Together Institute
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Together Institute

Community as a place to practice a better future

What if our communities are an ideal place to model and embody - today - the future we’re hoping to create?

Illustration: Hokyoung Kim for Polygon

Given the steady stream of bad climate news and the ever-more-present feeling of systemic collapse, I have been asking myself repeatedly in the past few weeks why I choose to invest my time and energy into community during these urgent times. Why community?

Inspired by teachers like adrienne maree brown, Michaela Ayers, Christine Lai, Brian Stout and others, I have come to realize that for me communities are the easiest, most accessible and most obvious place where I can practice and embody a different future. Already today.

Let me explain.

The future I’m working towards

I work in service of a more equitable and just future where we not only value community, but where we see caring relationships as an essential component of life. While in today’s culture we think of everything as separate (we are separate from nature, from each other, etc), I’m convinced that this paradigm of separation is an illusion, which is leading us into collapse (inspired by the thinking of teachers such as Erin Dixon and many, many other indigenous thinkers; Karen O’Brien; Charles Eisenstein). I dream of a culture that acknowledges the world made up of deeply interwoven relationships and values these relationships as crucial for the sustainable thriving of everyone. In that future we strive to be in a healthy and caring relationship with our land, our planet, with human and non-human beings, and ourselves.

But how do we get there???

That future feels so overwhelmingly different and dramatically out of reach. What can I do to change a massive dominant system with its deeply held beliefs? At best I’m a tiny drop in the ocean… Meanwhile systemic problems seem to present themselves with increasing urgency. Who has time to think about a radically different future when the world is on fire?

“We become what we practice”

Communities as a place to practice the future

That’s where communities come in. I believe they are a great unit of change. They are an easy way to practice and model the future we hope to create right here, right now, in small, tangible ways. Communities are where we can embody today the “more beautiful world our heart knows is possible”. Communities are great, because the hurdle to engage with them is so low. Everyone can find, join or start a bit of community. All you need is at least one other person. They are low cost. While addressing global climate change isn’t in most people’s sphere of influence, shaping a community most certainly is.

The future is made up of many fractals

And I believe they matter especially because they are such small units of change. A more relational, caring, equitable and just future will not become reality as one massive project where all of humanity decides to join an enormous “Humanity Community”. Instead, the future is fractal. Many, many, many small groups treating each other differently will create a different future.

Communities = the opportunity to treat each other differently

I learned from my friend Casper ter Kuile that each group is a unique opportunity to treat each other differently, and ideally better than in life otherwise. We can choose to treat each other more generously, we can be more forgiving. We can choose to work through conflicts in a collective way that isn’t focused on punishment. We can experiment with financial solidarity. We can bring in gifts. We can embody a different future.

Applying it

To take all the ideas from above and turn them into action I have been frequently working with the following question: How can we, as a group, embody already today the future we’re hoping to create?

For me this question can literally be applied to everything: how we design our gatherings, how we invite new members, how we deal with money, how we care for people who want to leave, how transparent we choose to be… etc.

And as Brian Stout beautifully reminds us below, this question has also a deeply personal dimension. How can I start embodying the future I hope to create?

What do you think about this?

I’d love to hear how this all lands with you. Does this make sense? And do you have any recommendations for how to apply this? Thank you!

Thank you

There are so many peers and teachers who have inspired this perspective in me. Most recently I was inspired by listening to adrienne maree brown’s interview on OnBeing, by a workshop that was lead by Michael Ayers and Brian Stout, and being in conversation with Christine Lai and Shira Abramovitz. But there are certainly many others who have shaped this insight and I’m very grateful for all your guidance!

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Fabian Pfortmüller

Fabian Pfortmüller

Grüezi, Swiss community weaver in Amsterdam, co-founder Together Institute, co-author Community Canvas, fabian@together-institute.org | together-institute.org