Living in Community
A Conversation with Diana Leafe Christian on Practical Co-Housing
Diana Leafe Christian is a consultant, workshop leader and author of Creating a Life Together: Practical Tools to Grow Ecovillages and Intentional Communities and Finding Community: How to join an Ecovillage or Intentional Community. Her message is timely.
How does living in co-housing differ from an intentional community?
In conducting the research to write my books, I discovered that co-housers know little about the intentional community movement. Typically, co-housers are primarily focused on buying or building a single-family or multi-family house within a nice community, and generally do not know one another prior to the purchase. In exceptional instances, people can work with a developer to create a deed-to-own community with individual housing units and common areas.
Co-housers, are generally professional couples with two incomes, retired couples and single women. Typically, they must accept anyone who can afford the purchase price and meet the terms of the sale, even if it becomes obvious that they are the type of people who like to break the rules.
An intentional community is a group of people with a common purpose; they have chosen to live together and work cooperatively to create a lifestyle that reflects shared core values. They may share a single residence or live in a cluster of dwellings. They may live together in a single residence, a suburban or urban neighborhood, or on rural land.
What are the key benefits of living in an eco-village or intentional community?
Perhaps one of the most significant benefits of living in an ecovillage such as Earthaven, where I live, near Asheville, North Carolina, is how we reduce the ecological footprint by sharing resources. We co-own and share large items, such as the tractor used in growing a lot of our food. Sharing food and eating together also translates into a reduced food bill, because we buy in bulk at volume discounts. At Earthaven, we live off the grid, in passive solar homes we built without bank loans, and rely on well water, composting toilets and water-harvesting systems. All of these factors make us a more ecologically sustainable community. We are an intentional community that lives deliberately to increase community members’ happiness and wellness by harmonizing our ecological values and lifestyle.
Many well-documented studies have proven that people who have frequent interaction with others enjoy higher levels of health. Knowing that many supportive, extended community members are there for you is good for everyone, especially elders.
Who does well living in an intentional community?
You will flourish and grow in an intentional community if you know how to listen with an open heart, are self-confident and happy with yourself, want to make the world a better place, and are willing to roll up your sleeves and pitch in. Attitudes like “I love what you are doing here; how can I help?” or “I don’t know the answer, but I could learn something here,” warm the hearts of community members. However, if your drill sergeant perspective includes a 10-point plan for the fools you think you are living with, you won’t do well. Generally, retired CEOs who bark orders or expect immediate compliance with their suggestions are without the humility necessary to live in community.
What are the most common misconceptions about living in community?
I have found that many have an idealized and unrealistic vision. Often, their emotionally charged projections include experiences they wish they could have had within their family of origin. While their hearts and souls yearn for a better world and a more heart-filled and fulfilling way to live, they are quite certain about what that looks like and how it will play out in community.
Although community provides more neighborliness and mutual care, friendship, cooperation and collaboration than mainstream culture, it is not therapy that will change deep-seated childhood traumas. Community life, which can be conducive to a more nurturing and congenial life, is interspersed with lots of conflict. Successful participants discover that the longer they live in community, the more they learn to negotiate in more skillful and kindhearted ways. Others are quick to learn that avoidance, aggressiveness and bullying simply doesn’t work.
Living in community allows you to grow as a person and learn what you are really like, from the perspectives of others who are willing to give feedback and appreciation. It’s the longest, most intensive personal growth workshop you will ever take.
Linda Sechrist is a senior editor of Natural Awakenings.