Lessons from the Ecovillage

Guest blogger Jami Gaither reports on her recent stay at Dancing Rabbit Ecovillage, located in Rutledge, MO.

Guest post by Jami Gaither

I expected my three-week Visitor Session at Dancing Rabbit Ecovillage to expose me to natural building, cisterns and alternative power. What I didn’t expect were the surprises I encountered.

Photo by Jami Gaither

Photo by Jami Gaither

The first surprise was the amazingly good vegan/vegetarian food. Who knew it could be so tasty, filling and energizing? We had meat for only three meals in three weeks. While I rarely eat fish, at my first dinner back in “concrete world” I ordered Mahi Mahi. This was the most attractive item on the menu and a healthy alternative to my usual chicken or pork. My time at Dancing Rabbit influenced how I see and consume food.

The limited and well-planned use of vehicles was another revelation. Each week, residents review the needed vehicle plans. Seventy people manage to share four vehicles: a Jetta, a Passat, a Leaf, and a large work truck with optional trailer. They do this by planning trips and combining them when possible. The cost for each trip is paid by the member taking it. The $0.65/mile covers the cost of the car, gas, insurance, and maintenance.

For example, a 125-mile round-trip from Dancing Rabbit to the Possibility Alliance, an educational homestead in La Plata, MO, cost me just over $20 ($81.25 divided by 4 riders). This initially seemed pricey to me. But I realized that minimizing the need for travel and sharing rides makes the cost of having a vehicle very reasonable.

The full schedules of members was a third recognition. “Rabbits,” as residents are known, are busy building homes (largely by hand) while raising food (via small-scale organic gardening) and children (some are home-schooled). They do all this in keeping with a commitment to the Dancing Rabbit mission:

To create a society, the size of a small town or village, made up of individuals and communities of various sizes and social structures, which allows and encourages its members to live sustainably. To encourage this sustainable society to grow to have the size and recognition necessary to have an influence on the global community by example, education, and research.

Members and residents spend a few to several hours per week on tasks that keep the community and co-ops functioning. Tasks range from clearing paths and dumping humey (humanure) buckets to cooking a meal for a food co-op. Many also pledge hours to committee work. Since discussions are consensus-based with open/clear/respectful communication by all, this important work can be some of the hardest to do.

Photo by Jami Gaither

Photo by Jami Gaither

This brings me to the biggest surprise of all: the commitment to interact using non-violent communication (NVC) and mediation. My NVC training was eye-opening; it takes much energy, commitment, honesty, and trust.

Some say that living in an intentional community is the most expensive, longest lasting personal development program you’ll ever experience. The community becomes a house of mirrors. Even in my short visit, I learned how my perspective and experience govern my words and deeds. Several interactions indicated I’d hit a nerve or spoken callously…unaware or inconsiderate of the perspective of the other. Working on self-improvement can be a long process.

Some argue that we do not have environmental problems, only communication problems that prevent us from using resources wisely and for the greatest good of the whole. The more we communicate, the closer we feel to others. That sense of connectedness encourages us to take care of others and be less self-focused.

Photo by Jami Gaither

Photo by Jami Gaither

I believe that with some effort, we can each make strides to be more self-aware and considerate. In time, we can interact more effectively and humanely with our fellow beings on Mother Earth.

Ohio native Jami Gaither is a recently retired metallurgical engineer now pursuing a lifestyle based on sustainability, simplicity and fun. While not yet certain of her life path to come, the process of exploring is keeping her enthralled. She lives in Minnesota with her husband Danny.

Nonviolent Communication

Sometimes you hear about a thing over and over, until it seems mandatory to follow up. So it was with Nonviolent Communication (NVC), a process created by Marshall Rosenberg in the 1960s. First I learned that a yoga center offered NVC training sessions. Then I heard of a book group studying Rosenberg’s Nonviolent Communication: A Language of Life. Then a nonprofit’s director told me everyone in her organization is committed to NVC principles.

And this weekend, Trade School Indy offered an NVC class. All I needed to trade was a bundle of dried sage, which we have aplenty. That plus two hours on a Sunday afternoon seemed a reasonable investment. Off I went to finally check it out.

I learned that NVC is more than a nonthreatening communication style. It’s also a way of taking responsibility for yourself. As I practiced the formula (Observe, Feel, Need, Request) while role-playing a conflict, I sensed I was standing on solid ground. I hate confrontation, but NVC makes me view conflict as an opportunity to deepen relationships.

Communication Art Prize, by Fellowship of the Rich, via Flickr Commons

Communication Art, by Fellowship of the Rich, via Flickr Commons

Rather than asserting control over others through demands, manipulation, or bargaining, NVC is all about building connection over time. The idea is that we all have universal basic needs. Our feelings indicate whether these needs are met or unmet.

NVC “has been used between warring tribes and in war-torn countries; in schools, prisons, and corporations, in healthcare, social change, and government institutions; and in intimate personal relationships.” (Is there hope for the Central African Republic, where Muslims are fleeing “ethno-religious cleansing?”)

Mosque and church, by Jonathan Gill, via Flickr Commons

Mosque and church, by Jonathan Gill, via Flickr Commons

I may not be able to do anything about religious wars and other horrors, but I can create more peace in my daily interactions. Here is a (totally hypothetical) confrontation following NVC’s formula:

Observe: I notice there’s a used QTip on the back of the sofa. (Note the passive voice, a writer’s anathema! But useful in this instance, to neutralize the tone.)

Feel: I feel annoyed and disgusted. (Claiming my own feelings instead of the judgmental,“This is a gross habit. You are so inconsiderate!”)

Need: I need a clean environment, and I need consideration. (I’m struggling with how to state this. So much more satisfying to say, “I need you to not leave your medical waste out for me to find!” Any NVC ninjas in the house? Please coach me.)

Request: Would you be willing to throw your QTip away when you’re done?

In NVC’s highest expression, we request connection instead of a behavior change. “Could you tell me how you feel about this?” or “Would you be willing to spend a few minutes talking this through?” But I’ve cut to the chase above, while still (hopefully) avoiding triggering defensiveness in the hypothetical second party.

One of the women in the class called the method “disarming,” at least in role play. I’m curious to try it in real life. It seems to take a lot of hard thinking, even in the simplest of conflicts.

What about you: What tools have you found beneficial in creating peace and building connection?