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Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Intentional Community or Elective Segregation?

COMMUNITY - Sharing, participation, and fellowship. [Community week starts here. Click here for this week's Bliss Initiatives.]

When I first thought about adding some intention to my normally haphazard way of finding community I think I got a little haughty. I had some vision of picking the ideal mix of people who would entertain enough of the same thoughts I do for me to find them interesting! The actual haphazard way I've bumped into everyone and everything in my life is probably the precise reason I have as much fun as I do. If I went and got all scientific and started filling my time with only like minded people I think things could get pretty boring pretty fast.

Linda Hollier spoke in her recent post over at Integral Life of the potential trap the internet can be when like minded folks ONLY interact with each other: One of the gifts of our mobile technological culture is the ability to be and communicate with like-minded people. It is also one of the contemporary cultural traps. The danger is that in being able to find like-minded people, we can fall into a kind of elective segregation, in which we communicate almost exclusively with those who share our views. What sociologists find is that this selective communication tends to reinforce people’s more extreme viewpoints, whereas mixing and communicating with more diverse populations tends to moderate extreme views. [Updated 11/12/09 Linda was kind enough to point out that this is from "The State of the Integral Enterprise. Part 1: Curent Status and Potential Traps" by Roger Walsh which you can find here.  The whole article is excellent as well as the discussion and both are worth pursuing. ]

I think I was seeking some of the comfort I have found in past communities and not seeing the gift and privilege that may await if I don't act quite so calculatedly. I remember when I was an exchange student to Austria in 1981/82,  I enjoyed learning how other people lived and jumped in, adopting local customs, including carrying a canvas grocery sack when I went to the store. At the time this did not seem to be a remarkable thing.  I just found it quaint and did it to fit in better with my new host family and friends. I even recall telling my friend Hans about how great it is in the USA and that at grocery stores in the States they give you bags, for free! It was so convenient and proof that the USA was also great. At the time it never occurred to me that the Austrian way was actually better. Today I loathe the single use bag. Paper or plastic? How can either be good? I'd like to think of myself as a crusader but so far I just MOSTLY carry my own bags and /or feel guilty when I don't.

So, now I am guilty of getting all satisfied and right about environmental issues. I have been following and quoting as righteous, Colin Beavan, aka No Impact Man on and off since he started his project. I even spent some of the time wishing I had the commitment to do the same (which includes the skill to enroll my husband in participating) and some of the time just totally thankful that someone else was doing it and I could learn something from their effort. As a result of reading Colin's blog I have come to the realization that I spent a good part of my life trying to get people to come around to my "right way of thinking!" It is good and right to recycle so why wouldn't everybody do it? I have been so arrogant and righteous about the right things to do I haven't even considered there may be more at issue then just the bare facts.

Van Jones says with regard to environmental policy: " can’t have a sustainable economy when only 20 percent of the people can afford to pay for hybrids, solar panels, and organic cuisine, while the other 80 percent are still driving pollution-based vehicles to the same pollution-based jobs and struggling to make purchases at Wal-Mart..." When I get all blameless because I carry my own grocery bags I am not even beginning to make a dent in the real environmental picture. And seeking out like minded people to prove my rightness is not going to make any difference, even if it does make me feel good.

All this being said I am clear I want to develop a community that is open and interested in divergent opinions so we don't get all satisfied and complacent in our world views. I want to feel connected and excited to spend time in my communities. I want to feel the people I spend time with are up to something and willing to help the people around them. I'd like Jessie to learn and grow into a happy and productive citizen because of the communities we participate in. And I wouldn't mind if they recycled.

Next Post: Community confession!

My 13 bliss virtues: joy, order, creativity, passion, whimsy, serenity, inquiry, community, romance, gratitude, moxie, humility, surprise


  1. not sure whether your post is primarily about intentional vs. unintentional communities or about recycling (problem is mine, not yours--I'm home w/ a sick child and I'm not focusing very well), but I have to speak up for the kind of unintentional community that comes from living in an urban neighborhood that is simultaneously quite heterogeneous (age, profession, socio-economic status, education, political views) AND very closely connected. After 10 years here, I know about 200 of my neighbors by name and face, and chat with many of them on a regular basis. I love the fact that, unlike my other communities, I have to deal with and find a way to make peace with a very wide range of people, and to be constantly reminded of the idiosyncracy of my own world views--even while I continue to enjoy or defend those views. I love the fact that my children are growing up in this kind of community as well, and I hope it will contribute to them being curious, tolerant, accepting adults. Downsides--of course, but benefits almost always outweigh them. Thanks, as always, Kathy, for making me reflect.

  2. Hello there! Glad to find you reading my blog. Hope your son feels better soon! When I started this week, I thought of you because of your original comment about community. I must report I have not yet come to any new conclusions.

    I think you are right, my post was a little unclear. I was trying to say that as I consider being intentional about my new community attachments I want to avoid being too insular. I was trying to use my environmental dilemma as an example where isolated "right" thinking while making me feel better really provides little substantive difference in the big picture. Bottom line I want to avoid too muchelective segregation while still being somewhat intentional in my community development. Paradoxical? Probably!


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Ben Franklin's 13 Virtues

  • 1. TEMPERANCE - Eat not to dullness; drink not to elevation.
  • 2. SILENCE - Speak not what may benefit others or yourself; avoid trifling conversation.
  • 3. ORDER - Let all your things have their places; let each part of your business have its time.
  • 4. RESOLUTION - Resolve to perform what you ought; perform without fail what you resolve.
  • 5. FRUGALITY - Make no expense but to do good to others or yourself; i.e. waste nothing.
  • 6. INDUSTRY - Lose no time; be always employ'd in something useful; cut off all unnecessary actions.
  • 7. SINCERITY - Use no hurtful deceit; think innocently and justly, and if you speak, speak accordingly.
  • 8. JUSTICE - Wrong none by doing injuries, or omitting the benefits that are your duty.
  • 9. MODERATION - Avoid extreams; forbear resenting injuries so much as you think they deserve.
  • 10. CLEANLINESS - Tolerate no uncleanliness in body, cloaths or habitation.
  • 11. TRANQUILITY - Be not disturbed at trifles, or at accidents common or unavoidable.
  • 12. CHASTITY - Rarely use venery but for health or offspring, never to dullness, weakness, or to the injury of your own or another's peace or reputation.
  • 13. HUMILITY - Imitate Jesus and Socrates.


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