I did a lot of being in large groups last year – in groups within which the members share the belief – and I think we are right here – that communities are the way we will move the world forward.
Partly, my heart sinks at this. I’m an introvert – most of the time and particularly when I am tired. The idea of spending a weekend with a large group of people, couchsurfing and socialising and working together – I enjoy it and I know it will exhaust me at the same time, so that half way through I know I’m going to find it hard to function at my best. As such, I was amused to come across this BuzzFeed “Problems only Introverts will Understand” while still at LOTE4: The Stewardship.
LOTE4 was held at the unMonastery in Matera, and was really awesome. The people I met were excellent, friendly and welcoming, and I was more comfortable there than I normally am at intense gatherings, which is a testament to everyone’s openness and the thoughtfulness that had gone into facilitating the event.
The experience helped me understand better how I function and prompted some thoughts about group dynamics. First, it’s difficult to get space when you don’t have a bolt hole. While at LOTE4 I would go into the toilet and as I closed and locked the door, relief flooded me as I got some solace. It reminded me of our motivations behind the design exercise that led to the ‘Scape coat. One thing that might help is having a one-person room …or ‘scape box… that can be occupied with a sign on the outside if the person within would like a little time to get back into themselves.
The second is that meetings like this are hard to access for people like me who can who struggle to communicate in a group. I am better on a one-on-one basis, at exploring through conversation than proclaiming to a group, which requires delivery of a consolidated point succinctly and confidently. It’s just not how I usually talk, which is usually “an exploration with” rather than “talking to” others. In a group situation, I find it useful to have time to go away and think about things, form consolidated ideas and then chime in. I think there is something gained in everyone doing this too – one comes to different conclusions and has different ideas after having space to reflect.
There isn’t usually space for slow thought processes in a conference, or an unConference – there’s always too much going on, no time for reflection or repetition. In practical terms, it costs more money (oh that again) to have gaps. But gaps are important. It’d be nice to organise something along these lines where we engineer in gaps for quiet reflection and then return to a topic – not just for people like me, for everyone.
The strain of society
There are a few other things that strike me about this situation of having to get together with people. One is rather tangential and follows a fascinating discussion I recently had with artist Giles Lane about a trip he made to Papua New Ginuea to work on story collection with locals there. He told me that the social interaction was so intense it took a long time to decompress afterwards, that it changed how he viewed our everyday activities back home because it showed the complexities of emotional and pragmatic interactions when all aspects your everyday life depends heavily on others with whom you have an unformalised, emotional relationship. For myself I found my understanding of our social interactions was most changed after a trip to Cuba – but for me I saw social interactions being used as a means to press for exchange of things of value.
Getting back to the intensity – it’s something from which we have sanitised ourselves in the main in the global west mostly through the medium of money. This is a two-edged sword – it facilitates many things, obviously, and it also removes a lot of tricky obligations that might restrict your ability to look out for your own interests. Living without money requires some degree of moving back to these obligations. Money is a formalisation of trust (something I really only saw clearly after speaking to financial hacking genius Brett Scott). Because there are many things for which we cannot directly barter, without money we need much stronger personal ties to foster enough trust for exchange. Or we need to develop a Zen-like universal trust that removes us from our own worldly wants enough for us not to care about getting something back for our efforts, our own needs, or being taken advantage of.
Troublesome trust and the issue of not giving back
There is a lesson to be learned by extrapolating into experiments in communalism. It has surfaced both in practice for me in doocracies and horizontal sociocratic organisations, and which came up in the discussions of hacking care which we had at LOTE4. It’s around the question of how systems based on these principles deal with people who simply can’t give back. Whether it’s someone in a coma, or with a debilitating disease, or someone who is chronically unwell and thus will never be able to give back as much as they take – in a doocracy, or in a sociocracy, your value is in what you contribute. In some senses in fact that is commodifying someone by their actions. In such cases, I can only think that care will come about from loved ones only – and in this case we are at risk of falling into a trap of going backwards in terms of social care. These problems do arise quite a lot from trust – because most of us would care for someone in need, at least in the short term, if we genuinely believed in their need. But there’s a need for trust so that you don’t feel taken advantage of. The consequences of this is something that people with unseen disabilities often lament, being unable to visibly prove that they are experiencing hardship. A complete inability to give back may be an extreme case, but exploring how we might react to it would I think inform the philosophy behind making doocracies and non-hierarchical organisations more accessible.
Perhaps we in society now need a new strategy for dealing with fostering this kind of trust -something that I think is closely related to this intensity of living. How do we build trust while maintaining some distance – or do we do away with this distance altogether?