Designing Culture

Over the weekend, I spent 3 hours with 20 strangers and friends designing an intentional community. The premise of the exercise—imagine that you pooled money together to buy 50 acres of land, how would you define how you want to live?

There were more questions than answers at the end of the session. It started off with idealistic energy: wouldn’t it be nice to escape all the madness that is the current state of the world to build a new place from scratch? A place that has all the values that we want without any of the cruft?

At the end of the experience, I started to wonder, what’s preventing us from actually creating the communities that we want? Is starting from scratch better than improving what we have now?

Some immediate questions seemed to have a bigger impact on the direction of the group:

  • How do we make money?
  • How do we sustain ourselves?
  • What kind of values do we want to have as a group?
  • What kind of commitment am I making to the group?
  • How do we prioritize the needs of the individual or the group?
  • How do we decide who to let in?
  • How do we make decisions?
  • What kind of comforts can I have or have to give up?
  • Why am I leaving what I have now to join this alternate community?

There was a need for more community, and a change in the ratio of time spent working to sustain ourselves versus spent doing what we enjoy.

The relationships we have with family, friends, and coworkers exist in curated contexts. Each relationship is different because of the assumed permanence and the implied commitments.

The yearning to start from scratch assumes that it’s an easier path than changing what we have. It assumes that some things aren’t worth the effort to try to change.

Bringing this back to reality. How can we improve the cultures that exist at home, school, or work? In our neighborhoods and cities? Are the constraints and values as immutable as we believe?