(Editors note: Article by Bill & Zoe, to be published in Communities Magazine in the Spring 2015 issue; Theme: “Community for Baby Boomers.”)
We are a tribe of 21 people mostly born in the 1940-50s and a few in the 1960s. We are clearly boomers edging gracefully into geezer-hood. Lightly we refer to each other as “tribalites” a play on the word tribe and trilobites (fossils). Humor is not formally one of our core values, but perhaps it should be as we laugh a lot.
We are group of people who share specific values, hold each other as a priority and formally commit to each other. We become each other’s dear, trusted friends, social safety net and extended family. The old story of “fear and scarcity” is giving way to “love and sufficiency” as together we are transformed into a new life.
Our “new tribe” model is different from the usual “intentional community” as we live in our own homes and not on shared land. “Bicycle distance” is our metaphor for living close enough to meet face-to-face with weekly consistency.
Over the years, we have experienced many living situations and know that living together does not automatically lead to intimacy and deep trust. Without property considerations, we are able to come together quickly to build our intimacy. We can imagine a wide range of possibilities, including living together, but it is not our main focus.
If this vision of your own tribe intrigues you, we boldly suggest that your tribe will become the ones you spend the most time with, trust the most, and will become your dear friends. These people will cover your back as you will cover theirs. They are the ones with whom you co-create your life, have made commitments and think of first in joy or emergency. You will know these people for the rest of your life, or their life, which ever comes first.
Learning how to engage people in our “New Tribe” model took us seven years of devotion and focus. There were some dramatic fails, like repeatedly calling a group of people together saying “Lets build community!” They were always wildly enthusiastic, but for some reason that was the last time that group ever met. After too often “expecting a different result from the same action” we remembered that classic definition of insanity. We learned the big lesson that tribe forms one person at a time, as a series of one to one relationships. This was almost too simple for us to grasp right away.
Once we learned what actually worked it took less than a year to have the first wave of our “tribe” committed and bonded around shared values and commitments in a workable on-going structure. We meet eagerly at least every week!
What has been a most difficult and important part of building a co-creative tribe has been navigating our old conditioning. Often we have had to acknowledge and name our “recovering patriarchal male” and “recovering angry unseen female” aspects. Formative times have been when Zoe would challenge Bill’s very masculine structures and also be able to honor the masculine focus. It has been when Bill has let go of protocol to follow Zoe’s wisdom in listening to the groups need for organic flow and inclusive language. Both of us have been called by our commitment to each other and this work to mature and gently transform.
The process of transformation or evolving as a new human is something we know about from powerful weekend training events like the ManKind Project work and similar women’s work. In tribe we see constant transformation in ourselves and others catalyzed by the week after week process of being together in powerful mutual support and love. We see the flowering of each other’s genius!
Please note that we choose the word “tribe” very deliberately as the word “community” has proven to be too big, with too many meanings. Tribe by definition is face-to-face, bound by kinship (chosen in our case), reciprocal exchange and strong ties to place. Also tribe (not the family) is the essential social unit and is hard wired in us. We say “you can take the people out of the tribe, but you can not take the tribe out of the people.”
Tips on Getting Started: Here is how we evolved the model we have found works. First and most noteworthy, we underscore that tribe starts with one person. This is a most important detail! One person must be committed to making it happen. And so it begins when the “champion” or one who founds the tribe talks with friends she/he has come to trust over the years, about intentional friendship.
After enough conversation there comes a time to formalize the acceptance of an invitation. In our case, Bill invited Zoe and presented her with a written document to formalize her intention. Upon completing and signing her “Testament of Intent” she dramatically presented Bill with the same opportunity. This created a movement from thought to action and established a base for expansion. Now we could reach out, and present the shared vision, values, structure we held as essential, to one person or one couple at a time.
Some friends liked what we offered and accepted our lead. A small core group of men and women formed. Beginning with a commitment of 3 years we called this our family of choice. A small core group can become an energetic cooking pot and source of nourishment. This wonderful caldron of support catalyzed the next steps of building our tribe.
We eventually learned that for a larger tribe body of people to stick together they would need to enter a formal process of shared intention and belief. We needed a tribe training.
The Orientation and initiation: Next and this is BIG, we invited 4 trusted friends as “initiates” into a 15 hour training over 5 weeks, every Tuesday for 3 hours (could be one weekend) to learn to feel safe and build trust. Here we shared in depth our values and structure, a practical conflict resolution process and very important to us, a way for men, women and those of gender fluidity to be together in deep safety.
Everything we do is absolutely by invitation and mutual respect. Our ceremonies and rituals are such fun and often surprise people. Arriving the first day, they come up our steps to find two of us welcoming them with a feathered fan spreading sweet smoke around them with a special heartfelt welcome. They are asked to enter in silence past a transparent silver cloth, and are greeted with music.
We create a safe space for initiates to consciously practice intimacy skills. In one process we like, we invite each person to take the time to be with each other person, one at a time, and looking eye to eye, one says “I am here to be seen.” And the other responds from the heart “I see you.” (Then reverse. Move to next partner. Try it in your core group.)
The training is an experiential orientation where they begin to find their own place in the tribe. They learn our values of living near each other and staying put, meeting face to face every week, long term commitment, the deep importance of gender safety in our tribe, how to resolve conflict in a safe way and how the membership sequence unfolds.
The “tribe training” brings everyone onto the same page as to who we are, what we believe and how we function. At the end of the training they are “initiated” into the tribe as provisional members for 3 months to a year. It’s a bonding time of mutual observation, and when they are ready each creates their own initiation ceremony into full membership. They may then sponsor their trusted friends as possible members.
Our Commitments Reflect Our Values:
- To Place; we choose to stay put, to not move on
- To Each Other; seasoned friends growing together
- To Gender Safety; clear boundaries and transparency
- To Personal Integrity: we’re accountable and tell the truth
- To Long-Term Intention; we imagine a lifetime together
- To Celebrate relationship with Divine Presence; spirit
- To Cultural Co-Creation: action toward sustainability
Unlike many communities our tribe exercises our right to choose. Here is why. Robert Putnam author of Bowling Alone offers us a most useful distinction as he identifies “bridging and bonding” groups. Bridging groups focus outward including different types of people in order to be of service to them in some way. Bonding groups are people of like mind, focused inward, working together with the intention of personal growth and evolution. Our tribe is designed as a bonding group therefore we choose carefully who we invite. The beauty of this is once people have a safe place to grow and thrive they naturally find themselves bridging out in service to others.
As founders we designed our roles to move from leaders to co-creative equals. Thus, once our group was of adequate size and competence, they felt ready and released us as founders. In a wonderful, blessing “derolling” ceremony the first dozen or so stepped up to be more fully responsible for the co-creative tribe process, and we as founders no longer had to hold so much responsibility.
Now as peers we are wrestling with how to make challenging group decisions in a good way. We have been exploring a NVC/Sociocacy Consent Decision-Making model. With each new challenge we are enjoying the dynamic process of building the plane as we are flying it.
In summary, here are the specific steps of the process we developed that actually works:
- Start with a Champion, the ONE who gets it started
- Identify others choosing this physical place, open to the adventure and possible commitment.
- Carefully invite one person or one couple at a time.
- Training in values, structure and skills. This is the glue that bonds the tribe.
- Ceremony and initiation, with formal commitments.
- Develop a decision making process
- Founders are derolled and tribe runs itself.
A final closing story; this fall we had a tribal event relevant to our boomer status. One of our newer members was informed after a routine physical that he had a growth on his heart valve. Suddenly he was scheduled for open-heart surgery. His wife was away for the weekend. Within hours of this discovery, men from the tribe stayed with him in the night prior to surgery. In the morning some others joined his wife at the hospital as he underwent the procedure. A large portion of the tribe adjusted their schedule and held a song circle for him – singing and holding space until the surgery was complete. The surgery took half the time expected. Once home we regaled him with more song and his recovery has been remarkable.
The biggest challenge as several of us visited him in the days following was to not make him laugh too much while he was recovering. Pretty tough for a tribe that should have humor as a core value.
Click here for info on our Tribe Training event in April 2015: (http://giftcommunity.net/ )
Bill Kauth as co-founded The ManKind Project in 1984 and author of A Circle of Men in 1992 has literally launched thousands of support groups (mostly men) many of which have become communities. Met multi talented artist Zoe Alowan at Burning Man, they married in 2008 and together they have been working with men & women building long term, committed non-residential community. They wrote the book We Need Each Other. Their new book Toolbox for Tribe: How to Build Your Own Community, will be released in 2015.
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