"social engagement" extends no further than Twister, poker games, and Super Bowl parties, think again. In community, a fair portion of your time with other members will include work parties and plenaries. If you're allergic to meetings, raking leaves, or pulling morning glory out of the community garden, there may not be as much "social engagement" as you want.

4. How good are your social skills? This is a tricky one if you're not good at self-assessment, yet it's highly predictive of a good fit if your skills match up well with those of other members. What to look for:

o How clearly can you articulate what you're thinking? Speed is not as important here as accuracy and completeness. Is your ability dependent on the size of the group? (If you do fine talking in a group of four yet get flustered in a group of 30, think twice about selecting a large group.)

o How clearly can you articulate what you're feeling? Hint: if you don't understand why this is important, community living is not likely to be a good fit for you. The primary challenge of community is social, and you will be expected, on some level, to be able to work with fellow members emotionally.

o How accurately do hear what others say? Caution: don't rely solely on self-perception when answering this question: ask those who know you well for an honest assessment. If they don't give you high marks in this regard, that doesn't bode well for your chances of fitting in well in community, where this quality will be at a premium.

o How do you handle conflict? Conflict occurs whether you want it or not. The key here is not how often you get upset; it how you respond when others are upset with you. On the other hand, a person who navigate distress with aplomb can be a big plus in a community.

5. Do you have special needs? If you're wanting group support for meeting those needs, that's going to narrow your options. I didn't say extinguish your chances, yet you'll be wise to put out what you're wanting up front. In addition to shopping for folks who understand and able to deliver what you're seeking, you'll need to consider how your requests are likely to balance with what you bring to the party. If you come across as someone who's needs are significantly out of balance with what you offer, you're not likely to present as an attractive prospective.

6. How portable is your economic base? If you're retired and are living on savings, the world is your oyster. If you're otherwise drawn to an income-sharing community, the group itself will almost certainly provide a way to plug economically. However, if neither of these conditions obtain, then you'll want to look closely at how you'll make a living.

If you can telecommute, or have an established career as a consultant or trainer, then geography may not be much of a factor. (Hint: you can reap decided economic benefits from combining city wages with rural cost of living). If however, you need to commute to work to make ends meet, it is rare that you can find a great job located chock-a-block next to a great community. Usually, have to choose which great thing to prioritize. Is that a trade-off you're willing to make?

B. What kind of intentional community will fit you best?
Assuming you answered Question A in the affirmative, the next step is figuring out what kind of community is most promising. Here are some key queries:

o Size Matters
Big groups offer stability (they're less susceptible to failure following the loss of one or two key people), and a richer pool of people with whom you can match secondary interests (the chance for a community choir or bridge club). At the same time, the bigger group will tend to be less cohesive, more structured, and slower to change (more inertia). In a smaller group, there tends to be a higher commitment to working out differences. That said, the stakes are higher in small communities: if the group fails to work through interpersonal tensions, the dynamics of the whole group can go septic.

o City Mouse or Country Mouse?
How close do you want to be to the city? Urban groups offer the greatest range of cultural opportunities. That also means a plethora of distractions. Country life is typically simple and cleaner; it's also less stimulating and more isolated. Urban life is more expensive; rural life is less expansive. Hint: often you can maximize the good qualities of city and country by looking for a community in or near a small city with a university.

o What does your partner think of community?
Years ago I met a veteran of life at Israeli kibbutzim. He reported—with tongue only partly in cheek—that there were two main reasons that people left kibbutzim: a) because they fell in love (and were afraid that if they stayed that the nutrient-rich (and not necessary pro-monogamy) environment of community life would be too destabilizing for their nascent partnership to survive; or b)
because they didn't fall in love (and left to search for a partner in pastures they hoped would be greener).

If you're in an intimate partnership that you want to keep, read on.

It is not unusual (especially for a couple coming to community for the first time) that one partner is more enthusiastic about community living than the other—or for one partner to have decidedly different tastes in community than the other. Warning: if you're in a committed relationship that falls into either of the categories I just described, proceed with utmost caution. This is tricky ground to navigate successfully and often leads to an ultimatum from the less enthralled partner: choose the community or me. In the long run, it may be far less painful to have a heart to heart about this potential pitfall right at the get go.

Hint: With the notable exception of communities founded on alignment with traditional religious morality (of which there are a number), intentional communities tend to be very progressive on social issues, and you will tend to find markedly better acceptance and support for nontraditional partnerships, such as gay or mixed race relationships. For couples that have struggled to find this, community can be a highly valued safe haven.

• • •
If you're still in the hunt for community after working through the gauntlet I've posted above, you should have a distilled list of key markers that you'll measure prospective communities against. The next step is to contact the groups that seem most promising and ask the questions that will help you assess them for a good match. Hopefully, that will produce a winnowed short list for further scrutiny.

If at all possible, try to set up visits to sample as many of these finalists as possible. My fourth and final installment of this series will be how to get the most out such visits.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

How to Use Communities Directory

In my last blog I started a four-part series on How to Focus Your Search for Community.

I. What does FIC already offer?
II. How to make full use of Communities Directory as a seeker's resource
III. Questions that will help you figure out what you're looking for
IV. How to get the most out of a community visit

Today I'll tackle the second question, on making the most of Communities Directory.

There are two parts to this: a) the straight forward stuff; and b) how to read between the lines.

In the print version of Communities Directory, one of the most potent tools in the book is the cross-reference chart, which sorts listings according to groups' answers to the most commonly sought objective criteria. Using the chart, you can quickly find which groups have what you're looking for if any of the following questions are potent for you:

o Is there a spiritual/religious orientation, and, if so, what?
o Is the group forming or established?
o Does the group identify as cohousing style?
o Does the group identify as an ecovillage?
o Does the group identify as a student co-op?
o Population
o Size of property
o Is the location urban, suburban, rural, or other (whatever that is)
o What are the community economics (income sharing or not)?
o How does the group make decisions (consensus, majority voting, council of elders, central leader, tea leaves)?
o Frequency of common meals (how often do members break bread together)
o Are there dietary restrictions or preferences?
o Who owns the land?
o When was the group founded?
o Is there a fee to join?
o Can you rent?
o Is the group looking for additional members?

While you can perform your own searches for these criteria using the built-in capabilities of the Online Directory, in the book it's already been done for you—which is worth the price of the book right there if you're doing any serious perusing.

Hidden Nuances
There's a practical limit to how many fields of information FIC can reasonably display in the cross-reference charts, and there is also a legal limit. To our chagrin, we are no longer allowed to collect and disseminate information about age range and number of children present (because of the potential for age discrimination, offering such data violates fair housing laws). That said, if you're looking for a multi-generational community, you can infer a considerable age range by looking at how long the group has been around. Most groups that have 20+ years under their collective belt are pretty sure to have a wide range of ages in their mix.

How much are you a pioneer—with a burning desire to create structure (agreements) and structures (buildings)? If you have that in your blood, look for groups that are not too far removed from their first birthday. These groups probably have more things still to build. Alternately, if you're more of a settler and are looking for stability, search for groups that have been longer in the saddle. As most groups fail before they reach their fifth birthday, ones older than are more likely to have found a productive groove.

If you want a community where people are rather deeply involved in each others' lives, I suggest you focus on income sharing groups—if members share money, their lives will necessarily be more intertwined. (If you dream is to eat meals together every night, serious income sharing tends to equate with serious meal sharing).

If you have limited financial resources and still want to jump into community living, you're better off concentrating on either income sharing groups (many of whom ask no fees to join) or places that have rental options.

If you're keen on a strong environmental commitment, be wary. The label "ecovillage" suggests such a commitment, yet there is no standard for what that term means, and you'll need to ask each group how that translates into everyday practices and ecological covenants. Don't assume their answer will be your answer!

While it's always a good idea to assess a prospective community for how well the members are able to name and work with power dynamics, be especially cautious if title to the land is held by one or more individuals instead by the whole group or a corporation.
Finally, a word of caution. The suggestions I've offered above are tendencies, not iron clad rules. After you've done all your sorting and whittled down your list to the most promising prospects, it's still a good idea to verify their reality before you buy their realty.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Focusing Your Search for Community

I've just completed three days of total immersion at the Fellowship for Intentional Community's fall organizational meetings, held at Mosaic Commons, a newly built cohousing community in Berlin MA.

The two biggest alligators that we wrestled with were:
a) Approving a plan to hold an Art of Community weekend in northern California next fall. We have a competent core team to organize the event and an exciting venue (Westminster Woods, near Occidental), yet we needed to work out concerns around risk (we can't afford to lose money), price (what is the right mix of profit potential and accessibility?), and dates (after much cogitation, we ultimately decided to nestle our event into a weekend midway between two West Coast iconic events: Burning Man and Bioneers, hoping we won't be lost between those well-established, flashier bookends).

b) Balancing the 2011 budget (with the likelihood of losing more than $10,000 this year, we had to do some serious belt tightening).

While both of the above topics are compelling, I'm going to devote today's entry to introducing a blog series that arose out of an inquiry that came to FIC in the days right before the meeting. A seeker wrote:

I was wondering if you do a compatibility questionnaire with people to help them explore their own needs and desires when it comes to what they are searching for in a community. Something to clarify their own ideas and feelings to help them make better choices or more specific choices as they search community.

There was considerable resonance with this topic among the Board, and we devoted an hour to it last Friday. While it's a core FIC mission to help seekers find community, using our tools assumes that the seeker has a somewhat clear notion about what they want. After being in the community business for more than two decades, we know that isn't always the case, and thus we understood to potency of the inquirer's request. What might FIC offer that will make searching for community less daunting, especially to folks sticking their toes into the water for the first time?

I'm going to cover this topic in four passes:
I. What does FIC already offer?
II. How to make full use of Communities Directory as a seeker's resource
III. Questions that will help you figure out what you're looking for
IV. How to get the most out of a community visit

In today's offering, I'll tackle what we already have available:
o Communities Directory
We've been publishing this bible of who's doing what since 1990, and are releasing this week our 6th edition. The book has 512 pages, lists over 1000 North American communities, with groups offering descriptions in their own words. It retails for $35, but from now until the end of the year you can buy a copy for $30 (which includes shipping to a US address). There is no more comprehensive and accurate source in print. We also offer the information as an Online Directory with a searchable database.

o Communities magazine
This 80-page quarterly has been around since 1972. Each issue focuses on a theme and is packed with the issues, ideas, and inspiration of cooperative living. We cover both intentional communities, and creating community where you are. The magazine also offers a robust advertising section called Reach that specializes in listings of individuals looking for a home, and groups looking for members. A sample issue costs $5 (plus shipping) and a one-year subscription in the US costs $24.

o Visions of Utopia
This is a DVD that comes in two volumes. The first volume (94 min) was released in 2002 and contains an historical overview of intentional communities, plus segments profiling a representative sample of seven contemporary groups. Residents are telling their stories in their own voices. The second volume was released in 2009 (124 min) and features an additional 10 contemporary groups, completing the picture of the amazing range and breadth of what's out there today. Each volume sells for $30, or you can get both for $50 (plus shipping).

o www.ic.org
This is the URL of the home page for our family of websites. We get 2200 unique visitors every day, with the volume of traffic growing by more than 10% annually. About 95% of our inquiries arrive electronically these days and this is our main portal. If you look for "intentional community" on any search engine, our website will be at the top of the response. We've maintained this website since 1994, and nobody knows communities like we do.

o Community Bookshelf
This is a niche mail-order operation that specializes in titles on cooperative living, sustainability, group process, and right livelihood. Of particular note to seekers is Finding Community by Diana Christian. This 256-page gem was published in 2007 and is aimed expressly for people trying to figuring out how to sort out what kind of community might work well for them. It sells for $25, plus shipping.

o Art of Community
FIC periodically offers one- or two-day events where participants can get both information about community living and an experience of it at the same time. As I mentioned above, the Board just approved a plan to produce the next one, probably for the weekend of Sept 23-25 (we can't be sure of the dates until we sign the contract) in northern CA. In addition to rolling our own, we frequently partner with sister organizations to hold joint events, or are a regular player at others' events, offering an array of workshops and often bringing Bookshelf to the party. Here are three annual events where we a regular junior partner:
National cohousing conference (next one will be June 17-19, in Washington DC)Twin Oaks Communities Conference (next one will be Aug 19-21 in Louisa VA)
NASCO Institute (next one will be Nov 4-6 in Ann Arbor MI)

• • •
With the holidays just around the corner, you could do a lot worse than selecting from the list above for ideas to fill the stockings of loved ones. Think about giving the gift of community, and really bringing light into someone's life.

Friday, November 12, 2010

End Game with my Father

I recently got this note from a reader:

As someone who has been reading your blog for many years, I've noticed many references to your father, difficulties you had with him and how living in community helped you work through some of these difficulties. As a man in my mid-thirties, I'm currently in a kind of impasse in my relationship with my own father, who lives in another country and has extremely different values and beliefs from my own. I can't help thinking that many people from many backgrounds have difficulties with parents who behave in static, old-fashioned ways. It is also very impressive to read your posts that are concerned with what you do when you go and visit your son—I wish more parents were conscious of these very good ways to be around their adult children. I'm writing because I would be very interested to read about how you worked things out with your father, or how you worked out issues in yourself around your relationship with your father.

What a good question!

The story of me and my father goes back to my childhood. I grew up in the '50s and '60s in the Republican suburbs of Chicago, where you were considered a misguided oddball if you favored Kennedy over Nixon in the landmark election of 1960. Wrapped in my Leave It to Beaver cocoon, I never questioned the conservative values I was steeped in until I went to college in 1967, where the scales fell from eyes. I attended Carleton in southern Minnesota, where all 1350 students lived in dorms and didn't have access to cars without express permission. This was way before the Internet, and we only had each other for entertainment during those long winter months. That environment lent itself nicely to endless conversations about who were and who we wanted to become.

I came to understand that there were a number of unexamined assumptions that undergirded my belief system. This was the height of the Vietnam War and a period of unprecedented social unrest on campus. My life, like that of many of my classmates, went through a major upheaval. Looking back on my college experience, I value it most for the social stimulation and the work I did reordering my core values. As intended, I learned a lot about how to think—I just didn't apply it in the ways my parents anticipated, and my father in particular was appalled at what I did with my education.

My parents grew up in the Depression, in families too poor to afford college. My older brother went into the Air Force out of high school and I was the first one in my family to go to college. It was a proud achievement for my father, who saved diligently to make it possible. Imagine how betrayed he felt by what came back, as I challenged the beliefs that were the bedrock of his sacrifice!

I went through a liberalization in college that led to a philosophical gulf that my father and I never successfully bridged. While I wasn't so naive as to expect my Dad to agree with my views, I fought to be recognized as an independent thinker who could come to different conclusions. My father interpreted my dissension as signs of arrested development, and an inability to cope with the world as it "really was" (as if that were something there was general agreement about). My Dad saw my choice to live in community as a form of dropping out, believing I couldn't stand the competitive heat of the free market kitchen. Sigh.

From the schism that grew out of my college experience we tended to fight and snarl whenever we were together. This mainly took the form of sarcasm and innuendo, and I couldn't be home for longer than 24 hours without falling into this vicious pattern of baiting and debating. It was insufferable to be around us, and for many years I clung to the story that it was all my Dad's fault—if only he could accept my different views as legitimate, we could coexist.

Three years after college I helped start Sandhill Farm. A dozen years after that—fully 18 years into my feud with my father—it finally dawned on me that maybe it wasn't all my father's fault we had such a bad dynamic. With the help of my community mates I started the painful process of looking at my part of the dynamic. This was humbling and awkward work, that ultimately resulted in my sending him a painstakingly written letter that went something like this:

"Our relationship is a mess. While I love you, and I know that you love me, all we do is fight. The only passion we show for each other is when we raise our energy to be nasty to each other, and I hate how we are together.

I've recently been looking at what I've been doing to contribute to what's not working and here's what I can own: [insert list of specific behaviors here].

I want to work on turning my part of this around, what do you think?"

Three weeks later (this was before email) I got a response from my father, which began, "That was a good start. Here are some other ways that you've been contributing to what's not working... "
Ouch! That was not the letter I was looking for. I had hoped that if I unilaterally admitted to some culpability on my part that he'd find a way to admit some of his own, and we could build a demilitarized zone where our caring for each other could manifest in healthier, nonviolent ways. But I didn't get that. Instead, I just got more criticism.

The pivotal part of this story is what I did next. As much courage as it took me to admit my part of the dynamic, it took even more to set down my virtual syringe and not shoot myself up with anger again when my father spurned my olive branch. Instead, I gave up my addiction to anger and finally accepted that he was doing the best he could. I felt sad—I still wasn't getting the relationship I wanted—but it also felt good to be owning my part and to no longer be blaming my father for my misery. After spending half my life actively battling my father, I gave it up.

My Dad died two years after this attempt and we never did reconcile. But I did learn to take responsibility for my feelings, and to understand the power of working on one's own feelings in a conflict, even when you are not met halfway by the other person. In the end, your own feelings are the only ones you ever have any control over anyway.

Family dynamics are often the ones that are most deeply embedded and therefore hardest to shift. I know because it took me about 20 years to get the job done. While I wasn't a particularly quick learner, at least I got there. There have been many more times since then when I've been embroiled in stuck dynamics with others and been buoyed by remembering what I went through with my father. Having successfully taken ownership of my feelings once, each time after that has been a little easier.

While this was not a lesson my father intended to teach me, I nonetheless thank him for it every time I set down the syringe.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Leaf Blowers and Parking

I just spent the last five days in Ann Arbor, which is one of my favorites places to visit. There is something about the ambiance and cultural density in university towns that just makes them more happening places. Plus I have a lot of friends there.

Yesterday I had time for a long walk on a beautiful sunny day and headed into town from my digs at Sunward Cohousing, four miles west of downtown, catching the last of the fall color in the trees. In the hour it took me to get to the greatest concentration of used bookstores, I saw four people using gas-powered leaf blowers to push back Nature's organic residue from driveways and sidewalks—creating a canvas of unspoiled concrete that was bound to last for, maybe 15 minutes on a breezy day.

As it was a college-aged guy operating the machines in every case, I figure they were hired to do yard work and had been taking advantage of the nice weather. Because I was walking, I had plenty of time to contemplate what I was witnessing. Here's what occurred to me:

o The country is still in the economic doldrums—that is, in a condition during which it is especially prudent to think carefully about marginal spending.
o On top of this, Michigan is still in its own special economic hell due to the collapse of the US automotive industry.
o As a country, we are either at or near Peak Oil, the point at which the amount of oil (read gasoline) that is produced will steadily decline—when it is all the more important to think carefully about how to employ a dwindling resource.
o Ann Arbor is home to the University of Michigan—which is not only the largest university in the state, it's one of the most respected universities in the country, with a reputation for the quality of its education. It's reasonable to think that folks here might be ahead if the curve when it comes to forward thinking.

When I put this all together, I had trouble understanding why people were hiring someone to use gas-powered machines to blow leaves off of driveways and sidewalks.3 I can understand that jobs stimulate the economy, and that some people have more cents than sense, but really.

I also walked past a housing complex that proudly displayed this banner in big block letters:

Immediate Occupancy
15 Parking Spaces

You have to wonder about housing where the most salient feature is ample parking. You also have to wonder about how much this country is really getting it about the lifestyle changes needed to achieve any semblance of sustainable living when leaf blowers and parking are so prominently on display on a great day for a walk in Ann Arbor.

I think we have further to go. (And I recommend we not drive to get there.)

Saturday, November 6, 2010

Power Outage

I'm at NASCO Institute in Ann Arbor this weekend—it's the annual conference for the North American Students of Cooperation, and draws about 300 people living in student co-ops from all over the US and Canada. It's the single greatest opportunity to work with the next generation of people excited by their first taste of cooperative living (the kids who join houses principally to enjoy cheap rent don't come to this event). I've been on the faculty since 1997 and it's a bright spot on my calendar.

This morning I'm doing a workshop on Power Dynamics and Leadership, and the main point I try to convey is that there are always power dynamics (by which I mean power imbalances and the issues around people's discomfort with how that imbalance is perceived) and the essential thing is that you have to find a way to talk about it. You have to have a way to "out it" as an issue.

In many groups, power is a taboo topic, because its so volatile that the group cannot contain it. One of the challenges peculiar to this topic is that it almost always involves criticism of leaders (the people who hold and use power) and it is often the leaders who are looked to for safeguarding the process by which issues are examined. Checkmate!

I define power as the ability to get others to do something, or to agree to something. While power is neither inherently bad nor good, it's useful, at least in a cooperative setting, to distinguish between "power over" and "power with." In cooperative groups, you want power to be exercised in such ways that the whole group benefits (power with). Conversely, you do not want power to be used in ways where an individual or subgroup benefits at the expense of others (power over).

One of the key points of my workshop is that it is rather common for a leader to use power in such a way that they think they have acted in a more "power with" manner than others in the group perceive them to have acted. When this gap in perception arises, can you talk about it? If you can't (because you don't know how to articulate it, because you're afraid to try, because the other person doesn't want to hear it), it inevitably leads to an erosion of trust in the leadership, and it doesn't encourage others to step up (because they want no part of being treated that way themselves).

I don't believe we have enough good models for healthy cooperative leadership, and we keep burning out the folks who are brave enough to give it a try. There is a tendency to expect leaders to be available for the full range of responsibilities, yet they receive few or no perks in compensation. Mostly, they just get the opportunity to serve.

What Can Be Done to Develop Cooperative Leadership?
I have three ideas about that:

1. We need to be able to talk cleanly about power. In order to be effective, leaders need to be able to wield power. That means there needs to be a clear understanding about what uses of power work well and which do not. It also means that groups need to be to surface tensions around the way power is used. When the air doesn't get cleared, it gets foul.

2. We need to explicitly lay out the qualities wanted in our leaders. There are ways we want cooperative leaders to have the same qualities as corporate leaders (administrative competence, ability to act decisively, good communication skills); and there are way in which we emphatically want them to act differently (good at building team morale, consistently credits staff accomplishments, ability to understand and work constructively with team energy). We've got to do better than just tapping people to take the lead and hoping for the best. We need to take the time to define what qualities we want, so leaders have a realistic idea about what standards they will be measured by.

3. We need to be better at appreciating people who use power well. Leaders often hold their positions because they understand better than others what the group needs and have the courage and skill to focus energy in the right places in a timely way. They often lead the cheers in appreciating the work of others. Who then, will be available to focus laudatory attention on the accomplishments of the leaders?

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Why I Train

(Yes, I'm on Amtrak as I compose this blog, but that's not the kind of training I mean... )

Living in community is a social change act. It's a purposeful attempt to create a culture that's more cooperative than mainstream society (which is essentially, competitive, adversarial, and hierarchic).

Having devoted more 60% of my life to community living, I've thought deeply about three questions:

Question #1: What I kinds of change am I capable of effecting? What am I good at?

Question #2: What kinds of change activities am I motivated to engage in? What do I have a burning passion to do?

Question #3: What is the most effective way to focus my energy in the place where the answers to the previous two questions overlap? How can I have the most leverage as a social change agent?

While my answer to this set of questions has evolved over time (and may change yet again), currently it's by teaching an intensive course in Integrative Facilitation. Over a two-year period I work with a group of around 12-15 students who want to learn the skills of high-end facilitation.

The course model is that we meet eight times for concentrated three-day weekends spaced approximately three months apart--affording participants the chance to digest the cumulative experience of each weekend and to put the lessons into practice in their everyday life.

I've broken down the skill set into eight major chunks and each weekend has a teaching theme:
Working content
Power & leadership
Challenging personalities
Organizational structure

Each weekend is hosted by a group. That group provides room and board to the class in exchange for outside facilitation for 6-9 hours of meetings, tackling issues that the host selects. In addition, the host gets: a) a professional report from the trainer that includes observations and an assessment about how well they're doing from a process standpoint; b) the opportunity to have two members of their group participate in the weekend as auditors; and c) an hour of professional consultation with the trainer.

About a quarter of each weekend is devoted to questions, demonstrations, and practice with the theme. The remaining time is spent on preparing for, delivering, and debriefing afterwards the live work for the host group. As a teacher, I've learned that the students generally develop their skills much more rapidly when working with real meetings, rather than role plays.

As the trainer, I usually work with a partner (different eyes and different styles enhance the students' experience), though I've also delivered this training alone.

Over the two years the class learns a tremendous amount about one another and bonds closely. There is an authenticity and intensity about the experience that means participants are seeing each other in ways that are rare and precious.

Since launching this program in 2003, I've delivered this training four times, and there's a fifth now underway in the Mid-Atlantic States. In January I expect to start a training in northern California. In February I'll start one in Missouri (which is already fully subscribed).

So far, about 50 people have participated in the four trainings. About 10 of these graduates have gone beyond this to explore the possibility of being professional facilitators (or at least facilitating more professionally in their their professions).

The narrow objective of this training is to help people develop a deep understanding of and proficiency in the skill set needed to facilitate meetings of people trying to make collaborative and inclusive decisions. The baseline skills needed to accomplish this include:
o Hearing people accurately
o Knowing the limits of what you can do
o Knowing your own feelings
o Being able to cleanly and concisely articulate your experience
o Being able to see things from other people's perspectives
o Being able to work emotionally (not just rationally)
o Being able to see what agreements might bridge discordant positions
o Being able to work constructively with critical feedback

When you think for a moment about what you can do after developing this skill set, it's apparent that the broader objective of the training is how to be a more effective leader in the context of cooperative culture. These are not just skills needed in meetings, these are skills for every moment you're awake.

It's pretty exciting work.

Monday, November 1, 2010

Stubbing My Toe on the Landing

One of the risks in opening up a conflict for the purpose of making things better is that sometimes it makes things worse.

That happened to me recently while I was working with a group that was focusing on the topic of work participation—defining what kinds of labor satisfy the expectation that every member will contribution to the development and well being of the community. This is a complex topic (it's the issue that I'm most frequently asked to help groups with), and experience has taught me that if there's unresolved tensions among the players (in relationship to the topic), then we won't get good hearing and good problem solving until we've first cleared the air.

While I have a defined approach for accomplishing that—with which I've had considerable success—it doesn't work with everyone and it doesn't work every time. [
For an in-depth explanation of how I advocate working with conflict, see my five-blog series starting March 18, 2009.]

Friday night, during the time we'd designated for unpacking unresolved conflicts, one member of the group called out another for shirking.
Let's call the accuser Adrian and the accused Jesse. In Adrian's view, Jesse rarely showed up for Work Days, often talked more than he contributed when he did show up, and mainly focused his contributions to the garden, which was Jesse's hobby and not something that everyone in the group felt was a priority.

After Adrian spoke and felt complete, Jesse had a chance to respond. Jesse reported that there was no new information in Adrian's frustrations—that it had all been said before. Jesse felt fine about what contributions he'd been making to the community, and complained that Adrian was always looking over his shoulder, trying to find fault. Clearly, their perspectives on Jesse's contributions varied widely. When asked if they want to explore this further in plenary, they both declined, preferring to meet one-on-one at a later time. They both said they didn't need further attention on this dynamic in order to hear well and work cleanly with the plenary topic of participation.

Taking them at their word, we helped set up a meeting for the coming week, at which a mutually agreeable third party would facilitate.

Nothing more was said about this until the closing evaluation Sunday, at which Jesse witnessed how awful he felt about what had happened with Adrian Friday night. Even though Adrian felt much better (having gotten the distress out in the open), Jesse felt worse.

When Jesse said he didn't need anything more Friday night, we were interpreting that as "I'm OK and I know what to do to try to repair relationship with Adrian." In reality, we learned two days later that what he meant was, "This is excruciating and I want it to end." While Jesse didn't appear to be in untenable pain Friday night, that's what he reported on Sunday. Oops. Never mind that Adrian felt better; Jesse didn't.

When asked, Jesse didn't have any recommendations about what would have preferred, and the group was left to ponder how to better work with conflict that emerges in plenary. Upon reflection, my sense is that we didn't do a good job of establishing to Jesse's satisfaction what was going on for him. That is, what were his feelings and what was his story about what had happened (in relation to what Adrian complained about). Instead, he just felt embarrassed and exposed in front of the group. Examination without connection reinforces isolation. The key is learning what connection or validation means to each individual. It's not good enough that I thought Jesse had been heard; the standard is whether Jesse felt heard. In retrospect, we went too fast, and I should have stepped in (I was coaching the community's facilitators and not running the meeting myself) and ensured that this step had been completed. My bad.

• • •
While I always hope that the response to my work will be positive, there's a lot to be learned from stubbing my toe. In this case, I believe I need to be more deliberate in modeling and teaching how to establish connection when people are in distress. Without that bridge, all subsequent work with distressed individuals will be at risk for not landing well.