I’ve noticed a trend about communities. The ones that focus on their members following a particular diet, or a specific religious or spiritual path tend to be the ones that dissolve and dissipate within a few years (if they last that long). The ones that have thrived and succeeded tend to be the ones whose main focus is on being a community.
The two most divisive issues I’ve seen in communities are diet and spiritual/religious belief. Diet, spirituality, and similar issues are personal choices, and shouldn’t be enforced either on a large scale or a small one. In fact, many communities end up being far more restrictive than our increasingly puritan society.
I could never be a part of a community that told me what I couldn’t eat or what I should believe. I figure, if my fellow community members pitch in, are friendly and constructive, and do whatever they can to keep the community thriving, I could care less what they eat or believe. I understand that many communities focus on an organic diet, and I do agree that it is far healthier to eat unprocessed, whole foods, however, if someone slips into town for a burger, who am I to judge?
What good is it if someone is strictly vegan and meditates steadfastly if they can’t handle interpersonal relations, or if they can’t cooperate with different kinds of people? Ironically, I’ve found that the people who claim to be the wisest about respecting life tend to be the most judgemental towards others. If you can’t include humans in your respect for life, then you don’t truly respect all life, do you?
There’s a certain divisiveness among some folks in the progressive movement, and it kills community just as surely as it guarantees their failure in making effective changes in mainstream society. It’s no wonder the hardcore conservative movement has gained control. They are capable of doing something that many on “the left” have a hard time doing: putting personal issues aside in order to accomplish a larger goal.
Whether you are dealing with national policy or a small community, there is truth in that people must make pet issues secondary to the good of the whole. When someone says, “Oh, I can’t work with that person because they’re not vegan (or they wear fur, or drink, or don’t share the same spiritual beliefs, or whatever else)!” They shoot themselves and everyone else in the foot.
Communities require diversity in order to thrive. They are far better off with a mixture of people with various diets, beliefs, etc. than if everyone follows the exact same program. If you take away that diversity, you kill creativity. If everyone thinks exactly the same, it makes it difficult for objective and resourceful solutions to come forth. This is exactly why so many communities become dysfunctional and fall apart. If someone starts to differ from or doubt the program of a certain community, the focus becomes on getting that person to conform, rather than on simply making the community work.
As long as the community has the basics taken care of, such as food, water, shelter, medicine, work schedules, childcare, etc., then people can feel free to put forth effort on the larger issues they care about. Sure, get together to save that parcel of old growth forest, however, fix the plumbing first.
Communities can be very effective when they gather together to effect a certain change or pursue a specific cause, however, such causes must be secondary to the basics of community survival. If the issue becomes more important than the maintenance, then good luck thriving. Tend the garden, then protest. Fix the leak, then confront the corporate official.
Also, many people get into communities without really being aware of how honest with themselves they must be. When you live in close proximity with a group of people, and you spend every day working and playing with them, there are no secrets or masks anymore. Many people aren’t quite ready for that kind of honesty. One must have well developed communication skills and not be prone to jump to the defensive, or lay blame, or in any way avoid directly and rationally dealing with issues as they arise. Throwing something in like the requirement to adhere to a program such as a diet or a religion only complicates matters.
Community is not for everyone, and there’s no one right way to do community. However, there are certain truths that fit any society: diversity and communication are necessary for survival. Whether you are in a small cohousing project, or spread out on the land, or part of some collective, or even living in mainstream society, those truths still remain. After all, if people can’t cooperate enough to take care of the very basics, how can they be expected to be capable of handling larger issues?
© 2015 William Suphan
- A Symbiotic Society
- The Law of Sustainability