(excerpt from a 1990’s Intentional Communities Magazine)
Reverend Nazirmoreh (ABRD) ~ Nahziryah Monastic Community
Community Admissions Standards
Should communities not turn anyone down? Shouldn’t we be open to anybody who needs us? Shouldn’t we offer a more accepting, inclusive culture than mainstream society?
In my experience, if a community doesn’t establish criteria for new members –” admissions standards” — the Walking Wounded arrive. They seek out communities to heal childhood wounds. They come seeking the loving family they never had. Fine, if your community has a therapeutic mission. If your community has a group of experienced, healthy members available for mentoring needy, emotionally immature people. Allow an older psychotherapist (me) to offer caveats about the realities of changing wounded people.
?While everybody can grow and change, for badly wounded folks, it can take years, not days or months. If you’ve been in therapy, you know what I mean. Now for a caveat about how change and heal: We don’t know. We don’t know what individual circumstances or events create change. We don’t know the timing. We know that change can happen cumulatively, as a catharsis, or after many separate corrective experiences.
We do know that no therapist or therapeutic group has ever claimed success in “curing” all the people with whom they’ve worked after one year or even five years of treatment. (If so, waiting lines to their office would stretch to Tibet.)
I believe that communities that want to attract new members– and grow to maintain a healthy, positive balance– must have admissions standards and screening procedures. While it’s true that some loose cannons who’ve shown up at your doorstep have been saints, too many community members don’t hold their own, or “act-out,” your group can suffocate. You’ll have to work hard healing conflicts, reassuring people, and spending long hours just keeping the community in balance. It can be time-consuming and exhausting.
Here are admissions criteria from two communities that may help you think through your own needs in this area. First, an Arizona community seeking interns: We’re looking for people who feel confident and good about themselves, who have achieved a degree of emotional maturity, and who can get along with others in a group situation. We’re interested in people who don’t feel that they’ve been harmed or taken advantage of by others. Who don’t frequently feel angry with or blame others for hurting them. People who don’t get feedback that they are moody or touchy. People who are willing to say what they want and need, what they don’t like, and what, ideally, they’d like changed. In our experience, what works will in a community are people who feel good, ask for what they want, and don’t often feel victimized by others.
A thirty one year old community uses statements in its brochure and ongoing personal interviews to screen new people. Here’s an excerpt from it’s brochure for it’s Foundation Year:
Our aim is to embody, demonstrate, and teach aspects of personal and world service. The demands and challenges of living in this community require emotional maturity and spiritual awareness. We are looking for those who have moved beyond a sole concern for their own growth and are ready to live, work and act in a collective environment, making a difference in the world. Before you commit to one year… we require that you participate in the Experience week and … complete thee months in the Living in Community Programme.
You will either leave at the end of the year with a toolbox of personal and spiritual growth and deep understanding of service, or agree to stay for another year and join our staff training. It is necessary that all concerned feel a mutual sense of rightness. The brochure also states, “Participation isn’t guaranteed in advance” In screening for potentially compatible new community members, look for a good history of love and work. How can you tell? By asking questions.
Past behavior is the best predictor, according to psychological studies, of future behavior. let’s say your community has published “admissions standards” like the first example above. Community members might ask the new person: How have you supported yourself financially until now? Can you describe some of your long-term relationships? What was your experience in high school or college? How much schooling did you complete? If you chose to leave, why was that? Have you pursued alternative educational or career paths such as internships, apprenticeships or on-the-job- training? Where and for how long? Did you complete them? Asking such questions benefits the new people as well as the community. It can help potential members look at and plan their lives. And it sets a tone for the community. By directly stating what you want, you help manifest it. Manifestation requires first visualizing what you want in a rough form, and then spelling it out in detail, often out loud or in writing. Asking for strengths, whether real or potential, articulates that your community has individual and community goals.
To put it another way, if your community front door is difficult to enter, healthy people will strive to get in. If it’s wide open, you’ll tend to attract unhealthy people, well versed in resentful silences, subterfuge, manipulation and guilt trips. Once these people are in your community, the energy of the group may be directed to getting them out again. In the process, both the both the bouncers and the bounced can get hurt. Consider this. A new member who is later rejected and asked to leave may be deeply scarred. However, if the person wasn’t accepted for membership in the first place, he or she is just disappointed. A big difference.
Another process from the community that’s worth passing along: If a potential new member doesn’t make it during the trial period, he or she is gently told, “not now. Work on your issues that you’ve identified here and come back later”. Fair? Yes. Loving? Yes. An ideal solution in a perfect world? No.
In my opinion such a world doesn’t exist– in or out of community. But our goal as communitarians, and that of our prospective members, is to try.