5 Things We’ve Learned Living In Intentional Community

The things that worked and the things that didn’t

 

Video transcript:

MELINDA
Hi Everyone. Here’s the next episode in our series on intentional community. So the Bruderhof’s been around for a while now and those of us who are new to it benefit tremendously from the experiences of earlier generations – the things that worked and the things that didn’t. We’re going to talk about five of the things that work. Of course what’s most important to us is the person and the teachings of Jesus - all of these lessons stem from that. So you ready to do this? 

RICHARD
Let’s do this!

The intrinsic value of work

RICHARD
People who are attracted to intentional community are generally people with utopian ideals looking for a radically new way of living. Problem is you can’t live on dreams and ideals. Asking for donations and living on philanthropy might work for a while – our community did its fair share of that in the beginning – but long–term you need to be contributing more to the world than a new blueprint for society. 

MELINDA
Yeah you can’t just sit around and be spiritual. (At least I know I can’t). Work is not an unfortunate necessity getting in the way of the important stuff. It’s actually a way to reflect your values in a practical, down–to–earth way. Which also means the work you do shouldn’t contradict your values. Like, be ethical and be considerate in your use of resources. 

RICHARD
Even if it’s not always possible to have a common income–generating business (the Bruderhof is lucky in that regard), common work with other community members, whether you’re cleaning up community space or working in the neighborhood, is equally as important as sharing meals or spending time together relaxing. Doing constructive practical work with people who share your values is an important way to strengthen the bonds within your community. And from a faith perspective, work is how we manifest the sincerity of our beliefs.

Remember to play

MELINDA
Life together can be intense. So it’s really important that as a community you keep finding ways to have fun together. Otherwise people will quickly burn out. 

RICHARD
Yeah, life in community is always going to require self–sacrifice but it shouldn’t be exhausting. If it is, you’re doing it wrong. Keeping a sense of humor about yourself and the people you live with is also key. 

MELINDA
Right. For us it’s stuff like people doing funny performances at a communal gathering, organizing an intergenerational volleyball game, getting a crowd of people together for a folk song sing–along in the evening around a camp fire. Often the most rejuvenating experiences are the unexpected or spontaneous ones.

Commit to frank and open relationships

RICHARD
The most natural thing in the world is for people to talk about each other’s weaknesses or annoying proclivities when the person they’re talking about isn’t there. But you have to wonder why we do it when we know how much it can hurt relationships. 

MELINDA
Well there’s actually a bunch of reasons why people gossip that aren’t so hard to figure out. People do it because they want to feel superior, because they’re envious or angry or bored. And all of these reasons are detrimental to community building. So a really basic rule for living communally is to commit to no gossip and keeping relationships between community members simple and genuine. Nobody’s perfect and comments will be dropped from time to time but if you at least have it as a baseline rule it’s something you can come back to. 

RICHARD
Yeah I’m pretty sure you’ve said mean things about me when I’m not around. 

MELINDA
Maybe. But you know I always tell you what I think.

Have a system of conflict mediation 

RICHARD
You will have conflict in community. Sometime it will be about little things like what to do about someone’s cat who keeps crapping in the kids’ sandbox. Sometimes it will be about big things like how the resources of the community are used. Whatever the conflict there needs to be a clear way in which to resolve it because while you can go on for a while with unresolved conflicts eventually the weight of them will make the ship of community unsteady and you risk jeopardizing everything. 

MELINDA
If you’re committed to frank and open relationships it should make this not necessarily easier (conflict is never easy) but a lot less complicated and out in the open. So for us there’s a simple biblical approach which starts with a person who has a problem trying to resolve it directly with the person they have a problem with. 

RICHARD
This can be hard to do and it’s sometimes tempting to bypass this step and go complain to someone else and see if you can get them to solve the problem for you. But that right away undermines trust and openness so no matter how difficult it might seem you have to start here. And generally 95% of conflicts can be resolved at this level 

MELINDA
If the person who has a problem isn’t satisfied after talking one–on–one, that’s the time to bring a third party into the conversation to help mediate. If they still can’t find a way through, the problem’s brought in front of all community members and we figure it out together. 

RICHARD
In the case of the cat crapping, it’s pretty clear who’s in the right. 

MELINDA
And obviously that’s never the cat.

Flexibility creates resilience

MELINDA
So most intentional communities start with some sort of high ideal about transforming society or environmental sustainability or stepping away from worldly affairs and cultural decay. And at the beginning it’s all very dynamic and vibrant – every day is a discovery, it’s exciting. But then things inevitably start to calcify. 

RICHARD
That’s because even the best intentional community is not a utopia. It’s a microcosm of human society. So eventually you’ll start to see norms and rules develop which can end up being stifling. That’s why it’s crucial to continually be open to challenging yourself to not settle into certain ways of thinking and doing things even if there are very good reasons for keeping things the same. Stability is in some ways an admirable goal but if that’s where you put your primary emphasis it can be the death knell of intentional community. People want to be able to create and be part of building something new and there needs to be an openness to that and willingness to take risks. 

MELINDA
…while at the same time not departing from the foundational values of the community. If you mess with those…it’s a creative tension. So for example, for years the model for life together at the Bruderhof was rural settlements of 250–300 people with a common business to support it. Over a decade ago a bunch of younger members suggested buying or renting houses in cities to create opportunities to become part of a neighborhood and extend the experience of community in that way. It was a big shift initially, but the model really worked out well and there have been dozens of house community startups since then.

RICHARD
Ok that’s it for this video. Next video will be about why intentional community is a bad idea. 

MELINDA
Really?

RICHARD
It’s going to blow your mind. Subscribe and ring the bell so you don’t miss it.