Why not Join a Community?
“I would live in a Community, but…” fill in the blank here. There are a lot of assumptions, fears, and misunderstandings about intentional communities that lead people to have false stereotypes of them.
This list of the Top 17 Myths about Intentional Communities should help to dispel some common concerns!
Diana Leafe Christian put this list together and explains each in much more detail in her book, Finding Community.
17 Myths About Intentional Communities
Here is the list that Diana put together, with my short summaries of each answer:
- I don’t want to live out in the boonies.
- You don’t have to. Almost half of the 2,000+ communities in the Online Directory are not rural.
- I don’t want to live with a bunch of hippies.
- Very few people identify themselves as hippies these days. There are often counter-cultural or alternative types in communities, but also more conventional people, family types, etc. Many are hard working people from middle to upper-middle class lives. Many are cultural creatives, which may be more culturally progressive, cooperative, health-conscious, and ecologically sustainable, however, there is of course tons of variation from person to person and unique to each community. And if you are one of my hippy friends out there, there are communities for you out there as well!
- I don’t want to live a “poverty consciousness” lifestyle with limited resources.
- There is a wide range of lifestyles and wealth in intentional communities, depending on the values of the community, the intentions, the people involved, and the stage of development. It ranges from primitive and voluntarily simplistic to modern or advanced building with all the contemporary conveniences.
- I don’t want to live with countercultural types who are trying to avoid responsibility.
- It often takes a lot of work to build and sustain a community. Many who choose to live in a community are looking for alternatives to modern society, however many still raise families, hold jobs, keep hobbies and pursuits, and stay connected to friends and family back home. That said, because of how most communities are set up, there is often more free time for community members. It’s part of the benefits!
- I don’t want to have to join a religion or take up some spiritual practice I don’t believe in.
- Most communities are denominational, without any specific religion orientation. This means people individually choose their religious or spiritual practice, or have none at all. Some communities do have specific worldviews and practices, however, most are very upfront about this on their Directory listing.
- I don’t want to live in a hierarchical system or follow a charismatic leader.
- Few communities are hierarchical; most are structured around the values of cooperation and collaboration, with decision making structures so that everyone is involved. Most use some form of democracy, or other forms like consensus or sociocracy. Some communities do have clear leaders, however, this is typically indicated on their Communities Directory listing.
- I don’t want to have to think like everyone else. What if it turns out to be a cult?
- One of the reasons people get together to create or join a community is so that they can live closer to their values — more intentionally. Like minded and valued people may get together to form a community, so that they can share in this expression and experience together. At the same time, there is typically great variability between any group. A cult has a specific definition, hallmarked by it being Exclusive, Secretive, and Authoritarian. Chances are, if their info is public on the Directory, they are not a cult. FIC does not list communities that espouse violence, including coercion to keep people from leaving. If you believe fa group is lying, manipulative, or emotionally abusive, contact FIC, or the police.
- I’m afraid I won’t have enough privacy or autonomy.
- Intentional Communities can range from a shared house — with a handful of people in it, living with and gathering in a common purpose, and sharing some resources together — up to dozens or hundreds of acres with as many people in them. You can imagine the amount of available space, the type of living accommodations available, and the preferences of the people involved, will all effect the privacy level. A well designed community gives people wide berth to savor their own personal, relationship, and family time. Typically when people are joining a community, they want to bring people more into their lives; issues in communities often revolve around creating more community instead of more privacy. Of course, some communities have less invested in personal space and privacy, and differ accordingly.
- I don’t want to have to share incomes or give all my money to the community.
- You don’t have to! About 9 out of 10 communities are set up in such a way that each member maintains individual finances. Often there are some agreed upon dues or fees for commonly held resources and expenses. The other 1 out of 10 is totally or mostly income and expense sharing, where everyone shares all or most of their finances. Sometimes communities run businesses, generating all or much of the income that everyone in the community needs to thrive, with some optional or required employment opportunities. All this should be clearly indicated by a community on their Directory listing, and you can ask them about any details when you contact or arrange a visit with them, so there are no surprises.
- What if we all can’t get along? I don’t want to live with a bunch of bad-tempered grumps.
- When people try to accomplish something together, conflict is a natural part of the process. This can range from very minor disagreements, or more significant issues or blowups, to prolonged grudges. Just like out in society, there are disagreements. Communities at least typically have methods to resolve conflicts, and a culture that generally expects people to work things out. People can’t always work things out, of course, just like in the rest of the world, but you can often get a sense from visiting a community about their level of tension and their ability to resolve conflicts peacefully, fairly, and sufficiently.
- Do I have to go nude?
- No way! Some counterculture friendly communities have special areas for this, such as a sauna, sweat lodge, hot tub, swimming hole, etc. And some communities out there are clothing optional. But that is a policy you can easily find out about, and we have never seen nudity as a requirement.
- Do I have to go to a lot of meetings?
- Possibly. It all depends on the size of the community, it’s structure, culture, and it’s unique processes and decision making. Typically, in a smaller community and in particular in newer ones, more meetings are required. It is generally better to attend meetings that make decisions that will effect your life, and so that you feel like you are all in it together! In some cases, especially in larger communities, you have committees, representatives, listserves, bulletin boards, and other means to make sure you are updated and involved as you need to be!
- What if I yearn to live in community but my partner doesn’t?
- If that’s the case, you might not want to join a community together. If one person in a relationship is all in and the other isn’t committed to it or doesn’t like it, it will probably end up making both people miserable, and eventually other people around them. Better to work out your expectations and plans before going into a community setting! For more urban communities, sometimes this is less of an obstacle because there are more social outlets beyond the community.
- Are gays and lesbians welcome in community?
- FIC’s Communities Directory follows the fair housing laws, so there can be no discrimination against any protected class of citizen. Diana writes that, “Gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgendered individuals should expect as wide a range of tolerance, acceptance, and enthusiasm for their presence at communities as they do in the wider culture. A few communities are focused on gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgendered culture for those specially seeking such an environment.”
- Can “hermits” — people who need a lot of alone time — live in community?
- Yes, typically, but depending on the community. It is especially more common and easier to do in larger communities and cohousing communities. Smaller or younger communities may require or benefit from more input from each person. Generally, most communities are set up to allow people to live their lives as freely as possible, respecting their individual space and lifestyle choices. Even if this means being more introverted, less social, and more to yourself. You should still feel comfortable negotiating your needs with a group at times, however, for occasions that call for it.
- Are intentional communities mostly middleclass white people? Are people of color welcome? Are there any communities comprised of people of color?
- While there has been more exciting projects, developments, and coverage in the recent past, unfortunately “Most communities have a lot of white, middleclass, college-educated people. People from the owner class or working class are generally not found in community at the rates they exist in the wider culture, and one finds very few people of color from many socioeconomic backgrounds (though nearly all communities are open to people of color). Of course the demographic mix will vary from community to community depending on its structure, location, costs, and culture.”
- Could my marriage or love relationship be threatened when my partner comes into daily contact with all those other attractive community members?
- It depends entirely on you and your partner of course. This sort of thing can happen, but does it happen any more or less frequently than anywhere else in the wider culture? Sometimes when people are exposed to new people, in a workplace, neighborhood, social circle, etc., they may find people attractive, or are opened up to new ideas. On the other hand, strong relationships often find even more fulfillment in communities, while both partners find their social and other needs better met while in a community.
Special Thanks to Diana Leafe Christian!
Diana’s ‘Top 17 Myths of Intentional Communities’ article was also recently shared by Mother Earth News. Diana Leafe Christian has been a long term contributor, educator, and pioneer to the intentional community movement.
She was honored by FIC with the 2018 Communitarian Award. Here is more about her nomination and citation:
Diana Leafe Christian also wrote, Creating a Life Together, about how to start a community from the ground up! You can learn more about her work here: https://dianaleafechristian.org/