By Keenan Dakota, Twin Oaks Community, Virginia, USA
Ecovillages need a high ratio of "glue" members.
Burl (not his real name)
was a member of Twin Oaks Community in Virginia who was expelled because of his negative behavior However, his problematic behavior didn’t exist in isolation. His departure didn’t automatically make Twin Oaks healthier — or safer. My take on the culture of Twin Oaks, or any conscious group of people who are trying to live or work together, is that different people bring different strengths to the group. A group doesn’t function well just because it has well-thought-out rules or systems. We don’t, as individuals, behave well because of our policies, but because of how we interact together in a moment-to-moment way.
The metaphor I use is “glue.” Twin Oaks or any ecovillage project needs enough members who serve as “glue” to hold the community together. What defines a “gluey” person? People who do their share of work and who take on responsibility, of course, but also people who help create a positive and supportive social environment, who help friends in trouble, and who take care of people in distress.
Zhankoye, the dining room at Twin Oaks in Virginia.
Although Burl worked hard at Twin Oaks, he wasn’t glue; he was more like “shrapnel.” He complained consistently and bitterly about other people’s incompetence. On those rare instances when he praised someone it was by comparison to all those other idiots. The sort of complaining that he did was more than demoralizing, it was damaging. A community can’t hold together if there are too many people who are like shrapnel — that wherever they go, they are running down other people and complaining about the community. The damage done by someone who is shrapnel far exceeds the healing by someone who is glue. The community needs a high ratio of glue to shrapnel!
Hammock-making is one of Twin Oaks' community-owned businesses.
Burl got to the point in his final months where he was saying things like, “That’s Twin Oaks for you!” when something didn’t meet his standards. And I thought to myself that Burl should go soon. I mentioned to him a few times over the years how annoying and unhelpful it was that he complained so much of the time. But a few comments here and there weren’t nearly enough to change his behavior. For his behavior to have changed would have taken many people giving the same sort of input to him over and over again. I believe that Burl could have changed his behavior if the culture of our community were stronger — or he would have left sooner.
Burl is going to live in the wilderness for awhile, where the only human fallibility will be his own. I wish him luck and I’m glad he’s gone. I have seen this pattern before. Once someone comes to assume that common human fallibility is specifically a Twin Oaks failing, then it’s time to move on. The benefit of leaving the community for awhile is to give members a chance to re-discover that human fallibility doesn’t end at the border of the community, but, rather, is a global phenomenon. Often, embittered members return from time away from Twin Oaks with a renewed appreciation of the many good things about the place and a less acid tongue.
Kaweah, one of Twin Oak's group residences, is passive solar with off-grid power.
Now, of course, no one falls neatly in one category or another — all of us go in and out of being more like glue or more like shrapnel. My goal in writing this is to encourage each of us to take on personal responsibility for helping sustain a healthy, supportive and healing ecovillage culture. It isn’t up to a community’s process team, its mental health team, or its steering committee to make or change the behavior of individuals or the culture of the community. We are all
responsible. As we go through our day each of us is affecting our fellow ecovillagers with our words and actions.
In your ecovillage, are you helping to build a stronger, healthier community? Or are you complaining and running other people down? Are you “glue”? Or are you “shrapnel?”
I believe heaven is a place where we are surrounded by people who know us intimately, overlook our failings, support our efforts and highlight our strengths. And I believe hell is a place where people know us intimately, highlight our failings, hinder our efforts, and overlook our strengths. Each of us helps make our ecovillage a heaven or hell for everyone else.
Keenan Dakota is a longtime member of Twin Oaks Community in Virgina, US.