Translated with the help of Lucie Battaglia. Thank you Lucie!
The following article is a reflection about our present collective difficulty in terms of acting more… collectively! Although I speak more from the angle of a community like the Cité Écologique ecovillage, my main message is that in all aspects of our lives, the only way to build and advance projects that matter to us is to act all together. This is what motivates and makes the strength of Respecterre, who counts a lot on creating and developing strong relations with the ecovillage as much as with other people involved in the sphere of ecological and ethical clothes throughout the world.
Over the last years, many new intentional communities have arisen. This movement reflects people’s wishes to move away from the individualistic, consumerist and disconnected society we are living in. In the movie ‘The Trotsky’, the protagonist—a young student on a quest to find the collective and personal meaning of life—questions himself regarding why so few people rise up against the ills of our society. Is it apathy, a careless attitude, or boredom, which can be caused by a simple lack of knowledge of existing alternatives? However, judging by the growing popularity of sustainable communities, it is clear that many people refuse to let apathy or cynicism contaminate them and reach for new structures of collective living.
Both in Europe and in North America, there are numerous intentional communities born a generation (or two!) ago, who have succeeded in braving the storms of time and personal relationships and are now reaping the rewards: richness and stability. I have been a member of such a haven of peace and wellness for a year now: the ecovillage La Cité Écologique, an intentional community located in Quebec, Canada. It was founded in 1984 around the concept of alternative education, initially addressed to children but quite present in residents’ lifestyles. The ecovillage’s story is a 30-year-old epic filled with all sorts of experiences, good and bad press, trial and error. But today, the first thing visitors feel is a sense of stability, tranquility and happiness. The smiles received from residents are natural and sincere, which still amazes today’s apathetic society. Right now, the ecovillage can still count on a public alternative school—elementary, middle and high school—as well as ten eco-businesses, a farm, and an impressively well-structured model of community life.
Such a model has inspired young people all around us, who have attempted to duplicate it. Though this inspiration may seem like good news, many similar projects have not survived long due to an incapacity of creating and sustaining a good foundation and strong ties.
That leads us to the following question: “Why start your own project when there are already well established ones?” Very recently, two young women making a presentation about their recent trip to various intentional communities ended the talk by confessing their dream to design their own. We asked them why, after visiting so many communities they enjoyed and knowing well-established ones exist, they wanted to start from the ground up. They answered: “To make it to our liking.”
Yet isn’t this “My project is better than yours!” argument right what we observe in today’s society, where everyone acts individually and is scared of getting closer to others? What is the motivation for designing an eco-community project if we reject what is different from us? People find the idea of making an effort to join an established group, with its strengths and weaknesses, to be a heavy, unpleasant task. Living within a community also means living with oneself: in both cases, it is a process that requires time, energy, engagement, and introspection.
In my case, after a year of living at La Cité Écologique, I can affirm that I am widely happy with my integration process. The community, in spite of its open-mindedness and its desire to keep on moving forward, is nonetheless rooted in some routine, values and a spiritual path of its own. As for myself, my life path includes growing up in a conventional family, traveling, and exploring intentional communities: all vital parts of who I am. So, the daily challenge for me lies in becoming part of the group and making people feel my fondness and my involvement, while showing respect to the person that I am. My ways of thinking and acting sometimes differ from those of the group. I believe, though, that despite some divergences in the teaching methods, my vision and values are closely aligned to the community’s. Those divergences, from my perspective, made me realize that choosing a successfully-established community where members were able to grow does not mean that everyone will fit in easily and progress without obstacles. It simply means that we will have the opportunity to count on people with a background and a collective consciousness to accompany us in the uninterrupted
course of life. On that end, I can only be grateful for the openness, the trust and the love I receive from the community members: I feel accepted and included rather than judged.
But in the end, choosing to join in the strength of an established community rather than building one implies working hard on oneself, on relationships with others and with nature. This does not mean that each person will pick the first option over the second one. After all, life is also about personal values and beliefs, and determining if we will be happiest in an existing community or in one we created is a very personal choice. Fundamentally, given the current state of the world, joining an existing community is beneficial, but it is simply heartwarming to notice that an increasing number of people believe in the alternative intentional community model and want to get involved in one, whether it is their own or not.