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What does it mean to live and think collectively?

“The needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few,” said Spock in Star Trek, 1982. An unlikely source for inspiration I know, but as I read this I saw it as the essence of what it is to live communally. It’s hard to describe the shift that happens when we live in shared spaces – how we come to care for one another without being ‘friends’, and become a self supporting community – but this quote comes close. 

In The Collective’s buildings, we share spaces, kitchens, corridors, gardens, food, decisions, drinks, and birthdays. Indeed our spaces and programmes are intentionally designed to optimise sharing and social gathering. But living together in harmony takes more than nice sofas and free drinks; it’s about an understanding of what it means to live together, and how everyone can help create a strong community. 

For years I have lived in different communal set ups, from farmhouses in Somerset and Canada to a manor in Sweden. Each of them had their own take on contributing to the way we lived together.

Some had lists of rules created by an absent landlord, others were co-created by ourselves, and ended with the minimum: ‘clean up after yourself, tell us if you have someone to stay’, and I can never remember the third. By living without many rules, we knew we had to respect one another – “do as you would like to be done to” – and this called upon us to use our own discretion as to what would pass and what needed to be communicated. There were some it didn’t suit and that’s fine. I can still recall the shift after a few months where I relinquished the need for my own desires to be met in favour of those of the group’s. I saw that my wants would often be satisfied later on with a greater impact. In group meetings I would often bite my tongue, trusting that the wish from the majority – with my input – would benefit everyone. Other times, I saw that my wants (like playing loud electronic music at 6am) were just not that essential.

My generation was taught to focus on our own development and progression over group work. Now, we are seeing we can find our way to live independently whilst being supported and fulfilled by our community. This is interdependence.

Over recent years, we have experienced and heard the concern over rising individualism in our culture and the US, in the face of fear, adversity and isolating lifestyle choices. Thinking for oneself, rather than for the collective, is more common. My generation in the UK was from an early age gifted freedom and independence; we aspired to have whatever we want. In our education, we were taught to focus on our own development and progression over group work. Indeed we are graded on our academic competence over how well we cooperate, let alone taught how to cooperate effectively. Now, we are seeing we can find our way to live independently whilst being supported and fulfilled by our community. This is interdependence.

I used to build roundhouses. There’s a magical moment when after laying the roof poles on top of another in a spiral, you let the poles drop and catch one another. They interlock to create a complimentary tension that leaves a resilient, well supported roof.

Example of a roundhouse roof

One could say the same for a collective of people. With the right foundations, a group can become a strong, well-bonded community.

Collectivist cultures tend to place greater value on fitting into the whole of society and therefore tend to be more welcoming to newcomers. Just like I’ve experienced in joining The Collective to head up the new Impact team. Thank you for having me on board!