Why Choose Community?
I think the world today is falling over the brink of disaster, that we are in a chaotic period. And I think a sense of community may be one of the ropes that pull us back, but only if we lead. It is not going to happen just on its own. It is going to take all of us who are committed to such things as cooperation, nonviolence, simple living, respect for Mother Earth, and all those things that we have come to realize are the only way this particular species can continue to exist. Not only that we can continue, but that all those other species that we are killing can survive. And so it is a tremendous responsibility that we have.
We cannot just go hide in our communities. We must make them strong; we must tackle all those horrible issues that come up in community that you’d like to kind of sweep under the rug, so we have some experience to give to the rest of the world on how to live in harmony. We can take our anger and our conflicts and work with them, and resolve them. The responsibility that the communities movement has today is enormous, and we are not all that large. But we each can make a difference, if we are out there saying, “We have another way.” We do not need to go down the road of taking, always taking, and not returning.
Recently we had a visitor at Alpha Farm who had just come back from Bosnia. He’s a photojournalist, and he’s been in all of the horrible situations in the world. One of the most humble men I’ve ever met. And he said to me, because we were discussing this exact situation, “You know, it’s no longer how much you can give back, it’s can you just stop taking?” And we thought about that and talked about it a long time. It seems to me that one of the communities movement’s possibilities is to learn how to not take, and if we’re really lucky, we get to give back some. This is very hard. Many of us use resources every day that we can’t return to the Earth. However, there are other ones that we can return. We can return our love, our concern, our caring, we can do all those things which we in community know are necessary in order to make this world a paradise.
It’s hard. Living in community is not the simple way out. But it is one way that offers hope, and the world is desperate for hope. The despair we see around us, the apathy, the giving up, is very, very potent. And we have some of the answers – not all, we still are working with many of them; however, we have a lot of them. And it isn’t fair for us to sit and be content. We should be very discontented. I know this doesn’t always sit well with people, because I’ve had some of these conversations before; however, I feel very strongly that we are one of the true answers to the problems of our species. And when we can get ourselves together into a group, our strength can spread.
I want to take Alpha Farm as a very tiny example, since it’s my experience. We live in a very isolated section of Oregon in the Coast Range, in a little valley. No one could ever find us, and yet Alpha is now known around the world: just by being there and doing what we think is the right thing to do, so people can see that there is another way. We don’t have to be giving our definition of value a dollar sign. Values of peace and cooperation, of harmony, can be lived in this world. And if some place as tiny and as far removed as Alpha Farm can be in Life magazine, anybody can.
So I know we have the opportunity in front of us to go out and be of help and service: service, a very old word that is somewhat out of mode right now. We need to take it back again and be of service to others as well as ourselves.
So let me expand just a little bit on what I mean by cooperation and simple living. Does cooperation mean that you’re never angry, that you’re never frustrated, that all of those things never happen in community? In fact we live with them all the time, right? Because we are products of our own society. And so we have to keep struggling with the things that we grew up with, or in the case of some, are still growing up with. However, we have ways, which you will find in workshops and which you have found in your own communities, of how to work with them. How to turn anger into understanding, how to turn frustration into activity that removes it. We’ve all had those experiences. We need to share them, so that others who get angry and frustrated with this insane world find ways of dealing with them other than destruction. We have some of those ideas and techniques; we need to be sharing them.
What do we mean by simple living? Do we mean living at the level of Third World countries? Some people think so, and do. For others, if we had just half what we now have, we might start to get close to simple living. Well, that’s a lot. As a bioregionalist, if all the things we served to eat at Alpha Farm were grown in our bioregion, we’d have trouble with coffee and bananas and some of our spices; however, we’d eat very well, and we’d be much more in line with where we live. It’s a hard way. Do we give up cars? Well, they may give us up pretty soon, because we may not have oil. Do we examine our lives, each of us in our community, to see what we don’t need to take but can do without? Recently we looked at our standard of living at Alpha, and realized we’re still pretty middle-class, even though our average per capita expenditure per month is somewhere between $200 and $250. That’s below the poverty line, but we still live awfully well, and consume much too much. It’s a constant struggle to get back in balance with where we really belong on this planet.
How can we be nonviolent in such a violent world? How can we maintain it, teach it, practice it, be it? How can we make it so that people who will help others are not labeled “leader,” but rather, “servant”? How can we in the communities movement serve the world? I offer to you the challenge that we are the servants of this planet, and we need to give that service.
Caroline Estes, a founding member of Alpha Farm community in Oregon, is a trainer and consultant on consensus decision-making and former FIC board member.