Communal Living on The Farm: Handling Conflict

As members of The Farm learned to live together in the community, they set systems in place in order to resolve conflict and achieve peace in their intentional community.

| August 2015

The Farm in Summertown, Tennessee, is probably the best-known model of intentional communal living in the world. The Farm Then and Now (New Society Publishers, 2014), by Douglas Stevenson, traces the development of this ongoing social experiment from its early communal days to its modern incarnation as a democratic cooperative, and shows how this flagship of counterculture idealism continues to serve as a model for sustainable living. This excerpt, which is from Chapter 7, “Community, Conflict and Compassion,” discusses how conflict and disputes were handled in the intentional community.

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The Farm’s ability to survive and continue over decades of change is due in no small part to the community’s ability to resolve and endure conflicts large and small. A basic straightforward approach to resolving conflict has allowed the group to stay together, tempered with forgiveness and the recognition that time does indeed heal wounds, but that scars that go untended can fester and rise again to the surface. The returning conflict represents a new opportunity for those involved to resolve their differences.

Relationships on The Farm

The Farm is unique for the depth of long-term friendships between members of the community. The majority of people living on the land have been there over 30 years starting originally as Founding Members or as children who grew up and are now adults in the community. There is a lot of family. These bonds form the glue that holds the community together.

At the same time, the ability to develop new friendships with people who have joined as members in more recent years provides the polish and luster that keeps life here fresh and renewed. What allows The Farm’s newer folks to meld seamlessly into the fabric of the community is directly related to the community’s ability to pass on the skills of conflict resolution as a tool for personal change.

It is important to accept that conflicts will arise. Personalities will clash. Buttons will be pushed. Toes will be stepped on. Not everyone is warm and fuzzy all the time. People express themselves differently from culture to culture. Living in community brings people closer together, increasing the chances for disagreements to arise. At some point, new arrivals may find themselves in a personality conflict surrounding an “issue.”

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