Interacting with Humans
further housing co-op thoughts – this time on interacting with other humans
Straight off the bat I am going to tell you that I am a person who requires a good deal of time alone. Previous to moving to this rural housing co-op (Beech Hill, in mid Devon) I lived alone in Canton in Cardiff, purveying my graphic design and illustration to the masses from my little cave and now and again meeting friends for drinks in Chapter or the Lansdowne or some such. I need time to recover from, well, just life really, and all its stimuli. I do very much like being with people but there needs to be an equal or greater time away from people where I process things and also where the creativity percolates. I am your classic introvert from all those memes you have seen.
So to move to an intentional community would seem like a very silly thing to do, wouldn’t it?
When I was undergoing my test fortnight here community members would warn me that “it might seem like there’s a lot of us here but during the week it can get very quiet and sometimes there’s no-one here” and I would reply “that is perfect” grinningly. And that is how it’s turned out.
I can fester in my room doing paid work and painting skulls and reading Raymond Chandler and Jung and Judith Butler and cutting lino and floofing cats for a good deal of the time, and then I might pop down to the kitchen and there’ll be fresh baked bread and I’ll make myself toast and a cuppa and there’ll be someone else in the kitchen and we’ll have a chat about this or that and sometimes it’s just small talk and sometimes it’s today’s political horrors or whatever they’ve been up to or if I’ve won some new work. And then I return to my room and I feel good. I very rarely feel lonely and I very rarely feel overwhelmed. Even if it seems there’s a hundred people in the kitchen at mealtime including 47 rowdy kids I can take my plate and slope off to my room and nobody minds at all.
And then once a week we have a co-op meeting where we talk about what needs doing and how we’re going to achieve it, be it replacing some curtains or repairing the roof, but before the meeting we all talk a little about where we’re at and how we feel and you get people sharing some really profound news or feelings and sometimes it’s just “I went to the beach and had a lovely time” but it’s a space to catch up with people and really hear how things are going for them.
At the end of October 2016 one of our community members died very suddenly. That evening we all gathered, including the children – maybe 15 of us sat in a circle as we do for a meeting – and one by one shared our thoughts about him and anecdotes and there were a lot of tears and maybe even more laughter than tears and it was beautiful and healthy and natural for us all to come together and share this laughter. I could not help but compare this evening with the evening my mother died and how isolating it felt – just me and my dad and my sister, my ex and her boyfriend sat there awkwardly, and staring at me when I resorted to dark humour – as is my wont in this sort of situation – as if I was being inappropriate. I need to laugh to access grief – and the fact that the community could all share stories and laugh and cry together was really affirming for me. It was at this point I realised on a feeling level that which I already knew intellectually – that humans evolved to live in community and it is good for us to do so – even miserable misanthropes like me.
Obviously the community’s function depends on the individuals of that community, and it really does help that many of Beech Hill’s members have lived here a long time and are very used to living in community, and that other newer members have lived in community before and so they’re able to support and give advice. It is a bit like living in one big shared house, but with no arguments about whose turn it is to do the washing up or clean the bathroom, and with the collective responsibility of maintaining a rambling old manor house and its six acre estate. Honesty is really important – and seems very valued – here.
Of course there is conflict. But there really isn’t that much, and nobody here is deliberately a dick to anyone else. What you do see is how people’s personalities affect how they react to certain situations – how their subconscious mechanisms, their fears, prompt them to do or say certain things. So while someone’s behaviour might frustrate you occasionally you know it’s not really their conscious decision to be that way. I’ve learnt so much about human behaviour, including my own behaviour, and it’s really valuable.
On my test fortnight here I looked very closely for aggression, manipulative behaviour and my personal pet hate, passive-aggressive behaviour. I found that everyone was very straightforward, including being straightforward about being annoyed with someone else, so it didn’t seem like anything was being hidden from me. If I inadvertently did something wrong this was pointed out gently. And recently, when I made a bigger fuck-up, I apologised fully and explained what I’d done and why and that I wouldn’t do it again, and people were good with that. No-one expects you to be perfect. Again, every community is going to be different so it’d be worth thinking about what you can and can’t live with and observing very closely at when visiting various communities.
On my own disfunctions, I’ve found it easy and rewarding to be honest here. I said right from the start that I needed a lot of time to myself. Early on, after giving a grand tour of the place one morning to some visitors and being witty and generally performing, I suddenly realised I needed to hide under a duvet. I was supposed to be working alongside the visitors in the afternoon along with some other community members and I knew I couldn’t do this. So I told one of them and they were fine about it and I went and slept for the rest of the afternoon. People are very understanding here, I think especially if you can communicate what’s going on with you which is a thing I’m getting better at.
I think that I am good at being honest, and honest about what my requirements are, and good at hearing other people’s honesty (ie, I won’t hold it against them/react badly). And also I’m good at apologising when I get something wrong. I think these are all really important traits to develop if you’re thinking of living in community.
Outside the community
What I really miss about Cardiff is my amazing circle of friends. Living in a rural area – and being very busy a lot of the time, what with paid work, master’s work and community work – I find it especially difficult to make new friends. I have one very good friend 20 minutes’ drive away and there are some darned lovely folk on my master’s in Falmouth but it would be lovely to know more people locally. I guess that will come with time.
I can’t speak for every kind of personality but I am really enjoying living here at the moment and I really do feel that this is a better way for humans to live. It’s a big jump, and it’s worth visiting a lot of communities (look at Diggers & Dreamers) to find one that’s a good fit for you. I think it just might be the future.