Sunday, December 23, 2012

Diana Leafe Christian on Leaving Babylon

Diana Leafe Christian, author of Creating a Life Together and Finding Community, and publisher of Ecovillages newsletter, has responded to Vera Bradova's article Living by the bell. This is one of a series of articles from Bradova, travelling around the North American continent documenting alternative communities. That she's followed by such a mayor player like Diana shows the importance of her work.

Vera originates from the Czech Republic and is the webmaster of Leaving Babylon.

  1. dianaleafechristian Says:

    What a fascinating post. I’ve long been curious about the Possibility Alliance and appreciate your thorough, you-are-there way of describing your experience.
    Here are some things I’ve found that help communities feel healthy and sustainable to their members. And sustainable in the long run, in that their population is stable and turnover relatively low. This comes from my research, including visits to now 120 different communities in North America and aborad, and many dozens of conversations and outright interviews with community founders and members. The list:
    * The community has service to others as one its values and practices.
    * Service to others is balanced with service to the community itself.
    * Service to the community is balanced with “down time” for members. Productive work balanced with doing nothing. The “inbreath and outbreath of existence” to quote ancient Indian texts for a moment. In Robert & Diane Gilman’s famously quoted definition of an ecovillage is the phrase “with healthy human development.” Community’s members are considered valuable resources of energy, intelligence, and consciousness, and their development is important too. They get to rest.
    * Transparency is highly valued and consistently practiced. Everyone knows and anyone who asks is told who owns the land, what kind of legal entity(s) are used in ownership, who has what decision-making rights, what rights and responsibilities members have, and if there are different kinds of members (i.e., owners and those who trade work for food and shelter) the rights and responsibilities of each are crystal clear to everyone and anyone who asks. Open books: however much money the community has, owes, has loaned or donated, requires from members, etc. is all available to be known. (Why not?) And if everything is free and people are just asked to give donations, how the money goes is tracked and freely available. (Why not?)
    * One of the first things communities learn is how quickly disease can spread with multiple people sharing things like toilets, kitchens, utensils, plates, food, couches, chairs, beds, sheets, etc. Long-time communities from The Farm to Findhorn, from Dancing Rabbit to Damanhur, absolutely have learned the hard lessons from not agreeing to and doing good hygiene practices. This usually means consistent handwashing with hot water and soap, dunking all shared things into a water & bleach rinse, and a place to wash hands (with said hot water & soap) by each flush or composting toilet. If you ever visit a community where all the kids and many adults have shaved heads, it’s not because they’re skinheads, Hare Krishnas, or Japanese Buddhists. They’ve just had (another) outbreak of head lice in the kids.

    Two practical tips:
    (1) It’s easy not to have flies on food being prepared in an outdoor kitchen with a combination of mosquito netting or window screening on all the walls and a screen door (and no holes in the screen), and one or more strips of flypaper hanging from the ceiling (changed frequently. Problem solved.
    (2) There’s absolutely no reason a composting toilet should smell bad. When you know how to make them, they don’t smell like anything at all, except perhaps a woodworking shop. The secret is the specific and direct application of sawdust. When you cover everything with a light dusting of sawdust, you cut off air so smells don’t travel, plus the carbon of the sawdust neutralizes the nitrogen of the human waste. Also, compost toilets with 55-gallon barrels or 5-gallon buckets — with the use of sawdust — work orders of magnitude better than the hole-in-the-ground or underground cement vault kind, because you can aim the sawdust directly onto the poop or pee (which soaks it up) and voila! no smell. If you visit a community where the toilets smell, they must not know they can do so much better! (Have ‘em call me.)
    * Feedback is welcome. Really. Painful and difficult to hear though it may be, some of the best advice a community could ever get is from visitors and work exchangers. Because they often have what Zen folks call “Beginner’s Mind.” (Though not always. Once a visitor to Earthaven wrote in her blog that we have no rules and so everyone here throws their trash in the woods. Oops! The blogger didn’t know what a carbon dump was or how it works, and didn’t observe that the “trash” was branches, leaves, paper, cardboard, and it was building soil (in this humid climate it will be soil soon!) in the ox-bow bend of a stream that was otherwise eroding to undercut our main road. A Permaculture designer she was not. So beginners’ mind folks sometimes don’t have all the information either.)
    * Founders and community members tell the (whole) truth. Rather than saying, for example, “We don’t use money here, and we demonstrate how to live without money, and if we can do it, you can do it too” they’d say, “We don’t use money to the extent we can barter and get donations, though we did buy our land with more than a hundred-thousand of the ittle green rectangles known as Federal Reserve Notes, so we used money then. And you can live without money too if you first secure more than a hundred thousand (or in some cases, several hundred thousand) of these little notes too.”
    Thanks again for this really straightforward post, leavegirl.

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