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Creating community at the Summerfest

We’ve just returned from the fifth NVC Summerfest, full of the joys of living in community. We feel enriched by the warmth of connection, and fulfilled with community meetings, dancing, singing, drumming, and sharing NVC. Wow! Learning, fun, community and play all in one place!

Part of creating community is clarifying a sense of purpose. The vision of the Summerfest is to create a world where everyone’s needs matter. Its specific mission is to offer an intimate, family-oriented festival with Nonviolent Communication as a core value. And its aims are to support you to develop tools for resolving conflict in your family, workplace and community. Is this the kind of world that you want to live in?

While we were there, I had a chance to reflect on how a sense of community develops. This theme is important to us, as our next Year Training is on this topic.

One of the most heated topics was swimming in the lake. The question was, how to enjoy the lake in a way that kept us all safe, including fifty eager children from toddlers to teenagers? Though the conversation was difficult at times, and brought up deep fears for some of the parents, it struck me that this was where we built community. To create community, there needs to be shared risk. In our case, this was the risk of making the most of the lake without anyone getting hurt or drowning. It galvanised community resources, and stimulated a creative way of group decision-making.

We worked with the principle of consent, which is different from consensus (all agreeing to a proposal). With consent, we were simply checking if there are any fundamental objections to a proposal. In a traffic light analogy, some lights could have been green (Go!) and some lights amber (Proceed with caution). We were just looking for the red lights (Stop!) If we came across a red light, we investigated the underlying needs and tried to incorporate these needs in a revised proposal. With the swimming lake, we tried various different proposals, including a rota, until a group of conflict supporters sat down and formulated three agreements, which were then consented to by the community (see end for the text of this agreement).

So far we’ve talked about learning, play, purpose and decision-making as aspects of community building. What are the other aspects? We formulate them as support (empathy), conflict transformation and resource allocation (an economy).

The main support system for all camp members was a daily Empathy Home Group. This was an advice-free zone where you have a chance to be heard to your satisfaction. In the closing ceremony, more than fifteen people expressed gratitude to their Empathy Home Group for deep listening and healing. There were also Empathy Angels – roving listeners identified by wearing a big red badge in the shape of a heart! Crew teams had daily meetings which included time for empathy.

A conflict transformation team met before the camp to develop an approach to conflict. On the camp, the team tried to get across that conflict is a natural part of life. Sometimes we sense more connection, trust and safety, sometimes less. The team wanted to explore different ways of being with conflict. The year before, they found it very effective to keep track who needed support, who was struggling and who it might be useful to reach out to before a situation escalated. This year they were a team of five trainers and 10 conflict supporters with NVC experience. On the first evening, the team was introduced at the community meeting. They said that if you notice that you are out of balance with someone at camp, you can approach one of them. If you find yourself in conflict with one of them, you can go to another!

On the second to last day, the Core Team fulfilled its promise to present the finances of the Summerfest and look at Gift Culture (sustainability). How do we make the opportunity of the Summerfest available to the people who really need it, bearing in mind that these are often the people who have least financial resources? One way is to keep the fees minimal, and to invite further contributions from those who have greater financial flexibility. Gesine and Shantigarbha were happy to be supported to work on the Summerfest during the year, and we’re happy that this year for the first time we could reimburse travel expenses for other members of the Core Team.

Next year (dates announced) we want to create an Angel Fund (bursaries) and possibly expand the number of free places for those who want to exchange working for a ticket.

Text of swimming agreements

These agreements aim to meet needs for safety, care, self-responsibility and freedom/autonomy.

  1. Parents take full responsibility for the safety of their children.
  2. Parents decide if their children can swim unsupervised.
  3. Community members can ask unsupervised children, “Do your parents agree to you swimming unsupervised?”