Most people want deeper links to a community as modern society is individualistic, insecure and fractured. Many don’t know where to start to lead different lives and those of us who do, seem to grapple with making ‘community’ work.
How do we live co-operatively, thoughtfully and simply with each other whilst conserving natural resources, sharing responsibility for work and providing meaningful, dignified and safe work – including successful projects?
All of us on this course are from Western societies where we’ve been encouraged to be highly individualistic. Given we need to learn new skills for living together with others (especially giving up personal space) this group has done remarkably well at banding together, without conflict, to get things done. But… it’s not all smooth sailing.
Proper management is important. My previous management experience is on big projects but there are many inspiring models to emulate, especially from small populations of indigenous people. According to Rosemary Morrow’s book, ‘An Earth User’s Guide to Permaculture’, we need to avoid authoritarian models of hierarchy which result in injustice and we need to avoid majority rule where feelings of minorities are neglected but we shouldn’t swing to anarchy either which can result in alienation, confrontation and lack of empathy and communication.
Consensus decision-making can result in stagnation if one person boycotts a decision and withholds consent as a means of exerting power and control. However, Quakers have a 500 year tradition of consensus which has worked very effectively for extraordinarily difficult issues. They also have an agreed process to achieve consensus, which entails silent and thoughtful consideration of issues after listening to others and before speaking.
Projects can fail for a myriad of reasons, but the following are some that relate to this cob project (from Rosemary Morrow):
- Lack of (realistic) objectives
- Ill-defined ownership
- No agreed design
- No forward planning
- No framework for decision making
The point on ‘ill-defined ownership’ is particularly pertinent to the experiences of this past week. Peter, the owner of the property we are camping on and who will ultimately use and own the cob house has displayed some rather extreme frustrations. Anita and Martin (who organise the course) seemed genuinely bewildered and confused by his reactions, however, according to Rosemary Morrow, resentment is often a result of personal and property boundaries being ignored. While Peter seems to be demanding respect, he’s actually just responding (granted, in an uncontrolled manner) to the following small incidents which have accumulated over the few weeks here:
- The tyre of his wheelbarrow was flat and according to him was not from his actions
- Some of his tools were not returned
- The blankets from his private campervan were removed without permission requested
- Linda and Marco mistakenly walked through a neighbour’s field
- We played music too loudly one day whilst cobbing
- We used some of his wood for our fire and making pegs for the build (this is his store for winter)
- We mistakenly dug some soil from a site they have levelled to build a chalet
Whilst these are small things, in accumulation and without proper communication and relationship building, they turn in to a very big issue that could affect the success of the project. The combination of lack of communication and management with Peter’s quick temper (especially under the influence of alcohol) came to a head this week. After some frank discussions and a real effort from both the course participants and Peter, we seemed to have started developing a healthier relationship and understanding with our host.
Client communication has just been one learning curve for Anita and Martin this week. Communication with all of us, the course participants, has also been an issue. The points on lack of objectives, no agreed design, no forward planning and framework for decision making have caused lack of motivation and apathy this week. By the time Martin and Anita arrived at camp each day it has been the hottest and hardest part of the day to work. As a group, we decided to talk to them about being more organised, discussing what needed to be done each day and by whom and generally share what’s happening more through discussion. I think it was well received.
According to Rosemary Morrow, a successful community is one where groups of volunteers with motivation and skills roster themselves to carry out jobs. Communities work well where there are no hierarchies of DECISON-MAKING but there are hierarchies of FUNCTION or WORK: where everyone agrees that some issues are very important and some more important than others. Once this is done, individuals or small groups take RESPONSIBILITY to do their jobs and do them well. Vicky even suggested we draw up the chalk board for people to fill in who wants to nominate themselves to do cooking, washing up, workshops or specific tasks that day. Vicky also raised a very interesting point… Vicky and Katie feel they are prone to laziness if not given direction or tasks whilst people like myself and D will invest our efforts elsewhere or become agitated by lack of organisation. This is important to consider when running a project as everyone here is motivated and wanting to learn but require direction regardless.
Motivation and low morale of the group is not helped by negativity and lack of responsibility. Leaders of groups need to be the change they want to see in others and inspire through their own actions and attitudes. Course participants need to be given responsibility and empowered to make decisions. Additionally, I feel the excessive consumption of alcohol, whilst being a good social lubricant, contributes in many negative ways – hangovers, lack of motivation, bad moods the next day and a lack of intellectual and spiritual depth of conversation generally. Inspiration, creativity, leading by example, being inclusive by demonstrating and getting people involved in interesting aspects of the build whilst still letting people be who they are is important to get the job done and still have acceptance. This includes thinking further than the build itself too. It must be applied to daily tasks, the project, identifying and teaching skills, people’s likes and dislikes and moods.
I hope everyone has reflected on the issues this week but also remembered the successes. The build has come along nicely with window sills in place and the fire place is really taking shape. The roof is also looking great but is not yet installed because of bad weather and the laborious tasks of hand-making wooden pegs.
We also completed our earth oven. This is how it is made:
And some photos of it being created:
Sometimes we have been enjoying yoga led by Sammie…
…and we also all had a wonderful day off for Wayne’s birthday which was celebrated with lemon meringue pie and a trip to a nearby lake!
So, frustrations have been aired and hopefully some lessons learnt but we have also continued building the cob house and our community which is a positive step forward.