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Why Communes Fail


Listed below are four major causes for the collapse of so many intentional communities (especially those of the New Age variety).

Greed


Many alternative lifestyles seek an answer to greed. They see what it has done to human relationships, and they want to form a community where greed is no longer a problem.

Unfortunately, everyone seems to define a greedy person as "one who wants more material goods than I want."

Simplifying your lifestyle is commendable. Like a smoker who reduces his or her consumption of cigarettes, you are headed in the right direction. But until you break the habit altogether, it's very likely that in a time of emotional crisis, you'll move back in the other direction; and then your failure will only serve to convince you that if you can't beat the habit (whether cigarettes or greed) you may as well give in to it entirely.

As Christians, we understand that Jesus never taught people to "cut down" on their quest for material goods. He sought to eliminate the quest altogether, and to replace it with a quest for faith, love, and honesty. Jesus skips right over luxuries, and challenges our desire for what we would call basic necessities: "Seek not what you shall eat or what you shall drink." (Luke 12:29) "Labour not for the food that perishes." (John 6:27) "Take no thought for food or clothing." (Matthew 6:31)

Most alternative lifestyle communities fall into the trap of becoming "cottage industries". But grass roots capitalism is hardly a viable alternative to the real problem of greed. "Successful" cottage industries are still heading in the same direction as the multinationals. The fact that you subscribe to other ideals is not unique. Colonel Sanders, for example, once had a policy of giving leftover food to the needy; but Kentucky Fried Chicken was still a multinational at heart, and cottage industries are still materialistic at heart. Their products may not be computers and automobiles, but selling knick-knacks, dealing in drugs, or even starting a health food restaurant doesn't really weed out the root of all evil.

People who try to set up a business for the purpose of using the money to support some other ideal, still end up worrying, arguing, and finally splitting up over the operation of the business. If you want the business to succeed, you should recruit people for whom the success of the business is the most important goal. (McDonald's can tell you that!) But if you want to resist greed, then you must recruit people for whom the war against greed is the most important objective. Focusing on the war against greed has been the first key to our success.

Pride

Most people seeking an alternative to the rat race are fiercely independent. We have to be, to even begin to challenge the overwhelming pressures of mainstream society. But if we are going to succeed in offering society a lasting sample of something better, we must learn to co-operate with people of like mind. We must learn to listen, and learn to follow.

In every community, everyone has an opinion. But not everyone has the answers. A good leader will learn to recognise truth regardless of what source it comes from; and he/she will alter his/her own opinions when they do not conform with the truth.

But don't fall for the myth that everyone is equally equipped to teach the rest of the group how things should be done. Experience must be respected and listened to.

If a goal has been established for a community, then everyone must be expected to subscribe to that goal. Some form of authority must be recognised, even if it is the authority of popular opinion (i.e. "majority rules"). The group must have the courage to discipline those who are disruptive, or who behave contrary to the purpose of the community.

The very word "community" suggest that people in it have some "common unity". If people cannot submit to the goals and practices of the community, then they have already expelled themselves from it.

Some people, for example, who like our ideals are offended by our frequent references to Jesus. But since he is our Authority, or the Source of all that we teach, it's only fair to give him some recognition. If we're too proud to submit to him and recognise his wisdom, we'd be too proud to submit to or recognise the wisdom of anyone. Such pride must be smashed before individuals can successfully work together in unity.

Laziness

"If any would not work, then neither should they eat." (2 Thessalonians 3:10) This instruction from the Apostle Paul to the First Century Christian community is still important for any successful community today.

Too often people are drawn to alternative lifestyles on the false assumption that they offer an escape from all responsibility and discomfort. But the most successful communities are those which see themselves as possessing an urgent mission to the outside world. Anyone in the community who is not prepared to work on that mission should not be in the community.

Many who look for an alternative lifestyle seem to think that if they close their eyes and wish real hard, all their problems will go away. But such escapism will not solve the problems of the real world. Jesus said, "Unless your righteousness shall exceed that of the scribes and Pharisees, you shall in no wise enter the kingdom of heaven." (Matthew 5:20) In other words, unless you're willing to work harder than people do for the system, you'll never succeed in building an alternative community.

People who wouldn't think of turning up late for a system job often assume that in an alternative lifestyle community one wakes up late, and spends most of the day talking, joking, reading trivia, handling a few tiny bits of business, and just generally doing the sort of things they would have squeezed into their lunch hour or the weekend when they were working in a job.
Lazy guy

We need to see the community as a business, with us as its joint owners. If we don't "produce", we'll fail. What we are producing is not material, but it still requires time, concentration, and energy to make it work. Whether we are working to educate people on noble values or just working to build loving relationships, we need to be ever conscious of what we are doing and why we are doing it. Many communities fail because people are too lazy to discipline their thoughts, speech, and actions in such a way as to produce the kind of "vibes" that they claim to believe in.

Impatience

When people finally have their act together and are working diligently in unity with one another, the final hurdle they must clear is impatience.

Radical activists of all sorts suffer from burnout because they had high hopes that were not realised as quickly or as dramatically as they had first expected. Unless your community has a limitless supply of aspiring hopefuls to replace disillusioned burnouts, it is wise to seriously caution everyone in the community against expecting too much too soon. And every effort must be made to recognise and savour the tiniest indications that the community is having some effect on the world around it.

People need to have commitment to some ideals as ends in themselves... whether or not we ever succeed in converting others to them. This we call "taking up one's cross". Jesus was one of many great leaders who was never truly appreciated until after his death; and this may be the kind of dedication it is going to take to capture the imagination of today's cynical world. We think it is worth the effort, and we hope that you will too.

In Conclusion

The standards we have outlined in this article are very high, we know. But we do not believe they are beyond the reach of the average individual. It is just a matter of each person's individual choice.

We have nothing against "fun" communities that are here one day and gone the next. Not everyone wants to start something that will last 100 years, or that will change the world. But if you are someone who does, we would like to hear from you.

(See also Laziness, Pride-Smashing, Faithfulness, and Living in Community.)

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