1. Introducing core concepts

Video Transcript

Hi! Welcome to the Microsolidarity Practice Program. Thank you for joining us, I hope you're going to learn a lot and meet some cool people. My name is Richard, I'm going to be sharing a short series of videos: I'll be doing some and my partner Nati will be doing some of the others. Together, we want to share a little bit of theory, not a lot of theory, but just enough so that we have some of the same ideas in mind as we go into this practice time.

So what is microsolidarity? At its simplest, it's a framework for community building, it's a methodology, a collection of practices, ways of thinking about how we build community.

It's also a network of community builders. So now that you're participating in the program, you're also welcome into this open source R&D network, as we're learning together, how do we do this community building thing?

I published a proposal a few years ago, describing my first guesses at some patterns for community development, and immediately got a reaction from many people who said, hey, I've got something to add to this. So if you have something to add, you're welcome to participate in this open network of peer exchange and learning.

What all of these microsolidarity communities have in common is a foundational intention to create relationships of belonging. We do this through mutual support. I say "mutual", because it's reciprocal, it's about people giving and receiving, it's about horizontal, non-hierarchical, peer-to-peer relationships of exchange. That's quite essential to me. And the belonging piece is really essential too; these are relationships that are intended to make a real difference in your life. That's the aspiration. That we have a sense that "I belong here, people know me, I know them, they have my back, I have their back". That's what we're trying to produce.

And then optionally, there's an extra intention on top of it, that some of these communities are also reaching an economic dimension. So sometimes I will say that it starts with emotional intimacy (of relationships of care and authenticity) and then they may also go to this next level, which is an economic intimacy (people sharing money or resources). This could be, for instance, a collective of freelancers who might be sharing work with each other, they might be sharing some of the income. Or a land-based community, they'll be sharing housing, for example, or other kinds of resources. So that's a destination you may want to head into. It's the destination that I'm heading to. But it's not a requirement; it might not be appropriate in the context that you're in. You might be just here for the belonging, and that's perfectly good aspiration.

So what's the problem? What is the riddle or the puzzle that microsolidarity is trying to solve? The way that I think about it is that most people, maybe not everyone, but a lot of people want deep relationships, we want connection, we want community, we want this sense of belonging, we want to be in a web of social fabric. That's, I think, hard coded into our genetic inheritance as mammals, we're social creatures, we want this thing. So why do you need a framework? Why do you need training? Why do you need practice? Well, to my perspective, the reason this thing can be so challenging is because we've been conditioned for a different way of being. We've been conditioned for individualism, we've been trained in hierarchies for competition, to think of ourselves as atomized individuals, to think about the self as a competing unit with all the other selves around. My experience, in school and in church and in work was always as an individual who was being measured on his own merits and would fail or succeed, depending on how qualified he was. In my school I didn't have any training in collaboration. While I said we've got some genetic inheritance as mammals to be social, I think a lot of our institutions put obstacles between us and that genetic inheritance. So the job with these relational practices that we'll introduce in the microsolidarity program, is to remove some of those obstacles and come back to a way of being which is deeply natural to us, to be in relationship, but we've trained something completely different.

So this is the kind of--people talk about unlearning. Can we remove those lessons that we've picked up in the past and find a new way? To my mind, the way to do that is to practice, that means to experiment, to try, and to have a sustained regular commitment, to practice finding new ways of being together. If we're trying to shift from an individualistic mode to a relational mode, we can't do that on our own. And that's why we bring people together to practice.

So let me tell you just a little of the background. Where does this come from? Who am I? What's my story? So in 2011, 10 years ago, I joined a community called Enspiral. That community is based in New Zealand, where I'm from, it's a global community, but very much the home base is still New Zealand. How do I describe it? It's complicated! I think it's a network of friends, supporting each other to do more meaningful work. There's a lot of freelancers, creative people, entrepreneurs, experimental people who want to do meaningful work. We want to put our working energy towards making a positive contribution to the world. And we support each other to do that. There's this peer-to-peer exchange.

It has played such an important role in my life, I don't really know how to distill it down into a couple of points, the simplest thing I can say is that it's my community of belonging, it's where I feel the most seen, the most respected, the most trusted, the most known. This is the place where I feel like, these are my people, they've got my back, and I've got their back. I feel like this community has provided a context for me to grow and develop and to mature. And it's been a space where I get to witness other people grow and support them and their development, too. It's been a really excellent community, and given me a sense of security and safety and purpose and meaning and connection, even when the world feels topsy turvy and there's all kinds of chaos going on. It's provided me with so much purpose and direction.

So then in 2019, my partner Nati and I decided to move, to leave New Zealand and to move to Europe. So now we live in Italy. I knew when we decided to move that I was going to really miss being close to the home base of Enspiral. So we had this puzzle, can we create something like Enspiral but in Europe? Or can we create something online perhaps, that is going to meet a lot of those needs? And because of the way my brain works, I wasn't just thinking, "can we create a community for ourselves?", there was also a question of, "if we can design a community, are there some patterns in that design that would work for other people, too? Would they fit into different contexts?"

We're not just running the same script that we had in New Zealand, it has to adapt somehow, we're with different people with different values, different culture, different experiences. So what are the design patterns that we can run? Because obviously, we can't just cut and paste from one part of the world to another.

And I thought it would be important to document this process. So I published an essay called Microsolidarity, and in the process of publishing that discovered so many peers around the world who have, I think, a very similar vision to what I have and what Nati has. Not just in the vision, but also in the practice that these people are also building community that is about belonging, and is about meaningful work. So we've found each other through this process, and we're learning together.

So the most important piece of theory to have understood, is about the scales of Microsolidarity. This is about looking at different sizes of group and understanding what are the unique attributes of these different group sizes? And how do we use them? So I'm going to take you through four different scales.

The first group, it's the smallest group, it's got one person. It's the self. Maybe this is a peculiar idea to think of an individual as a group, but I found it a really useful way of thinking, to think of myself as a collection of parts, that there's kind of different characters inside of me. This way of thinking has been used, for example, in Internal Family Systems, which is a therapeutic modality, but it's also used in other systems as well. Let me try and explain to you why I find it so useful. I think there's some kind of metaphor, there's some kind of parallel between how I relate to the different parts of myself and how I relate to other people. So for example, there's a part of me who's anxious, right, who is here, on camera, feeling uncertain, imagining there's other people out there watching this, and I want to do a good job, and this anxious part is... he can really easily catastrophize and say, "Oh, you're doing a terrible job Rich, and this is not working!" It's very easy for this anxious character to take up a lot of space.

How do I relate to that anxious part of myself? There's one mode where I can try and squash them down and push them out and disown them and say, "no anxiety is welcome here! What's needed is confidence and certainty. Just be present and do a good job!" And that doesn't really work. I don't know about you, but this attempt to disown my anxious parts doesn't actually do much to address my anxiety.

An alternative approach is to treat that part of me like I would treat a friend, to say, "Hey, man, how's it going? What do you need? It's okay, people are not going to be judging you intensely. If you say 'um' too many times, it's probably fine." There's a way I can relate to that anxious part of me, which is more compassionate, more curious, more welcoming, more calming.

Now, I said that this relationship between the parts of myself has a parallel to my relationships with other people. So if I'm constantly trying to disown, or ignore, or dominate the anxious parts of myself, when I see the anxious part of you, I'm going to have the same instinct, right? If you come to me with anxiety, I'm going to be defensive and polarized against you, which is not going to be great foundation for a compassionate and warm relationship. So if I can learn to be more compassionate towards these parts of myself, I'm gonna be ready to be more compassionate towards you. And vice versa; it's easy for me to give compassion to my friends, sometimes it's more easy than to give compassion to myself. So I'm learning from this relationship with you how to treat the relationship between the parts of myself. This is a really important part of the work, is treating yourself as a group, and understanding that there are group dynamics going on between these parts of myself.

The second scale, I already named it as friendship, that's one of them, but there's lots of other kinds of two-person relationships. I call that general pattern a "dyad", it just means two people in a relationship. It could be like a friend, it could be a coach, it could be a partner. The essential thing here for me is that we can always be... I've mentioned already this idea of a peer-to-peer relationship, this reciprocal, horizontal, non-hierarchical thing. In the language of Rianne Eisler, who's a theorist that I learned a lot from, she talks about how we can relate to each other in partnership, or in domination. Partnership being: these two characters are different, we've got differences, unique competencies and strengths and weaknesses and so on, but we are relating to each other in mutual exchange. Or we can be in domination, where there's someone who... we use this difference as a way of ranking who's the important one, who's the powerful one, who's the one who should be in charge? Who's the authority? And who should be submitting? Domination and submission always come in this dyad.

Her theory, which I found really inspiring and useful, is that there's a kind of spectrum between partnership and domination; any relationship can be somewhere on that spectrum. We can use these dyad relationships as an opportunity to practice. I noticed I'm being dominant in this mode, where I don't want to be, I'd rather be a partner; then can I move the relationship along the spectrum towards partnership. Part of the reason I'm so inspired by her work is that she connects the very small scale, (for instance, family relationships and styles of parenting can be more partner-oriented, or more domineering), she connects the very small scale of the family to the very large scale of societies. She demonstrated, I think quite convincingly, how for instance, in Nazi Germany, there was something happening in the family life in Germany that led to a fascist government. There's an interrelationship between the very large scale and the very small scale. So if we want to be living in a world that has less domination at the large scale, she gives me good reason to think that we can start making headway towards that at the small scale.

So a lot of what happens in microsolidarity is just practicing with another person. Paying attention to when am I being more like a partner, and when am I being more like a dictator. Getting curious about that spectrum and learning how to move and be fluent to be able to move between those two points.

The third scale, I call the crew. I chose that word, because I was thinking of the crew of a sailing ship, where everyone has got a role to play. A crew is a small group. The numbers are not precise, but I think about 3, 4, 5 or 6 people. You will notice at this size, I always think about a dinner table, if you have five people at a dinner table, you'll probably have one shared conversation. But if you have eight people at a dinner table, you're almost certainly going to break that one conversation into multiple sub-conversations. This is just the fact of how much we can keep track of, how many different perspectives and voices and mental models we can keep track of. When it's a very small group of say, four or five people, it's very natural and easy for us to hold a shared context. And once we've got eight people or ten people, we need to break it apart into smaller groups to manage the complexity of all those different perspectives. So the crew is on the small side of that line, where we can develop a shared understanding, we can develop a single point of view together very efficiently. It's within our natural limits. We don't need a whole bunch of infrastructure to keep a group of five people coherent, whereas a group of 50 people requires governance, it requires structures, it requires rules, and so on.

The crew is a really efficient unit. It's also a highly impactful unit; one of the crews that made the most difference to my life was a company that I helped to start called Loomio. Loomio is a cooperative, we started with six people. It's a software project that's trying to help people make more democratic decisions. It's helped hundreds of thousands of people around the world. It's something that I'm really proud of, and there's no way I could have created that on my own. It's impossible for an individual to have that degree of impact, but with five or six people, it's possible to really make a massive contribution in the world. And like I said, it's very efficient. We don't spend a lot of time having to come up with complicated structures to manage. So that crew size is are really essential. This is basically where most of the work happens in microsolidarity, I've noticed so far, mostly it's happening in these crews.

The final scale I want to talk about I call the congregation. I think that's a funny word, I've got a churchy background, so using a churchy word is funny for me. The reason I call it congregation is because the main activity here is congregating. It's about coming together. I've named a very broad range, between 30 and 200 people. The most important factor is that it's not too large. If you have 200 people, you can get to know each other, and people can sort of keep track of the relationships. If you have 20,000 people, then most of the people are anonymous, most people are strangers to each other, so it's a very different kind of organism at that scale.

The point of congregating is it's a temporary gathering, it's a coming together. It could be face-to-face, like we do with Enspiral, or it could be online. I think of it like a dating pool, getting together is an opportunity for people to meet each other, for crewmates to find each other and for new crews to form. The main thing that the congregation is doing is just supporting the development of many crews. It's just there as a container for crews to form, and it's an opportunity for the crews to learn from each other and to support each other. This is something that I really valued at Enspiral; we've got all these crews, we've got all these companies, we've got these little support groups and peer groups, and occasionally someone will leave the one crew and go to the other one and give them some support. Maybe there's a difficult conflict going on, it really helps to have someone who can come in and mediate: someone who's part of the wider community but not involved in this specific crew. So being in a congregation, in my opinion, makes it easier to form and to maintain a crew because you've got this wider context of support.

So that brings to the last point that I want to make: who is this program for? It's for you, welcome! We've noticed there's two categories of people who take this program and hopefully you recognize yourself in one or the other side. On the one hand, we have people who already have a community or they might have an organization. They might explicitly think of it as a microsolidarity community, probably they won't, because it's a new thing, but they've already got some kind of organizing context with a bunch of people in it. They've come here because they want to increase the depth and density of connection, they want to have more tools and resources and practices in their toolkit to create more connections across the network or more connections across the organization. So that's one.

The second group is people who feel like they don't really have that community context, they don't really have that organization where they want to be doing this. They might feel more isolated, and they're ready to start building those connections around them. If you're in the second category, the stuff about congregations might be not so relevant. If you're in the second category, if you're someone who doesn't feel like you've got a lot of people that you're in relationship with, it probably makes sense to focus on the crew scale. Once you've got one or two crews running well, then you can start thinking about "what if we had many crews and we could start to form a community". I just wanted to give that primer to say you're in the right place, but depending on which category you're in, you might want to choose where your focus goes, where your priority goes.


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