About This Newsletter What is an Ecovillage? Ecovillage Resources Diana Leafe Christian, Editor

Ecovillage Culture: "Glue" or "Shrapnel"?

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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.

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Newsletter Staff

Mission & Purpose

To encourage and inspire new and existing ecovillage projects with news about ecovillages and related projects worldwide.

Advisory Board

  • Lois Arkin,
    CRSP; ENA; Urban Ecovillage Network; Los Angeles Eco-Village, US
  • Peter Bane,
    Permaculture designer; publisher, Permaculture Activist, US
  • Albert Bates,
    Co-founder, GEN; Post-Petroleum Survival Guide; Director, Ecovillage Training Center at The Farm, US
  • Tree Bressen,
    Consensus & Facilitation Trainer; Cofounder, Walnut St. Co-op, US
  • Ernest Callenbach,
    Ecotopia, Ecotopia Emerging; US
  • Giovanni Ciarlo,
    GEN; ENA; Huehyecoyotl Ecovillage, Mexico
  • Raines Cohen,
    Cohousing Association of the US; Fellowship for Intentional Community (FIC); Berkeley Cohousing, US
  • Leila Dregger,
    Peace journalist & writer, Peace Research Center & Ecovillage, Tamera, Portugal
  • Chuck Durrett,
    Cohousing; Senior Cohousing; Architect, The Cohousing Company; Nevada City Cohousing, US
  • Jonathan Dawson,
    Ecovillages; Findhorn Foundation, Scotland
  • Robert Gilman,
    Co-founder, GEN; Ecovillages & Sustainable Communities; City Council Member, Langley, Washington, US
  • Michael Hale,
    Yarrow Ecovillage, Canada
  • Jeff Grossberg,
    Guidestone Consulting Group, US
  • Martha Harris,
    Earthaven Ecovillage, US
  • Scott Horton,
    Editor, Permaculture Activist, US
  • Hildur Jackson,
    Co-founder, Gaia Trust; cofounder, GEN; Ecovillage Living, Denmark
  • Kosha Joubert,
    Editor, Beyond You and Me, GEN's EDE Program; Ecovillage Sieben Linden, Germany
  • Elana Kann & Bill Flemming,
    Co-developers, Westwood Cohousing, US
  • Joseph F. Kennedy,
    Designer/educator; The Art of Natural Building, US
  • Fred & Nancy Lanphear,
    Northwest Intentional Communities Association (NICA); Songaia Cohousing, US
  • Mark Lakeman,
    Founder, Portland City Repair & Village Building Convergence, US
  • Max Lindegger,
    Cofounder, GEN; Director, GEN-Oceania/Asia; Crystal Waters Ecovillage, Australia
  • Chris Mare,
    GEN's EDE Program; Village Design Institute, US
  • Ronaye Matthew,
    Canadian Cohousing Network; Cranberry Commons Cohousing, Canada
  • Kathryn McCamant,
    Architect/Developer, Cohousing Partners, Inc.; Co-author, Cohousing; Nevada City Cohousing, US
  • Dr. Bill Metcalf,
    Findhorn Book of Community Living; Professor, Environmental Sociology, Griffith University, Australia
  • Ina Meyer-Stoll,
    Co-director, GEN-Europe; ZEGG, Germany
  • Tim Miller,
    The 60s Communes; Professor of Religion, University of Kansas, US
  • Hank Obermayer,
    Mariposa Grove Cohousing, US
  • Toshio Ogata,
    Professor of Economics, Chuo University; GEPA (Global Environment Project in Asia), Japan
  • Craig Ragland,
    Executive Director, Cohousing Association of the US; Songaia Cohousing; New Earth Song Cohousing, US
  • Penelope Reyes,
    President, GEN-Oceania/Asia; Tuwâ - The Laughing Fish, Cabiao, Philippines
  • Michael Rios,
    Network for a New Culture Summer Camp East; Chrysalis, Washington DC, US
  • Jim Shenck,
    Enright Ridge Ecovillage, US
  • Nicola Shirley,
    The Source Farm Ecovillage, Jamaica
  • Tony Sirna,
    Communities Directory; Dancing Rabbit Ecovillage, US
  • Jan Steinman,
    EcoReality Co-op, Canada
  • Liz Walker,
    GEN's EDE Program; Ecovillage at Ithaca; EcoVillage at Ithaca, US