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“By closing the door you create the room”

Reading “The Art of Gathering” by Priya Parker helped me better understand a process that felt difficult to explain to the uninitiated. While her book mostly refers to events and gatherings, lots of her insights can be applied to community building. Parker writes “over-inclusion is a symptom of deeper problems. Above all, a confusion about your purpose and lack of commitment to your members. In trying not to offend you fail to protect the gathering and the people in it. We fail to draw boundaries about who belongs and why.”

We are all sitting in a circle on the floor around the room, on meditation pillows and a fake fur carpet, with at our center a bowl containing candles, matches, an hourglass and the minuscule statue of a sitting Buddha.

If you don’t know anything about us or what we are doing, we look like a secte. I’ll grant you that, but this is a very serious matter. It is how we get a sense of the people who have shown interest in becoming our newest housemates. It is one hour during which they get to ask us questions and feel into whether this could be a home for them, during which we simultaneously try to understand people’s motivation and how they could compliment our Community. It is tricky and very often we leave frustrated to not have had more time. However, this is also the beauty of human interaction. When you know, you just know. You get to learn a lot about human behaviour, theirs, and yours within these group interviews. How people act when they feel observed, how they get a sense of what can be done or not, how they try to give the right answer instead of their answer, and how you, as the observer, tend to project your own insecurities on people. That is why there is always more than just one of us joining.

Filling our empty rooms can sometimes take weeks despite our long waiting list. We first and foremost want to fill the Community with the “right” people, not the rooms with the right liquidities (even though we are more bound to our landlord’s satisfaction level than we wish to admit). I have attended dozens of these and I very often admire how some people manage to impress us right away by embodying the House’s values within a few sentences, a single comment, a smile or just through their body language. And conversely, how quick some applicants burn themselves. I am often sent back to my own interview. I had no clue. I wonder how they figured I would blossom at K9 or why they picked me. What did people think of me? Had I fooled them? Did they realise how lost, desperate and broken I was?

Rather than filling up beds, we looked to enrich the lives of all the people who live with us. And it is through recruitment that we are able to create boundaries. This is a sensitive topic, because obviously, inclusivity and diversity should prevail. But if I believe communal living can be for everyone, I doubt every community is made for everyone.

To be able to feel like you are part of something, boundaries are needed. This is one of the core attributes of membership as explained by psychologists Mc Millan and Chavis in 1986 in their work to define the sense of community.

They identify four elements:

- influence,

- integration & fulfillment of needs,

- shared emotional connection

- membership, which itself has five attributes:

- emotional safety,

- a sense of belonging,

- personal investment,

- common symbol system

- boundaries.

If all of us were going to feel free and safe to be ourselves in our home, it was our responsibility to create that space. To draw the framework within which we would emanate emotional safety.

It was a constant race for balance between economic expectations (after all, rents needed to be paid) and the necessity to pace ourselves when recruiting and onboarding.

A real estate owner might be doing B2B, we were doing P2P as my good friend and K9 gatekeeper for more than 3 years, Staffan, told me once, “People to People”.

sources: Mc Millan and Chavis

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