Notes from Windward: #68


What Holds a Community Together

Andrew comments on 11 lessons from Tamera

What holds a community together?

     The following is a list of 11 things that Dieter Duhm discusses is his book The Sacred Matrix. This list concerns factors that have held communities together, and torn them apart. When I came across this list, I was struck with how Windward has had the experience and foresight to effectively disable the bad while incorporating the good of this list. This is no doubt why Windward has survived until today, and how much of an example it can set for other intentional communities. Here, I will be paraphrasing the list from the book, and adding in my own thoughts about how Windward relates to the list. I've also asked Walt to add his comments.

  December 1:

  1.       Strong idea, concept, or goal which is more than a personal desire for contact or a feeling of home.

         Windward has many goals which have developed through the years. In the first twenty years Windward’s main goal was laying down the basic infrastructure; utilities, water pipes, electrical, workshops, housing, etc. and has gradually developed to include; creating a viable alternative to the patriarchal structure of society to date; researching and developing community sized systems for the production of energy, fuel, food, and clean water; developing new and better ways for people to interact with one another that is not based on profit, exploitation, or domination; finding new ways of utilizing the capital base that is here (biomass) to create products of value; and selecting and training the next generation of Stewards.

         These goals reach far beyond those of personal desires, and touch an essential progression in human society that must take place if we as a species are going to survive the storm that will inevitably arrive at the shores of our global civilization. Something else, which strikes me about Windward, is that the goals and Ideas are not rigidly fixed. They are actually very malleable. The goals and decisions are shaped by who is on the board, and who is invited to join the community and become an apprentice/steward.

    [Walt: It's quite true that a necessary focus over the past twenty years has involved paying off our land and building the infra-structure required to conform to the county codes. With most of that work behind us now, we're able to invest more of our time and talent into the research that makes Windward different from other communities. While that may look like a change of direction, I see it more as our having come full circle because the work we're doing now is essentially the work we started out to do some thirty years ago.

         Intentional communities are social experiments which build on the efforts of those who've gone before. In Windward's case, we evolved from an effort to create a free island in the Caribbean, work that showed that credible independence has to be founded on an ability to produce food, energy and social structure. "Sustainability" wasn't a concept that people talked about in those days, but we realized early on that without sustainable systems, we would remain dependent on, and subordinate to, the multi-national corporations that control access to resources. I derive a good deal of pleasure from the observation that the work we're doing today is a direct out-growth of what we did back then.]

      December 5:

  2.       Good method for dealing with conflict, and an effective guide for handling relationships that may threaten to break down the community.

         Windward is an intentional community. Part of what this entails is that each of the participants in the community makes clear their intentions to the group. In this way, people are asked share their hopes, dreams, and ambitions, as well as their fears and inner conflicts. Karen Hery is part of Windward’s “Away Team” and aides the resolution of conflicts as they arise, by offering her skills in group workshops, individual chats, and Love Based Living Circles every couple of weeks. I feel this aspect of Windward is critical to creating lasting relationships founded on trust and support, not domination. Relationships that don’t threaten to break down the community due to a conflict left unnoticed and untreated.

    [Walt: One way we resolve conflict is through an ongoing search for better ways to deal with the diversity that lies at the heart of sustainability--finding ways to compliment rather than conflict--and the work that Karen has been doing this year is resulting in enhanced communication and connection for all of us. For me, it's been a very interesting exploration of novel pathways to a new level of community. I'm reminded of the military saying that those who wish to lead, must never cease to learn--and since we're working to build a community of leaders, that admonition applies to us all.

         Windward is the result of the work of a lot of people, none of whom--myself included--were saints. Over the years there's been considerable conflict to resolve, and each time we've had to work through some serious challenge, we've paid a price and learned a bit more. One lesson we've learned is that conflicts can quickly become very personal, and when that happens, we have to depend on our bylaws to sort things out. As a result, we put serious effort into tracking down holes and ambiguities in our process since once a conflict becomes personal, it can drive a wedge right through the heart of the community.]

      December 20:

  3. A few responsible people with the strength and unusually strong staying power to stand up for the community goals when thing go wrong.

    Andrew:The fact that Windward has made it through three decades is evidence that a core group of people have remained dedicated to the community goals.

    [Walt: While that's manifestly true, what's perhaps most notable is that over the years, it's not been the same core group going forward. As Gaia's Consort observes "Life says to Life one thing--Evolve!." In order to survive its first thirty years, Windward has had to evolve--I expect that the next thirty years will see Windward evolve in other, unexpected ways.

         Accountability is a good synonym for sustainability; the more accountable a system is, the more sustainable it becomes. In order to survive, Windward has had to remain accountable to its members, to county, state and federal agencies, and ultimately, to nature itself. Since the quest for sustainable community is one of the most demanding of human undertakings, it's no wonder that the challenge, especially in those early years, could burn people out to the point where they had to pass the torch on to others.

         Those who study the formation of radical intentional communities often find a common factor in the crucible in which a community's core formed. Those early pioneers are often referred to as "
    the rice eaters," a reference to their willingness to go forward even when there was little more than rice to eat in order to insure that their dream had a chance to survive. Those early members who brought their passion to the challenge of creating a working model of sustainable community are an honored part of our history, and remembered in the way that John Denver remembered the crews who made up the Calypso:

         To sail on a dream on a crystal clear ocean
         To ride on the crest of a wild raging storm
         To work in the service of life and the living
         In search of the answers to questions unknown
         To be part of the movement and part of the growing
         Part of beginning to understand

         Aye, Calypso, the places youve been to
         The things that you've shown us
         The stories you tell
         Aye, calypso, I sing to your spirit
         [To those] who have served you
         So long and so well

      December 24:

  4.      No top dogs or territorial thinking, with cooperation among a permanent circle of responsible people, devoid of secret plays of power or position

         The bylaws have been developed so that there can be no top dog; no single member who wields all the decision making power. Nor can any couple within the organization combine their strength to outweigh the will of the rest of the group. The by-laws make it specifically clear how much influence a single person in the community can have, where that influence is derived, and how to work your way from internship, to apprenticeship, to Stewardship. These guidelines are the result of many troubling times at Windward, where things could have gone terribly wrong. However, the bylaws prevailed in these scenarios, preventing problems from crippling the organization.

         The bylaws grant each of member of Windward's Board of Directors a single vote regardless of how many credits that Director has earned. With 5 members serving on the Board, each holds at most a 20% sway.

         By the time Stewards are recognized as full members, they'll have invested a significant amount of time and money into the community. In a sense, their devotion (over time) to the community is measured by their number of credits, so the structure is weighted so that those who invest the most have the largest--but not total--say in how that investment is managed.

         Apprentice’s are represented in board meetings by the Apprentice Director, who is either the senior apprentice or someone who represents that largest block of apprentice credits. If an apprentice doesn't agree with the apprentice director’s decision, one or more apprentices can proxy their credits to another apprentice.

         If the total number of their combined credits exceeds the credits that the apprentice director holds, they can remove that director from the board and replace them by whomever they'd rather proxy their credits to. It's interesting to note that the Stewards have no say in who becomes the Apprentice Director, and that in the event of a tie between the four Stewards on some issue, the Apprentice Director breaks the tie.

         Stewards also have the right to proxy their credits. These design features insure that there are no single leaders, and that the members with the most time and money invested in the community have a commensurately large say in how the community will function.

    [Walt:  In practice, different people care about different things, so in order to garner support for the things that one cares about, it's important to support others in the work that matters to them. What goes around, comes around, especially in a small community committed to the level of system integration necessitated by sustainability.

         Another factor at play in reaching consensus is the realization that the plan that everyone can support is more likely to succeed than a plan which, while it may actually be technically superior in some ways, never-the-less lacks widespread support. Time and again we've come to the understanding that we--acting together--are smarter than any one of us acting alone. Folks have to decide early on whether they care more about getting their way or about getting the work done; if the former is their goal, then they're not likely to find that community is going to be a viable organizational structure for them.]

      December 26:

  5.      Clear infrastructure, with each member aware of their place.

         This means a precise division of labor and clear leadership assignments. As Walt has told me, “everybody wants to be useful, but nobody wants to be used.” This points to some huge obstacles of building a community composed of individuals who have freely decided to come together, but do not want to sacrifice their autonomy to the group. How do you design a system to allow people the opportunities to feel useful, without feeling indentured or subordinate to the will of another person or group?

         One way these challenges are handled at Windward is that Stewards, Apprentices, and Interns are all given leadership positions on specific projects. In this way each person has a chance to lead, and is reciprocally asked to help others with their projects. If someone has a question or concern about a project, there is a resource on the subject either present in the community, or via the documentation of past activities in the Windward Notes.

         Projects are dealt out in more than one way. If someone has an idea for a project that will benefit the community, they are given stewardship over that project, and encouraged to make it happen. Additionally, if there is something that must get done, an individual may be asked to take the reigns. In any case, there is a chance for everyone to lead, and everyone to assist them. This allows for people to feel like they are useful, and that their time and energy is going into a project that is greater than themselves, and in line with their individual principles.

    [Walt: Andrew's covered that pretty well, so I'll offer a bit on why we continually revisit the need for clear infrastructure.

         Over the years we've learned a good deal about how our bylaws can be interpreted in various ways, and not all the lessons were the nice kind. As a result, we pay close attention to the need to create clarity as regards our infrastructure, and to take timely steps to resolve any potential ambiguity before it has a chance to turn into a serious problem. It's hard enough to get people to play by the rules when emotions run high--without clarity, disputes can quickly devolve into dominance games which can shred the sense of community in ways that are often not recoverable.

      December 27:

  6.      Leadership structure free of domination; natural authorities based on certain social, professional, technical, or other abilities that make them suitable to lead; a sense of trust for leaders among the group.

          This is quite an accomplishment at Windward. The labor and leadership roles are distributed to each member based on their knowledge and innate abilities. And still, everything that must be done is accomplished. A good example of this concept is Walt’s position at Windward. He is available as a resource for sustainability projects, and also as repository of all things Windward. His expertise is so far reaching that the best use of his time is as a guide and mentor to others. He is not at the lead of all projects, but he is a powerful resource and coordinator for most of them.

    [Walt: The kind words are appreciated, but a key part of how we function derives from the premise that in order to be sustainable, we first have to get right with nature--that our plants, animals and especially our land have to be stewarded in sustainable ways, or else we're just here for the short term. Nature simply doesn't care what I think, or what our board decides--the burden is wholly on us to be in alignment with nature. Given that fundamental understanding, there's little point in dominance games.

         Another key point is that while we're committed to the consensus process, we're also aware that consensus is no substitute for detailed knowledge. For example, when we have a question regarding a matter of real estate law, we consult our attorney and do what he believes will best accomplish our goals. In a similar way, we're continually reaching out to build relationships with those who have specialized knowledge which can help us move forward--whether or not they want to embrace cooperative living is beside the point.

         For example, one of the projects we look forward to getting underway this year involves working out some way to convert a gasoline-powered riding lawn mower to run on batteries using an electric motor. We've started our egg and aquaponics work using commercial feeds, but that's in recognition that when attempting to understand a complex system, you need to break it down into various stages and master one stage before moving on to the next.

         In order to achieve the degree of sustainability we're looking for, we will be using grass grown organically on-site to compound our bird and fish feed, and we need a sustainably powered mower to do that. Which is why we're delighted to have made contact with a fellow who makes his living repairing both riding mowers and electric golf carts. We already have an electric golf cart we can pull the engine out of, and he's got lots of mowers with blown engines that already have the mowing deck and grass catcher we'll need. He's interested in our project and is looking forward to helping us get started on the right path. Sustainability is too challenging for those who aren't willing to set their ego aside and find ways to work together.

         The dominant culture we come from is so deeply enmeshed in hierarchy that it's hard for most people to imagine any other way of structuring a viable system. What nature teaches us is that there are many ways to proceed, that natural systems are more akin to string art than a pyramid.

Notes From Windward - Index - Vol. 68