Contrasting Commune Cultures – Visitor Orientation

“I wondered how long it would be before the honeymoon wore off,” said Puck to me when he saw me clearly upset about some members at Acorn who had concerns about my interaction with two teenage female friends.

It is impossible to live in both of these communities without comparing them.  It is nearly impossible not to do it, even if you only move between them occasionally.  Twin Oaks meals are on time. Acorn has quick decision capacity.  Twin Oaks has multiple different businesses and lots of different work opportunities. Acorn does not use labor sheets. Twin Oaks vehicles basically always work and are signed out properly. Acorn runs the super cool Seed Business. Twin Oaks hosts the communities conference and women’s gathering.  And it goes on and on.

The communities contrast with each other, because they dont see anything like it near by.

Communities contrast each other, because we don’t see anything like us nearby.

We were talking recently about the differences in the visitor program.  Visitors in the Twin Oaks program get labor sheets like Oakers and are required to work full quota, if they are interested in membership.  Over the course of the three week visitor period, besides the regular community work they do, visitors also get 19 different orientations (what we call Oreos for short) these include:

  • Community Government Oreo
  • Hammocks Shop tour and lesson
  • Community nature walk
  • Tofu Oreo
  • Child Oreo
  • Health/Mental Health Oreo
  • Labor Oreo
  • Membership Process Oreo
  • Movement Support/EcoVillage Oreo
  • Social Oreo
  • Land Walk
  • Community Tour
  • Process Oreo
  • Legal Oreo
  • and a number more which are not coming to my tired mind

At Acorn when people come in, we give then a 40 minute tour and outline of our norms and say “We depend on you to manage your visitor period, including your clearness and interview process, you need to make sure these things happen in a timely way.”  Then everything else they want to  know about the community they can ask members about.  It is a completely informal orientation for visitors.

Twin Oaks has 19 orientations, Acorn has 1.  Some will point to the size differences and claim this is why, but more fundamentally it is a culture difference.  Twin Oaks believes it can control some things by monitoring and directly informing them.  Acorn thinks (on some level) we are riding the crest of a chaotic wave and we will hold on and see what happens.

sometimes the only options it to hang on and get wet

sometimes the only option is to hang on and get wet

[Edited by Judy Youngquest]


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About paxus

a funologist, memeticist and revolutionary. Can be found in the vanity bin of Wikipedia and in locations of imminent calamity. buckle up, there is going to be some rough sledding.

10 responses to “Contrasting Commune Cultures – Visitor Orientation”

  1. MoonRaven says :

    I often advise people to do the Twin Oaks visitors program first–you get a cozy cabin and usually make quick connections with the other visitors, in addition to all the orientations.

    I didn’t even know who the other visitors were for several days when I was at Acorn. It’s good training for self-reliance, but for folks new to community, I think the TO program is a lot more helpful.

    In the end, I think many of the differences between TO and Acorn boil down to whether you like structure or flexibility.

  2. Chrystie says :

    I did Acorn first, and then immediately slid over to Twin Oaks, this past summer. I like structure a lot but I learned something very valuable about myself doing Acorn first and then Twin Oaks. I learned that I like structure to come from within myself and not arbitrary schedules. I never had trouble finding work at Acorn, despite the ‘ok, good luck with your visitor period’ way they do things. Within a week, I had settled comfortably into what worked for me and I proceeded to do it … every day … happily. And the seed office people were happy too, I imagine.

    At Twin Oaks, it’s easy for a structure-lover to let co’s guard down and fall into a mainstream mindset of, “someone will give me work so I shouldn’t make any plans until I see what ‘they’ want me to do first.’ Then I would get sent away, or we would finish early, or something would get cancelled completely and my sense of structure for the day would go all to hell. I found that extremely stressful. When structure is externally created, then people who need it (like me) lose their minds when it falls away. If they make their own structure, they can bounce back from an obstacle better. In that way, I maintain that even people who go from Point A to B can thrive from a lack of external forces. For all I know, that’s where people like me thrive best once the culture shock fades.

    I applaud Acorn for their clearness process. I can’t even begin to describe what I learned about myself going into the hot-seat thirty times in three days. Speaking to people I actually wouldn’t run into daily. Telling my story over and over. Working through the awkwardness of some of the conversations as a member would shrug and say, “I don’t really know you. Why are you here?” I was compelled by my own sense of structure, inside a culture of absolute freedom, to complete every single clearness that the members granted me and I succeeded.

    There was no similar thing at Twin Oaks and I left feeling like very little people got to know me. I was too busy listening oreos (interesting as they were!), doing assigned work I wouldn’t choose for myself, or fumbling around to make up the work I lost from external reasons.

    Anyway, long story short (too late, right?), Acorn was right up this structure-lover’s alley. Twin Oaks was amazing too, I hope to see them again, but the way their program is set up left them at a disadvantage to get to know a person like me as well as Acorn did. 🙂

    • moonraven222 says :

      As another structure lover, I resonated more with Twin Oaks–but I also agree with a couple of the points you made: I had a harder time at TO making my full hours, b/c, yes, shifts got cancelled, shifts ended early, and I had to go scurrying. I remember how frustrated I was when I walked all the way over to Emerald City only to find out work there was cancelled and the only work I could figure on doing was at the Hammock Shop all the way at the other end of Twin Oaks. I felt I should have gotten credit for travel time! On the other hand I had no trouble finding work at Acorn. I would pack seeds, or weed, or work with the alliums for hours.

      And, absolutely, one of the best things about my Acorn experience was the clearness process. Every one of the members made time to tell me directly how they felt about me being there.

      I definitely think that TO works better for some folks and Acorn works better for others. One of the folks in my TO visitors group was having a hard time there and dealing with some personal problems without much support. She was rejected by TO (where people didn’t seem to get what was going on with her), applied to Acorn where she seems to be thriving. But I also know people who’ve moved from Acorn to TO b/c they liked it better.

      • Chrystie says :

        I think I know who you’re talking about and, if I’m right, I LOVED the heck out of her when I was at Acorn! I made a few good friends and lots of acquaintances at TO. But at Acorn, I made lots of good friends and a few REALLY good friends. 🙂

        Maybe it has something to do with the fact that you don’t have to ask before asking at Acorn. Easier to approach people 😀

  3. Tree Bressen says :

    Fascinating (even as someone who has spent a lot of time in both communes, tho not lately). An important point i think you left out is that each place’s approach to visitors may act as an appropriate filter for who will be good fit members there: presumably Acorn is seeking members who can act with a lot of personal initiative, while TO is seeking members who will thrive within the existing structures. Thus each program is well-designed to meet the goal.

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