What I Learned From "Beyond You and Me"
“Empowering leadership is about persuasion, inspiration, and the sharing of power, information, and attention. It’s the leadership that steps out in front and says, ‘Hey, let’s go this way!’ [It’s] not based on power-over, or the ability to control or punish others. It draws on a different sort of power that I call power-among. It’s based on respect, on people’s assessment that what I am saying is worth hearing, perhaps because I have more experience or skill or knowledge in a certain area.”
Here’s more from Starhawk about power in community, in the same chapter:
“For someone who is moved to take leadership in an empowering manner, power-among is a precious resource, and we do well to think of it as a limited resource.” She notes, however, that one can lose much of one’s power-among by doing something thoughtless or hurtful or using it too often. “Once it’s gone, it’s going to take time for it to recover. If I use too much of it, I diminish the reserves.”
Another passage I loved is from Geseko von Lüpke, who leads vision quests in Europe. He notes that some may want to live in intentional communities or ecovillages for “neediness” reasons: to better cope with problems, to protect against loneliness, as a substitute extended family, or as “a womb for undeveloped potential.” This can lead to crisis in the community, if not to total break-up, he says. “A community is not a substitute mama for grown-up children nor a therapist,” he continues. “What a community really needs are grown up, responsible people aware of their potential, with a strong vision, ready to face all the challenges that may be encountered on the way to its realization.”
Right on, Geseko!
I was deeply moved by Dmitry Morozov’s description of Kitezh Children’s Village in Russia, a spiritual community where foster parents and teachers are dedicated to raising orphaned children.
“There is nothing higher for a human being than to see himself as a part of the cosmos, to love and be loved, to do good by learning and making an effort,” he writes. Later he says an intentional community is the best form to create a nurturing environment for children in need because “it is precisely this type of social structure that demands from a person a consciousness of doing good.”
I was also drawn to the chapters on meetings by Beatrice Briggs and Giovanni Ciarlo, both of Huehuecoyotl in Mexico. They must have simpático meetings there.
And Kosha Joubert’s article on process and governance at Sieben Linden was so personally inspiring I wrote three articles about Sieben Linden for this newsletter. (See What We Can Learn From Ecovillage Sieben Linden, Is Consensus Right for Your Group? Part II, and The Feeling, Thinking, and Business Meetings of Ecovillage Sieben Linden.)
Beyond You and Me: Inspirations and Wisdom for Building Community is the first anthology of readings published for students of Gaia Education’s four-week certificate course, Ecovillage Design Education (EDE). Gaia Education is a program of GEN (Global Ecovillage Network), which draws from the experience and expertise of some of the most successful ecovillages and community projects internationally for a course on ecovillage design and sustainable community development.
The EDE course is divided into four “Keys” to ecovillage design — Economic, Worldview, Ecological and Social — and each book covers one of these. Beyond You and Me was written for the Social Key, with sections on what it means to live in an ecovillage, communication skills, personal empowerment and leadership, health, and ecovillage outreach.
The four EDE books are also intended as reference books for any of us interested in ecovillages and other responses to climate change, peak oil, and so on. (Hence the free download from the GEN website.) The other three books, not yet published, will be The Song of the Earth: The Emerging Synthesis of the Scientific and Spiritual Worldviews; Gaian Economics: Living Well within Planetary Limits; and Designing Ecological Habitats: Creating a Sense of Place.
I loved the abundance of European contributors this first EDE book. It helped me get a much better sense of the leadership Europeans play in the worldwide ecovillage movement. Besides Geseko, Dmitry, and Kosha, contributors include Dieter Duhm and Leila Dregger (Tamera, Portugal); Dieter Halbach and Wolfram Nolte (Sieben Linden, Germany); Dolores Richter (ZEGG, Germany); Agniezka Komoch (Lebensgarten, Germany); Robin Alfred, Gill Emslie, and Cornelia Featherstone (Findhorn, Scotland); Capra Carruba (Damanhur, Italy); and Jan Martin Bang (Solborg, Norway).
Other international contributors were from Senegal, Japan, and Latin America.
North Americans contributed too. Besides Starhawk and Robert Gilman (see below), you'll find Liz Walker (EcoVillage at Ithaca), Daniel Greenberg (Living Routes, an ecovillage study-abroad program in Massachusetts), Robert Gilman (cofounder of GEN), Manitonquat (an elder of the Wampanoag Nation), and me (Earthaven).
I originally plunged into Beyond You and Me expecting to learn a great deal about what works well in the social and cultural aspects of ecovillage life . . . and I did get some of this.
But the book didn’t hang together for me as well as I’d hoped. This is partly because it’s an anthology, with 40 different authors. And some are famous folks who don’t live in ecovillages — Malidoma Somé, Helena Norberg-Hodge, Marshall Rosenberg, Patch Adams, Wangari Matthei, Vandana Shiva — and whose chapters, which are reprints or excerpts from other works, don’t place their comments in an ecovillage context.
In some ways it didn’t seem so much like a book about the social aspects of ecovillage life, as a book that touches on various ecovillage social aspects, with a lot of spiritual insights and progressive political ideas too.
I want to read about practical, real-life anecdotes and well-honed practices for what works well in community, and how ecovillages can effectively meet their goals to educate and encourage others. When a community is wracked and wrenched by conflict, for example, or yearns for deeper experiences of what community living can become, reading about a gender reconciliation process or folks in healthier-than-us indigenous cultures doesn’t really make it for me.
After I got over this disappointment though, I figured I was dining at a smorgasbord and could simply enjoy the delicacies I liked.Robert Gilman on “Multiple Centers of Initiative. Currently Robert is helping bring awareness of ecological and economic sustainability the small town of Langley, Washington, where he is a City Council member. In answer to the question, “How can we mainstream the ecovillage experience? Robert replied:
“The essential first step is to see ourselves in a complementary, rather than a superior, relationship with those who are leading ‘mainstream’ lives. Many of the people who are doing wonderful things in various GEN communities are personally willing to be quite bold in their lifestyle experimentation. Yet if you look carefully at this, it often becomes clear that their experimentation is possible because the larger society provides a more stable context — thanks to all of those mainstream lives.”
“The next step is to see our communities, not as complete unto themselves, but as centres of research, demonstration, and training that need their complementary relationship with mainstream communities to fulfill their mission.”
“Beyond, I recommend finding willing partners in existing mainstream communities and build from there. Go first where you are welcome and welcome those who are already interested.”
- What We Can Learn from Ecovillage Sieben Linden — this issue
- Is Consensus Right for Your Group? Part II — this issue
- The Feeling, Thinking, and Business Meetings of Ecovillage Sieben Linden — this issue
- Robert Gilman on “Multiple Centers of Initiative” — Oct '08