My Experience is an Asset and a Liability

My Experience is an Asset and a Liability

I didn’t set out to become an expert on intentional community. I don’t think of myself as an expert, and am uncomfortable with the idea of experts (both from a Diversity Equity Inclusion perspective, and, imposter syndrome anyone?) But I do like being useful. I want to be a resource. I’ve always wanted there to be more intentional communities and to support existing intentional communities because I think they have the potential to change the world.

Relatively speaking, I have a lot of experience with intentional community. 20+ years in 5 groups. 130+ visited. A couple past attempts to help start new communities. And basically my whole adult life being an organizer and movement builder, including working for the Foundation for Intentional Community and the Federation of Egalitarian Communities. I’ve lived it. I’ve studied it. I’ve organized it. My parents were part of it. I raised a kid in it. 

I’m not trying to give you my resume, or brag. Really. I did all of this because I believe in it. I’m passionate about it. It’s what I wanted for myself, and for the world. I’ve always felt a responsibility as a global citizen to try and help make the world a better place, and intentional community has been my vehicle of choice.

As I start to look for people to start a community, I’m concerned the experience and knowledge I have could create an imbalance in a forming group, especially as a 40 yr old, white, able-bodied, male bodied/socialized/privileged person. 

All that knowledge and experience could be a tremendous asset. I have a pretty good sense, theoretically and anecdotally, of what it takes to start an intentional community. I can give lots of examples of how different communities do things, the struggles they’ve faced, and what’s worked well. I know the common pitfalls and all the details that need to be figured out. I know where to look for resources and information. I’ve done a lot of work to glean principles, guidelines, and approaches. I’m a pragmatist. I’ve always tried to figure out what works for different groups so that I can share it with people who can make use of it. 

After this long I also have a very good idea about what I would like for myself. And there’s no way for me to completely separate what I want for myself and what I think works well in general. There are also things I think are important because of my belief in the dire need to address climate change, white supremacy, patriarchy, and capitalism. And I’ve spent a lot of time articulating these ideas and have a lot of information I can throw behind it.

But, I’m worried.

In articulating what I want in community, I tried to be clear about what is important to me. There’s also a bunch of stuff I didn’t address, either at all or in detail, because that’s stuff I feel more flexible around. I’ve always thought of good-natured flexibility as one of the most important skills for living in community. 

But I’m worried I’m fooling myself. That I’m more rigid than I realize. That I won’t find the right people because I don’t realize how I’m making it impossible for anyone else to work with me unless they agree with me. 

I’m worried that I will inadvertently shut people down or stifle their expression with too much “perspective” and “information.”

I know that no matter how hard I try, I will still act like a big white dude sometimes. And that even when I’m doing my best people may still experience me that way. This shit is hard to deal with. Dealing with shit is part of building community, but I’m worried about each thing that makes an already almost impossible project even harder.

I’m also afraid that I’m just a hopelessly, chronically dissatisfied person, that nothing will ever be good enough, and I will spend my life looking for something that doesn’t exist.

I’ve always felt like an outsider looking in on what the cool kids are doing, or assume that people are off doing something fun and awesome without me because I don’t fit in. Am I just a hopelessly awkward person who doesn’t know how to relate to people. I’m afraid I will always feel alone.

And I probably will. Wounds heal but the damage still happened and you’ll always have the scars. This is clearly part of why I’ve sought intentional community. But if I’m looking for a community to solve my problems I think my fears could become a self-fulfilling prophecy. 

I know that we all have our own set of fears, some based in reality, some things we can do something about, and some not. I’ve been watching a bunch of talks on Imposter Syndrome recently, and the best piece of advice I’ve gotten is, talk about it. 

Many of us have a conflict avoidance streak. We don’t want to talk about things that might bring up challenging emotions and get us into a disagreement that might create an irreparable rift. Long-term communities often evolve to some degree around things that happened that the community wasn’t able to fully process. As time passes, things compound. Like in any long term relationship, there becomes this body of stuff that no one really wants to talk about. Intimacy decreases, you get in a rut, and less becomes possible. 

We have to talk about the hard things. We have to be able to say things we don’t want to admit and things that will be hard for each other to hear. We need to come with enough faith and good-will to build the trust necessary to build the intimacy and care that will be the foundation for dealing with all the challenges and conflicts that will inevitably arise. At least, I think this is what we need. It’s what I want, and I don’t think I’m alone.

My worries are not going to just go away. And there’s a basis to some of them, and a danger of others becoming self-reinforcing. It’s helpful to remind myself that I’m not alone in this. We need each other to help us see what’s true and how to deal with it, and that has to start with being brave and vulnerable and talking about it. 

I believe this is one of the many gifts of community. One of the ways we can give to ourselves and each other so that we have more to give to the world.

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