Friday, February 7, 2014

My Roll with Intentional Communities

To paraphrase Art Linkletter, sometimes people write the darndest things. And with homophones, spell check won't help. The other day I received the following email from a new acquaintance:

Extremely happy to make the connection, obviously I am very familiar with FIC and the importance of your roll in the Intentional Community.

My first thought was that this guy finds spelling a challenge. But when I thought about it more, maybe he had it right. After all, living in intentional community is no walk in the park. In fact, there are times when it's more like a long voyage in storm-tossed seas, and the best you can do is to roll with the waves instead of fighting them. 

So maybe the importance of my roll in Intentional Community is simply that after 40 days years in the intentional community wilderness, I'm still rolling—and haven't drown or bumped into anything fatal.

I also wondered about how obvious FIC is. As the Fellowship's main administrator for the past two decades, I run into people almost daily who find the world on intentional community altogether obscure (which is not a particularly flattering reflection on the efficacy of FIC's tireless efforts to promote it and its relevance as an antidote to the mainstream issues of alienation and degradation of security).

That said, I think it's fair to note that for those who are aware of intentional communities, the Fellowship—after 27 years in the field—has been able to establish its credentials as the source of information about communities of all stripes, without advocating for one kind of community over another. As far as FIC is concerned, recruitment and selection of a community home are matters of consenting adults. We provide the information and then let groups and individuals sort it out amongst themselves about whether there's a good fit. It's not our business.

For groups that consider themselves to be intentional communities, we only have five conditions for being listed in our Directory:
a) You don't advocate violent practices
b) You don't interfere with a member's right to freely exit the community
c) You don't misrepresent yourself
d) You don't advertise illegal activities (which, among other things, requires that their listing be in compliance with Fair Housing laws)
e) You respond to inquiries with reasonable promptness and cordiality

Though it doesn't happen often, about once a quarter we get a complaint about a listed community, usually from an unhappy visitor who learned about the community through our Directory. Commonly, they are outraged that we've allowed that group to have a listing, because they found the group's self-description to be grossly out of alignment with reality. What were we thinking?
 Often the complainant is shocked to learn that we do not have a field team ready (with the engine running), available to verify the outrage they are reporting. Or, failing that, we should simply take their word for it and pull the listing.

As administrator, it typically falls to me to handle complaints and I've developed a protocol for this. I begin by pointing out that it's highly likely that the community will have a different view of the situation and that we will only proceed with an inquiry if they are willing to stand by their critical comments in a dialog with the community, nine times out of ten the matter ends there. This does not mean that there was no substance to the complaint; only that we've found it unfruitful to proceed on the basis of an anonymous complaint where we are not authorized to share details of the specific incidents that were the basis for the complaint.

If complainants are not willing to engage in a good faith dialog with the community, it is nearly hopeless for us to try to clear up any misunderstandings, and it's a shame to not have that opportunity to narrow the gap between their stories. 

Fielding reports of unhappiness that are abruptly dropped without resolution is one of the things I've had to learn to roll with in this job (though I doubt that's what my enthusiastic correspondent had in mind).

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