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"Expectations" by Josh Trought, published February 2005

There is a problem in the movement to peacefully collaborate for the common good. The role of expectations has a profound affect on the participants' cohesiveness in this type of societal process. Unrealistic expectations are common occurrences that disrupt positive participation. These expectations that affect cooperation are formed based on our experiences with established societal expectations, myths of utopia, agrarian lifestyles, teachers, and personal relationships with others and the universe. This article is an attempt to identify some of these unrealistic expectations and analyze instances when they occur. Recognizing our individual expectations and communicating realistic expectations may improve the process that enables this social movement. Conscious effort must be made to assure the development of common realistic expectations for collaborative projects.

Established Social Expectations
We all create expectations for ourselves, others and the projects we undertake. Conventional expectations might include a financially and emotionally satisfying career, life long marriage, children that become professionals, a second home for the holidays, and a golden parachute to ease the twilight of our lives. These are expectations that seem to be universally accepted and promoted. The social activist is challenged because our expectations include some broadly, frequently ill defined change in our manner of living with the earth, versus a status quo that is well defined. It is thus more difficult to establish realistic personal expectations without the support of society at large.
When we undertake to change the world from the milieu of the status quo, there is no universally defined path. People interested in changing societal paradigms have no general blueprint such as what is currently cultivated by government and media. Current conventions lead many to pursue lives defined by the established societal expectations of our times and perhaps even previous generations. In contrast, there are not only no codified rules but there is a lack of understanding of how to form or peaceably promote relationships within cooperative communities and enterprises. This situation lends to uncertainty, misunderstanding and subsequent unease or disillusionment. The expectations and realities of intentional cooperative communities have not received sufficient attention, professionally, institutionally or in public forums.

Agrarian Lifestyle
There is a current trend in society to denigrate vocational skills and long hours of manual labor. These are both necessities if we are to replace industrial agriculture with localized food production. We must embrace this reality and accept the difficulties that accompany this process. Design and technology can alleviate some hardships but we cannot expect that design will replace the hard physical, mental and spiritual work. Often the expectations of an agrarian lifestyle are not the difficult realities but rather peaceful, tranquil hours of watching the clouds roll by. Both are part of the reality but we need to be prepared for the challenges of this lifestyle.

Conventional teaching has been reduced to the transfer of information currently accepted to be fact. Although this works in some specialties, it has been less than successful in providing knowledge needed for earth friendly agriculture. In a unique manner nature defines and accepts what is appropriate for each site and circumstance. Bill Mollison has succeeded in opening my eyes to imaginative design theory. His illustrations provide glimpses of possibilities but some ideas have proven impractical in our climate. This is the reality of the process. We must first imagine, practice, evaluate then adapt. The reality is that each growing season, each social interaction is an experiment in motion. As teachers we must avoid promoting PC as paradise. Instead, what we propose is an alternative to conventional development. This alternative attempts to solve problems but without doubt other problems will arise. As participants in the evolution of a manner of living sustainably, we are faced with uncertainties. Although this should not deter us, it is important to preface our theories with this reality. The promise of the future must be tempered with realistic expectations of what is possible.

In our efforts to promote alternative systems we emphasize the possibilities of an egalitarian, non-hierarchical society in which all our needs (food, fiber, medicine, comfort) are met. What is sometimes lacking in our discussion of the possibilities is also the unpleasant realities such as hard physical labor, frustrations with weather, difficulties of communal living, or a lack of financial rewards and creature comforts. There must be a full disclosure in our discussions of the realities if we are to establish commonly held legitimate expectations.

Utopian Social Interaction
Volumes of theory have been written about promoting an egalitarian society. As such, a blueprint exists for how we can prosper in community. Practically speaking, however, social interaction depends on the individuals and circumstance involved. We each come with our personal ideals and vision but the patience and commitment required to collectively prosper is difficult to maintain. For myself, I have come to realize that hierarchy has merit based on respect for commitment and life experience. At some point authority is the result of credibility instead of position or title. This does not mean that elders ignore newcomers. Instead they use experience to welcome ideas and to shed light by explaining previous dilemmas and outcomes. It is idealistic to presume that established organizations welcome new members as equal decision making partners. This notion should be tempered with the reality that decision-making responsibility comes through experience and commitment to the organization and its members. Realization that we are part of the process, that we are each a component of the whole, will allow us to gain perspective and accept the sacrifices that this work entails. In a sense we gain ourselves by throwing our personal egos aside to participate in this collective movement. The common expectation is that we are all individuals, but the reality is that nothing is dividing our existence except our personal egos.

Community is not perfection, it is a process. I have seen many depart from community unsatisfied with the experience. Perceived inadequacies become magnified. It is a theme reported as present in all communities of this social movement. Where is the sustainable food production at the established communities? Where is the active day-to-day organization and leadership? If a community truly operates by consensus, why is there a core group that makes financial decisions? The disappointment that people feel is palpable. This experience is an example of the real life unease that arises when varying expectations collide. The social discomfort and even some animosity of participants that is a result must be addressed.

The solution lies with communication. Newcomers must be encouraged to express their expectations and needs thoroughly to the established group. It must be the role of the organization to elicit this information. The organization must present itself transparently using input and observations from folks outside their immediate milieu. A mistake is to avoid a confrontation of expectations which can result in new pathways toward the vision.

Our progress is dependent on forthright discussions on the issue of expectations. We must define expectations for the project, the group and ourselves. Clear presentations to others validate the realism of assumptions, expectations and visions. There must be continuing evaluation and testing of our expectations. During this reflective process we gather insight into each other's views of reality. From this insight, we can organize and develop plans for successful ventures which illustrate cooperative vision achievement. Without this insight into each other's expectations we will never be satisfied on a group or personal level.

This is not a skeptical or pessimistic view of group process but rather an attempt to help us prepare to succeed by realistically setting cooperative goals. The role of expectations can be crucial to our personal happiness, group success and movement toward a more sustainable society. We must recognize that expectations are constantly affecting cooperation and the ability of each individual and project to become successful. Although conflict over expectations can be harmful for group dynamics it is far less so than the subversiveness of unspoken expectations. When we can cultivate awareness of each other's needs then we can proceed as a functional group. We must endeavor to speak clearly of our expectations if we are to progress from an individualist to a cooperative society.

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