17. The Ultimate Petri Dish: Create Your Own Culture
One of the major benefits of forming Collectives is that it gives us an opportunity to co-create our very own micro cultures. After all, the cultures that most of us grew up in were largely dictated by our parents and our school administrators. And the workplace cultures we spend most of our adult lives within, are often exclusively shaped by the hyper competitive nature of our capitalistic system. This means that from cradle to grave we can find ourselves operating in cultural contexts that we’ve never really had a hand in shaping. Establishing communities of mutual aid invites us to buck this trend and actively participate in the cultivation of social ecosystems that are intended to empower, uplift and support each of the people within them.
Such a collective sense of cultural co-creation is similar in nature to what often occurs at music festivals around the world. Such events are all examples of liminal spaces where we’re invited to step out of the norms of mainstream society, and for a brief moment, cultivate our very own cultural landscapes together. As B. Duffy writes ‘At festivals we are culturally deprogrammed, allowing our hardened snake skins of certainty to be ceremoniously shed, leaving us pink and vulnerable, ready to face the immediate presence of true reality with eyes fully open.’33 And participating in Collectives offers us a similar opportunity, the aded bonus being that we get to continue nurturing such emergent cultural contexts in perpetuity.
In this sense Collectives are like social Petri dishes that allow us to prototype new ways of living together, which if successful, over time, may also take root within wider society. As the systems theorist Buckminster Fuller famously declared ‘You never change things by fighting the existing reality. To change something, build a new model that makes the existing model obsolete.’34 And forming Collectives gives us an opportunity to do exactly that, to create small pockets of the kind of futures we wish to inhabit, right here in the world today. But rather than going it alone, or with just a couple of close friends, we get to run the experiment with up to two hundred other people who all share our same dreams and visions.
This Petri dish effect also applies at an individual level. As when we join a Collective we’re given the opportunity to gradually lower the masks we’ve been wearing, and to begin to relate more authentically with ourselves and each other. And while this can be a challenging prospect at times, inviting us to confront our own biases, privileges and blind spots, we will be sharing the journey with a group of people all undergoing the same process, which means that we’re perfectly positioned to support each other in more fully embodying our authentic selves along the way.
But perhaps the most important quality we can cultivate in such new cultural contexts, is that of safety. As the trauma specialist Bessel Van Der Kolk surmises ‘Being able to feel safe with other people is probably the single most important aspect of mental health; safe connections are fundamental to meaningful and satisfying lives.’35 Modern society is only just now beginning to come to terms with just how many of us have endured traumatic experiences during our upbringing and adult lives. This includes sexual abuse, various forms of discrimination and violence as well as the many forms of bullying that happen in our schools. The landmark Adverse Childhood Experiences study shed light on the fact that various forms of physical abuse and neglect are much more common than we previously thought. Which means that the cultivation of shared community spaces where people feel safe enough to let their guard down and start relaxing back into their bodies, may go a long way towards ensuring the future health of our societies.
When we fully embrace the vulnerability of being seen in community, it can be an incredibly transformational experience. Let’s explore now what can unfold when we are courageous enough to welcome in the shared wisdom our Collective has to offer us.