Boundaries and Communication: The Life Blood of Healthy and Happy Communities

Submitted by Rachel Elizabeth on July 24, 2014 - 12:37pm

Recently, a neighbourhood in Guelph called "the Junction" had a community conversation as part of Tamarack's 1000 Conversations Campaign. What follows is an excerpt from this conversation centered on the importance of boundaries and communicating them effectively to ensure healthy and happy community.

Derek:  How do you balance differences in expectations and practices around raising children?  Nothing matters more to us than our kids and we are heavily invested in how they are raised but we have different views on what that looks like.  How do you mange this diversity?

Mary-Kate:  I go back to thinking what this was like when there were seven of us living in this house and there were some children in that mix. There were some people who did not have children and wanted to have a space where there were no kids. I think that is the key- each person has their own space and can create it the way that they need it to be. We are not an intentional community that owns collective space. People own their own space and then we create opportunities for us all to come together. But when it was lots of people in the same house, that was a point of conflict because in the house people said I need this space to not be a kid friendly zone and for me I need my whole house to be kid friendly for me to feel comfortable. I think that space is a big one. A dog is a great example. We have a gap in our fence and Devon and Nate have been clear that they do not want a dog in their space, so we have tried to be clear with Oscar (the dog) where he can and can’t go and we have now put a little gate in place so there can be a free flow of children but not a free flow of dog. So it is about working out the boundaries and being clear with what they are.

Mike:  It is really about being clear about personal space and public space. I think that is often the contentious point with intentional communities- not having clear boundaries around personal space. The assumption is that it is all community and all the time and people struggle with that. We experienced that with WWOOFers. We realized that we wanted breakfast as our own time. Then it was easy cause we asked them if they could eat breakfast in their own space. And suddenly it just changed. Now the community time was great because we had that window of just family time.

Mary-Kate:  It makes it very simple for people to come into this space if they know that if it's not working, we will let them know. It is about having these clear boundaries and it's nothing personal ,but right now we need this. So then it can be very welcoming and then clear when it is not working.

Mike:  We have made Sunday a family-only-day, as well. It is just one day a week when no one is working. It creates that space and time for what we need. Often times we can see that something isn’t working, so we shut the whole thing down instead of finding the balance of what is really needed.

Cindy:  There is a lot of freedom that comes with having clear boundaries. I know it's counter- intuitive, but it's true.

Sally:  I am hearing you talk about boundaries in terms of physical space, so place people can and cannot go but we also need to talk about boundaries in conjuction with time. The main thing is about communicating what I want, what I don’t want, what I am willing to do, and what I am not willing to do. 

Jess:  So having the ability to do that and feeling safe saying what your needs are and also what you feel your limitations are. What you want to participate in and what you don’t want to participate in. And making that be ok.

Sally:  So building that "okayness" and safety any these issues is so important.

Jess: Once that has been established everything else is easy.

Mike:  Sometimes we don’t know.  We are not well practiced at knowing what we want and we are really not practiced at asking for it.  We really encourage people to say what they need here.  Even if it is opposite to what I need, at least now we can work towards it.

Cindy: Yes, what a relief. It's like, "Oh!" It's clear.  You don’t have to guess constantly.   


Mary-Kate: Recently there has been a whole group of us who have been doing training around communication and working out how to be present- in our lives and how to communicate what we need.  And the fact that there is a whole group who has done the same training, the same work and now have a shared language, I think has been very powerful in creating this community feel. I feel like what has shifted recently is that it isn’t driven by Mary-Kate and Mike anymore.  Something new has come into being. There are all sorts of community things that are happening that having nothing to do with us. People have owned it themselves and I feel like a lot of that came out of that process of everyone really knowing each other and themselves. It's not dependant on any one person.  Everyone is taking responsibility for what they need and what they want.