Life in the commune

There we were the other day, five of us Shedders, down at the bottom of our 4-acre property on a mission to clear out a big patch of lantana that has overgrown a great lantanamany of our native trees. The job involves hacking out masses of underbrush, painting with Roundup near the roots, and wrestling down long branches that have climbed some 30 feet up into captive trees.

You’d have laughed to watch as two or three of us mature-age citizens would combine our weight to do a Tarzan-like swing on an especially resistant branch tangled far up into the top of some poor gum tree. Occasionally the branch would break and we’d come crashing to the ground much like in the old tug-of-war days. Sometimes we would have to give up in defeat, left to growl at an offending vine as it twirled smugly overhead.

But in the end we were able to acknowledge each other for a big space of reclaimed forest as well as a massive pile of lantana debris.

That’s the sort of fun you get to have together when you live communally.

The word sticks to my mouth as I try to say it: commune. As in, “I live in a commune”. I’ve always had an aversion to the term, which conjures up images of free love, carefree drug trips or even worse, getting up at 4:30 in the morning to hoe potatoes on the kibbutz. Actually, on a deeper level, I picture a Soviet-style existence where no one takes ownership of anything and therefore nothing gets done.

Out of curiosity, I just nipped into Wikipedia to get an informed opinion, and Wiki came through again with a wonderful description to which I can relate.

A commune is an intentional community of people living together, sharing common interests, property, possessions, resources, [that’s true of us] and, in some communes, work [true] and income [not true of us]. In addition to the communal economy, consensus decision-making, non-hierarchical structures and ecological living have become important core principles for many communes [all true of us]…Contrary to popular misconceptions, most modern communes are not free-love refuges for flower children, but well-ordered, financially solvent cooperatives where pragmatics, not psychedelics, rule the day [also true]. There are many contemporary intentional communities all over the world, one of which is inhabited by the Shedders” [just checking if you’re still paying attention].

I could start to like this word. There is no hint of vacant-eyed women in babooshkas – or of abandoned responsibility for one’s life.

It seems to me that central to the whole idea of communal living is that concept of consensual decision-making. And we Shedders are pretty good at that. We’re good at talking something through and making sure that everybody is on board. I have rarely felt railroaded or deprived of a voice.

You might guess the downside of a consensual approach: it can make us slow in decision-making. I tend to be someone who gets an idea and, feel that, really, it should be implemented that afternoon. I’m having to learn (but am not quite there yet) to talk through a plan, wait for feedback, and modify my thinking accordingly. For example, right now I want to renovate our guestrooms, to open them up to more light and give guests better access. But it’s not just my money, my building or my guests who will be affected. So I’m going to have to plan, engage, talk, listen and enrol everyone. It’s going to take some time. And patience, and social skills.

Another example: our main hot water tank is about 30 metres from the kitchen sink and you can imagine how long it took for hot water to reach the taps. We either wasted heaps of water or resignedly washed up in cold water – but it was almost three years before we finally got a new little tank installed under the sink. All that consultation can really dissolve momentum.

However, I know from experience that if I own a project, talk through challenges, and include other ideas, it will happen and it will be a better result.

I’ve learned from many years in business working with staff and clients that if a project is owned by one particular person who drives it and loves it and focuses on it, it has a solid chance of success. Conversely, anything that is jointly “owned” is often jointly abandoned. This is true even within a marriage partnership: if Rick owns a project, for example mowing the lawns, it has a much better chance of success than if Rick and Heather own a project, for example, clearing out the Bolstler garage. (The former happens like clockwork; the latter may not get finished in this lifetime.)

Back to those ever-increasing areas of our land that are being cleared of lantana. If I look closely at that project, it’s owned by one of us. All of us want to see it happen, but it’s Rick who pulls on his old coveralls and says, “Anybody want to go down the hill with me?”

What I take from this is that a commune is comprised of individual leaders. The job of the commune is to nurture someone who steps into leadership, and the job of the leader is to take strength from the commune*. Then magic, and fun, can happen.

* I still don’t like the word and you may never hear it from me again.
….And yet…


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