Tuesday, September 8, 2015

Millennials and Sustainability

I just finished attending the annual Twin Oaks Communities Conference in Louisa VA. One of the most interesting ideas that surfaced for me was a comment made by a thirtysomething woman who reported that people in their 20s and 30s tend to be more drawn to community living for reasons of economic sanity than enhanced social engagement. That was a new perspective for me.

She suggested that it might be a generational difference, and perhaps she's right.

Certainly there's more economic upheaval than 30 years ago (when I was a thirtysomething). Millennials are seriously questioning why they should take on school debt when it's not at all clear that a degree will lead to meaningful work—or even work of any kind. I recently heard a startling statistic: three years in the future 90% of people under 35 do not expect to be working in the same place they are now. They expect chaos.

Because community offers a larger safety net, significantly reduced costs through sharing, and perhaps the promise of meaningful work (depending on the community), it makes sense that economics may be a bigger driver today in attracting millennials. That said, community economics will come in a package that will necessarily require greater social skills to navigate than a traditional job. In a community (or cooperative) business you can expect there to be as much attention given to how workers and management function together as what gets accomplished. That necessarily gets you into social territory, whether you meant to go there or not.

It is not enough to simply aspire to sustainable economics, where there's agreement that business activity should be measured against the standard of the triple bottom line (people, planet, and profit), or that work should be well aligned with values and enjoyable. If you're in for a penny (hunting better economics), then you're in for a pound (learning better communication skills, and the ability to distinguish what's best for me from what's best for the group)—because you won't secure the former without mastering the latter.

Are millennials approaching community living with better social skills than my generation did? I'm not sure. I certainly believe they're capable of learning them every bit as well as my generation did (or didn't), and in the end what does it matter in what order someone is inspired to pick up the skills needed to become more sustainable? The important thing is that they did and that they came to understand how one set of skills relates to another.

The point of entrée is significant from a marketing standpoint (maybe FIC should be emphasizing more how intentional communities provide real alternatives to the mainstream job market, rather than the authenticity of friendships forged in the crucible of community living), yet doesn't change the overall mix of what intentional communities offer, and just serves to underline how much all roads lead to home. Wherever you start, the trail will eventually bring you to all aspects, because, at its best, community living is integrated living, where we aspire to close the gap between our dreams and our everyday reality.


rick j said...

Are there any books about learning the social skills needed for living in a community that you would recommend?

Anonymous said...

"people in their 20s and 30s tend to be more drawn to community living for reasons of economic sanity than enhanced social engagement. That was a new perspective for me."

News to me also. Frankly, it doesn't make much sense, at least given existing cooperative communities in America. None that I have encountered are particularly prosperous nor do they celebrate wealth per se. Not sure what this person's definition of "economic sanity" is.

If we broaden the definition of "community" to include, say, worker-owned cooperatives, then we could say that joining a community can lead to financial security.