We talk about community and relationships a lot at Proctor. We have a TOGETHER banner hanging on the wall of the Wilkins Meetinghouse. We experience that community and “togetherness” by watching our Hornet teams capture big wins, meeting weekly as advisory groups, or hanging out with friends in a dorm common room.
Over bonus weekend I had the opportunity to join Patty Pond on a visit to the winter Mountain Classroom group in Albuquerque, NM. Within an hour of my arrival at the KOA campground north of town, I felt warmly welcomed into a very special community.
For dinner that first night, we gathered in a tight circle with linked arms, shared a few words, and after the call and response of “Peace, Love, and Chow…Chow, Love, and Peace,” we enjoyed a wonderful Thai curry prepared by the cooks of the day (Will and Emma).
Following the meal, the dish crew made quick work of the dishes and then we settled into Evening Meeting. During Evening Meeting, the group gathers in a circle to reflect on the day and give open, direct feedback to the group, the LODs (leaders of the day), and to one another. While sitting in a circle around a fire after eating a meal is hardly novel, it is not something we modern humans are accustomed to doing. Each of the four nights I was with the group in Albuquerque, this is where I saw the intentional community struggling to better itself.
Giving or receiving direct feedback from a peer is hard. Especially when you know that you cannot escape them for another four weeks. But the opposite, not airing or talking through frustrations, can be toxic to an experience highly dependent on the strength of the community.
Other highlights of the weekend involved the Great Mountain Classroom Bake-Off and being present as the group received mail from friends on campus and made their 45 min phone calls home. The Great Mountain Bake-Off split the self-described “non-bakers” into four (randomly chosen) pairs for the Bake-Off. Over the course of two days, they were asked to bake scones and then drizzle cakes using small camp stoves and vague recipes. Surprisingly, at the end of each round, the teams had all baked something that was well-flavored and edible; whether or not they could be called scones or properly-baked cakes was debatable. Ultimately, the competition was so close that the winners were determined by a coin flip.
What is the utility of spending multiple hours trying to bake impossible things on cookstoves in 40-degree weather at a KOA campground? It’s likely that the answer to that question is different for each participant. What I took away was the joy of watching the teams collaborate, experiment, compete, and have fun TOGETHER while doing something that allowed them to not take themselves too seriously.
I want to thank Geoffrey, Janean, Will, Mai, Calvin, Boo, Yamni, Charlie, Dante, and Emma for letting us be part of their community for a few days. The time in Albuquerque with this group reminded me that close, healthy communities do not happen by accident. They take work. They require us to be open to giving and receiving honest feedback, and sometimes they need us to not take ourselves too seriously.