Greetings fellow travelers! Countdown to our flight across the country to the exotic planet of California has begun. We will participate in Pantheacon 2016. Crew is assembled, and final gear check is in progress. This year’s experiment is transporting the junior cadets, I am confident that senior crew members will be exhausted before we even land. Before we head out, I wanted to give folks a preview of my workshop. Many people have asked me, what exactly do I talk about at these events? This year’s topic is Intentional Community, and I am facilitating a discussion about the benefits and challenges inherent in these type of social adventures.
The idea for this topic came out of a spontaneous dialogue inspired by my Evil Sisters workshop, presented at Summerland Spirit Festival in 2015. Several ladies and I were discussing restrictive female stereotypes when one woman spoke up about the fact that she was child-free, but derived great pleasure mentoring younger folks in all sorts of arts and crafts projects. She complained that her fertile friends often told her that they declined to enlist her services as a babysitter and mentor because they did not wish to “burden” her with childcare requests. She said that she would not consider it a burden, but instead a great honor to be able to interact with junior members of the community.
Another woman spoke up and introduced herself as a member of the Kemetic tradition, and told us about the concept of “Aunties” or female friends or relatives that have at least 5 years of seniority, who act as a kind of alternate care-giver for young and old, and work to lighten the burden on parents of constant responsibility and care. The conversation became so lively, that it seemed apparent that there is a need in the Pagan community to specifically address the idea of Intentional Community, or groups that are organized around shared social, political, or spiritual values. My thought is that by defining these experiments, we can better utilize the resources that are already available. The following article is a snapshot of a larger discussion, and worth exploring here.
I thought about my own efforts and experiments in building Intentional Community, and realized that I have several folks, both bio-related and family of choice, that are integral to the continued health and function of my family unit. Their titles are:
- Grunckle – Male member of intentional community, not necessarily bio-related. Grunckle means “Really Great Uncle” or “Really Grumpy Uncle” depending on the day.
- Auntie – Female member of intentional community, not necessarily bio-related. An Auntie is a term of endearment but also authority, and she may volunteer to educate or entertain youngsters.
Intentional communities can be organized several ways. Egalitarian, communal, hierarchal, each social structure has unique benefits as well as limitations. In order for any community to be functioning in a healthy way there are several key components that must be met:
- Membership – From the outset, it must be decided who makes up the community, and whether there is a distinction between adjunct and full membership. Communities are only as strong as their personal relationships, so this step is critical in determining the goals and responsibilities of the members.
- Responsibility – Each member makes a conscious choice as to what the unique areas of authority shall be, and has an obligation to fulfill their share. Who is in charge of managing the household/organization? Who pays the bills? Who provides childcare? Who calls the members to ritual or prayer?
- Governance – How the community is organized has to be established. This is important for people to feel a sense of safety and assurance that their voices and goals will be incorporated into the whole. Some examples are democratic, hierarchal, and consensus decision-making. Communities may combine these approaches, depending on communal voting for some things but reserving the right to make executive decisions for items that fall within their jurisdiction. (One example: Bill payer decides that Cable TV is not necessary and wastes community resources. Opens decision up to group, no consensus is reached, and no additional funds are offered to cover costs. Bill payer cuts or reduces service, as she is in charge of maintaining financial integrity and her name is on the bill.)
Benefits of Intentional Community:
- Inclusivity – People who are sidelined in traditional family structure are granted a voice and integral roles in alternative setups. People who are childfree or have alternative lifestyles are re-incorporated into family unit providing love and support to younger generations.
- Pooling Resources – Combining finances between 3, 4, or more individuals creates an economic stability that is hard to duplicate with a one or two- earner household. Unexpected gaps in employment due to childbirth or accident/illness can be weathered by the group, instead of becoming a crippling economic disaster.
- Continuity – Unlike traditional or nuclear family structure, change in circumstances or divorce does not necessarily end Intentional Community. Individuals are free to pursue their dreams, withdraw, or depart and the other members of the community can collaborate to keep the younger generation from feeling disconnected or destabilized. Kids can grow up secure in the knowledge that the while the group may be going through some tough times, the entire family and way of life is not collapsing.
Challenges of Intentional Community:
- Anything Goes – One frequent issue that arises is a conflict between independent desires and group integrity. People can get confused in alternative structures, and feel that they can change or disregard rules or customs when it suits them. One example is when a member decides to act in ways that are against the shared vision of the internal community, or illegal in the wider context of area the community resides in.
- Repeating Negative Patterns – Often, members of Intentional Community are coming out of dysfunctional or unhealthy family structures, and are interested in creating something new. Unfortunately, even the best-intentioned people can get stuck in negative loops that are reminiscent of their origins. A common mistake is projecting one’s emotional baggage onto the group as a whole, and transposing personal issues onto the group dynamic.
- Agency – Another challenge that is a perennial issue is the concept of agency, or autonomy within a collective. Being a part of any group, whether biological family or Intentional Community, is difficult and exhausting at times. Particularly when it appears as if all members are not honoring their responsibilities equally, or circumstances change and re-organization is taking place. Whether these perceptions accurately reflect the wider reality or are internalized, members can feel as if their contribution is not valued or taken for granted. Feelings of resentment can be the cause of irreparable rifts within the whole.
Despite these challenges, there are those who feel that the benefits far outweigh the risks inherent to building Intentional Community. If all parties are operating with integrity from a place of love, experimental social structures can be a viable way to create a new future that is both happy and healthy. However, we have to be willing to make hard decisions to recognize and stop negative patterns when they arise. Sometimes this can mean a difficult conversation, sometimes this can mean a parting of ways. This is why it is important for those who have experience in these matters to open up and share what has worked, and what has not, so others can benefit from our triumphs, as well as our less successful experiments.