- Category: Communities and Co-ops
- Published on Monday, 12 December 2011 01:36
- Written by Sara McCracken
- Hits: 225
A few months ago I wondered if intentional communities could teach us anything about compassion. Between then and now I spent a lot of time learning about intentional communities and the people that choose to make that their home. I examined specific communities and discussed the state of care giving in the US and how intentional communities deal with care work and, by extension, compassion. I learned about them primarily by reading books and articles on the subject and by talking to a friend of mine who is involved with intentional communities. After all this, I think it is clear that there are connections between intentional community and compassion.
Intentional communities are, I think at least in part, an outcome of a desire to live a more compassionate life. People are drawn to intentional communities for a variety of reasons. Some people find modern life stifling and alienating; they cannot find fulfillment in a world that places so much emphasis on material wealth and so little emphasis on meaningful relationships and cooperation. These people seek a lifestyle that rewards and depends on collaboration. In the case of Twin Oaks, for example, people live together, work together, eat and play together. The community is about sharing lives and the members are actively creating a new culture that is separate and distinct from the outside world. They reproduce this different way of life through everyday actions – the way they organize and structure their lives.
Others are drawn to community for sociopolitical reasons as well. I found that many communities, both historical and modern, are populated by people who are fed up with things like economic inequality, racial disparities and environmental devastation. Communities like Twin Oaks, who seek to withdraw almost entirely from the mainstream, tend to have their own system of government. The specifics and mechanisms vary, but intentional communities tend to make decisions after much deliberation, collaboration and compromise. They believe strongly that everyone should be able to influence decisions that impact their lives and this belief is built into the decision making process. Whether or not individual communities are successful in this regard is, obviously, beyond the scope of my project; for my purposes it's enough that they are at least actively working toward a more egalitarian society.
Those broad reasons for joining intentional communities can be said to stem from compassion or a desire to live a more compassionate life. Compassion for others and compassion for the natural world is what drives people to intentional communities. They may exist only on the fringes of society, but if we took the time to see how they organize their daily lives I think we could indeed learn something about what it means to be compassionate. I think this understanding can even be expanded if we take into account what former intentional community members bring to mainstream society. In my last post I wondered whether or not we could call a community successful if it had a high turnover rate. In the comments it was suggested that even though membership tends to be temporary the values of community life will stay with people even if they leave. Former community members aren't going to abandon their values simply because they are no longer immersed in a culture that rewards those values. In this way we can look at intentional communities as a sort of intense training program for learning compassion and cooperation.
I admire people who join intentional communities because it shows an uncommon commitment to values that I think are important but severely underrepresented. Even though intentional communities are not in any position to solve major problems on a mainstream level, I think their existence can give us hope, a model of compassion to aspire to and, if nothing else, provide a refuge for many.