Before we dive deep into the weeds of our thorny financial questions, I thought it might be helpful to share a couple of assumptions that I’m working from when it comes to how we operate in the context of our member-based consensus decision-making process and the activity that results from the decisions we make together.
Most broadly, it is my intention in fulfilling the responsibilities of the leadership role for this farm to see us develop a more robust organizational structure, to see us mature as an organization and be more resilient when faced with transition. I don’t pretend to have ideas about every detail of how we should operate, and I don’t feel a need to prematurely force development in one direction or another, but I do feel strongly that the Community Farm of Ann Arbor should exist in the world. As an individual, my strengths are transitory; as a community our strength is drawn from our diverse talents and ever-changing composition of individuals bringing new insights and initiative to meet the changing needs of the time. At present, our bonds are being strengthened in facing the common difficulties of deficit and deferred action; that strength becomes steadfast through finding a community-based solution.
In particular, it is helpful to have a shared understanding of terms. In any group or organization, there is a dynamic relationship between two terms: “responsibility” and “authority”. Separately, the way each of these terms is viewed by any given individual determines to a large degree how that individual sees their relationship to the group and how much or little they will be inclined to participate. Of course, as a group, we depend on the resilience that results from each individual feeling free to participate fully, so we would do well to set out some concepts for these terms that promote effective participation.
There can be a “weight’ or even a “burden” that is felt in connection with responsibility, especially if my own enthusiasm is not engaged. “I” may feel that I must begrudgingly carry out a task that has been put upon me by someone else. Similarly, we are all familiar with the heavy-handed approach of authoritarian power; we rightly find it distasteful that one individual would “lord” over another in this day and age.
On the other side of things, there is the feeling of light-heartedness and freedom from my own cares that comes from taking up the responsibility of providing care for another. The sense of a responsibility to care for something or someone cannot be forced upon me, but grows from a genuine feeling of love. Similarly, there is a concept for authority that is more akin to “author” than to “authoritarian.” The power of the pen can be readily felt in a hastily worded email or in a simply worded thank-you note. It is appropriate for a teenager to question authority, but hopefully as we mature, we gain a sense of the power that allows each individual to be the author of a life and their own actions. As an organization, “we” are maturing.
We, as an organization, turned 33 years old this year and we are facing a self-imposed challenge, seemingly an overwhelming difficulty. Relying on any given individual too much can only take the group so far. I invite you to adopt some working concepts for “responsibility” and “authority” that I am using as the foundation for how I carry out the job you have set before me.
Collectively, “we the community” hold the ultimate responsibility for the well-being of the farm. As a group, you have delegated to me certain responsibilities, and by necessity you have also given me the authority to carry out those responsibilities in a way that streams directly from my individuality, the expression of individual talents and experiences. In a similar way, each individual member has some direct responsibilities to carry out; some more, some less in accordance with individual amounts of time and capacities to share. In every case, if a responsibility is asked of an individual or smaller group, the corresponding authority has been granted, creating space for each individual to participate in complete freedom. In this way, our experience of shared suffering in this moment of transition may be transformed into effective community action.
May our work continue!