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Are You Crazy to Want to Live in an Intentional Community? How to Talk to Skeptical Friends and Family

Published June 14, 2024
Written by Cynthia Tina

When you first share your interest in intentional community living with friends, family, partners, and co-workers, their initial reaction might be something like…

So you want to join a commune?!

Do those places even still exist?

Aren’t you concerned you won’t be able to leave?

But what if we never see you again?

After you allay their initial concerns and fears, the next reaction might be something like…

Well, that’s good for you but I could never live like that!

And more follow-up questions, like…

But don’t you want your privacy? What will happen to your money? Can we still visit you? What if it doesn’t work out?

If you are new to the idea of intentional communities and haven’t yet visited one, nor do you know anyone who has, the self-doubt that can come up in the wake of such skepticism or outright condemnation from loved ones can feel overwhelming.

It’s enough for anyone to want to shut the door of their tiny apartment or bungalow in the suburbs and never utter the words intentional community again!

But never fear, community-curious one. With the help of this article, you’ll be able to effectively and confidently communicate your interest in intentional communities to even the most skeptical.

And truly, the world depends on you to do so.

We need more pioneers who can effectively champion a way of life that isn’t crazy or even all that radical. Intentional community living is common-sense living. Here’s how you tell them.

Are You Crazy to Want to Live in an Intentional Community? How to Talk to Skeptical Friends and Family

No, You’re Not Crazy for Wanting to Live in an Intentional Community.
Here’s Why.

Let’s get this out of the way.

YOU ARE NOT CRAZY FOR WANTING TO LIVE IN AN INTENTIONAL COMMUNITY.

You must know this and believe this to your core; otherwise, none of the other advice to follow will work.

Here’s the reality.

We live in an unusual period of time in human history.

It’s a time of greater loneliness and isolation than we’ve ever experienced as a species. For millennia, we lived in tight-knit social circles that were based on mutual reciprocity and a profound sense of belonging.

The modern paradigm of housing—where one finds a city apartment or suburban plot on Zillow without ever meeting the neighbors who live alongside—is so alien from how we have evolved as humans it is no wonder we are suffering a myriad of loneliness-related health crises as a result.

So no, you are not crazy. It’s the modern housing model that is.

Junction Village Guelph, intentional community in Canada.
Junction Village Guelph, intentional community in Canada.

How to Talk to Skeptical Friends and Family About Intentional Community Living

Navigating conversations about intentional community living with skeptical friends and family can be challenging. Misconceptions and stereotypes often cloud their perceptions, making it essential to approach these discussions with clarity and empathy.

Below are practical strategies for effectively communicating the benefits and realities of intentional communities, helping you to frame your lifestyle choice in a more relatable way. By using familiar language, debunking common myths, and sharing personal anecdotes, you can transform skepticism into curiosity and support.

“It’s Like an Old-Fashioned Neighborhood” and Other Relatable Phrases

One of the best ways to communicate your interest in intentional communities is to use relatable and non-threatening language. Here are some phrases that can help make the concept more accessible to skeptical friends and family:

Acceptable Phrases:

  • Planned Residential Community:
    Emphasizes organization and modern planning, akin to familiar suburban developments.
  • Neighbors with Shared Values:
    Highlights the idea of living among like-minded individuals, much like choosing to live near friends.
  • Old-Fashioned Neighborhood:
    Evokes nostalgia for close-knit, supportive communities where everyone knows each other.
  • Collaborative Housing:
    Suggests a cooperative living arrangement focused on shared goals and mutual support.
  • Sustainable Living Community:
    Appeals to those interested in environmental sustainability and shared efforts to reduce ecological footprints.
  • Community-Oriented Living:
    Stresses the focus on community connections and shared activities without sounding radical.
  • Village-Style Living:
    Conjures images of small, close-knit communities with a strong sense of togetherness.
  • Shared Housing with Private Spaces:
    Balances the concept of communal living with the reassurance of personal privacy.
  • Ecovillage:
    Appeals to environmentally conscious individuals and highlights sustainability and ecological living.

Phrases to Avoid:

  • Conscious Community:
    May come across as new-agey or overly spiritual, potentially alienating mainstream audiences.
  • Commune:
    Carries historical baggage and connotations of extreme living conditions and ideological rigidity.
  • Collective:
    Might sound too formal or abstract, lacking the relatability of more familiar terms.
  • Cohousing:
    Although a cohousing community is designed for private dwellings, people new to the term assume it’s people sharing a house together. Best to avoid unless you can explain to them the meaning.
  • Spiritual Community:
    May imply religious or spiritual commitments that could deter those with different beliefs.
  • Communal Living:
    Suggests lack of privacy and personal space, which can be off-putting to manyoff-putting to many people.
  • Social Experiment:
    Can evoke a sense of uncertainty or instability, making the idea seem less appealing.
  • Group Living Arrangement:
    May sound like a temporary or less serious commitment, lacking the sense of stability and planning.
  • Utopia:
    Conveys unrealistic ideals and may be seen as impractical or overly idealistic.

If you are new to the term and types of intentional communities, check out our blog article on the 15 Common Types of Intentional Communities explained.

Practical Tips for Using Relatable Language

  1. Know Your Audience: Tailor your language to the person you’re speaking with. Use terms that resonate with their values and experiences.
  2. Keep It Simple: Avoid jargon and overly complex explanations. Simple, relatable language helps keep the conversation approachable.
  3. Use Examples: Share stories or examples of intentional communities that mirror the qualities of a planned residential community or an old-fashioned neighborhood. This helps make the concept concrete and relatable.
  4. Be Patient: Understand that it may take time for others to grasp the idea. Be prepared to answer questions and provide more information as needed.

By framing your discussions around familiar and positive concepts, you can help demystify intentional community living and make it an appealing option for even the most skeptical friends and family.

Residents at Bristol Village Cohousing enjoy a potluck meal.
Residents at Bristol Village Cohousing enjoy a potluck meal.

Debunk Common Myths and Stereotypes About Intentional Community

There are many myths and misconceptions about intentional communities. Here are some common ones and how to address them:

Myth: I don’t want to live out in the boonies.
Reality: Almost half of the 2,000+ communities in the Online Directory are not rural.

Myth: I don’t want to live with a bunch of hippies.
Reality: Communities are diverse, with people from various backgrounds, including conventional, family-oriented, and professional individuals.

Myth: I don’t want to live a “poverty consciousness” lifestyle.
Reality: There is a wide range of lifestyles in intentional communities, from simple to modern and luxurious.

Myth: I don’t want to join a cult.
Reality: Most communities are democratic and value cooperation and individual freedom. They are not cults and typically have transparent, non-coercive practices.

For a detailed debunking of myths, refer to Misconceptions and Myths of Intentional Communities and Top 17 Myths About Intentional Communities.

Cite Statistics About the Importance of Intentional Community for Health and Well-being

To effectively communicate the benefits of intentional community living, it’s helpful to share statistics and credible sources that highlight its positive impact on health and well-being. Studies show that living in a community can significantly improve mental health, physical health, and overall quality of life.

Resources and Statistics:

  1. Intentional Communities — 50% Less Hippie Than You’d Expect | Bianca Heyming | TEDxCardiffbytheSea: In this TEDx talk, Bianca Heyming discusses the practical benefits of intentional communities, debunking common myths and highlighting how these communities promote a healthier, more connected way of living.
  2. Robert Waldinger: What Makes a Good Life? Lessons from the Longest Study on Happiness: This TED talk by Robert Waldinger, the director of the Harvard Study of Adult Development, emphasizes the importance of strong relationships and community for long-term happiness and health.
  3. The Harvard Study of Adult Development: This ongoing study has tracked the lives of hundreds of individuals for over 80 years. One of its key findings is that strong relationships and a sense of community are crucial to health and happiness.
  4. Journal of Happiness Studies: Research published in this journal indicates that people who live in communities with strong social ties have lower levels of stress and better overall health.
  5. The Blue Zones: The Blue Zones are regions of the world where people live significantly longer lives. A key factor in these areas is the strong sense of community and social support.
  6. American Journal of Public Health: Studies published in this journal have found that social isolation is linked to increased risks of chronic disease and mental health issues, while community living can mitigate these risks.
  7. National Institute on Aging: The NIA highlights the importance of social connections for healthy aging, noting that strong social networks can lead to better physical and mental health outcomes.
  8. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC): The CDC has identified social isolation as a serious public health risk, especially for older adults, linking it to higher rates of mortality, depression, and cognitive decline.
  9. Psychology Today: Articles in this magazine have discussed the psychological benefits of community living, including reduced feelings of loneliness, increased happiness, and greater life satisfaction.
  10. Australian Unity Wellbeing Index: This index measures the well-being of Australians and has found that community engagement is one of the strongest predictors of well-being and life satisfaction.

Key Statistics:

  • Loneliness and Mortality: A meta-analysis by Holt-Lunstad et al. (2015) found that loneliness increases the risk of premature death by 26%, while social isolation increases it by 29%.
  • Mental Health: According to the Mental Health Foundation, people with strong social relationships have a 50% increased likelihood of survival compared to those with weaker ties.
  • Chronic Disease: The CDC reports that social isolation significantly increases a person’s risk of premature death from all causes, a risk that may rival those of smoking, obesity, and physical inactivity.
  • Community Engagement: The Australian Unity Wellbeing Index found that people who are actively engaged in their communities report higher levels of well-being and life satisfaction.

By sharing these resources and statistics, you can provide a strong, evidence-based argument for the benefits of intentional community living. This not only helps to counter skepticism but also highlights the tangible health and well-being advantages of such a lifestyle.

Intentional community design at Liberty Village, Maryland.
Intentional community design at Liberty Village, Maryland.

Recent Media Coverage on Intentional Community

To help bolster your arguments and show that intentional communities are gaining mainstream attention, consider sharing news articles with skeptical friends. Here are some recent media articles from popular news outlets:

  1. The New York Times: “The New Generation of Self-Created Utopias” This article explores how Millennials are embracing intentional communities as a way to live simpler, more connected lives, free from the pressures of technology and capitalist consumption.
  2. The Conversation: “How Alternative Communities Have Evolved” This piece delves into the history and evolution of alternative and intentional communities, highlighting their role in providing refuge and purpose for those seeking a different way of life.
  3. Bethel Woods Center for the Arts: “Too Close is Comfort: The Re-Emergence of Intentional Communities in America” Discusses the resurgence of intentional communities in modern America, drawing parallels with the communal living arrangements of the 1960s.
  4. SpringerLink: “Intentional Communities” Provides an academic perspective on the concept and practice of intentional communities, tracing their roots and discussing their relevance in today’s society.
  5. Focolare Media: “Sharing with Others: Intentional Community Living” This article shares personal experiences of living in intentional communities, emphasizing the joy and fulfillment that comes from shared living and communal support.

By sharing these recent media articles, you can further demonstrate the growing interest and legitimacy of intentional communities, helping to alleviate any remaining skepticism among your friends and family.

Kommune Niederkaufungen, a thriving commune in Germany.
Kommune Niederkaufungen, a thriving commune in Germany.

Ignore the Naysayers… and Plan to Invite Them to Visit Your Intentional Community Someday

Imagine a world in which intentional community living is the default. Imagine a time when it’s normal to live in close relation with your neighbors, make decisions together, and regularly share resources. Picture a future in which that’s not radical—it’s how everyone lives, and the weirdos are those who live in separate, isolated houses in anonymous neighborhoods.

That’s the world we are striving towards. Slowly the general population is coming around.

But until they do, it can be hard to stay true to your convictions. It’s tough to face a barrage of skepticism for something that seems so common sense to you. Especially if you aren’t yet living in community, but holding a nascent dream to do so one day.

That’s why you need to find a community of people who get it.

Find a Community of People Who Get It. You Need Backup.

The Community Circle is where you can meet others interested in joining or starting intentional communities. It offers immediate online connection to a global network of people on a similar path. If nothing else, this will fortify you until such time as you are living in a community.

Please know that you are not crazy. You are not alone. There is a movement afoot that’s challenging the normal way people go about housing. Mainstream isolated living is on the way out. You just happen to be a pioneer for a new wave of living.

Congratulations for being here.


Share your story in the comments below. Also, pass along tips and tricks you have used for communicating about intentional communities to skeptical friends and family! What has worked for you? What hasn’t?!

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4 Comments
  1. Daniel & Patti AngelsAgrarian

    We have questions concerning the article, “Are You Crazy to Want to Live in an Intentional Community? How to Talk to Skeptical Friends and Family.” We feel that when people think about living in a community with others what scares them the most is that they will not be able to live as they have become accustomed to in their separateness. This is all they have ever known in life, and it is all that their parents and the surrounding society have ever prepared them for how to live. Therefore, living intentionally with others is like entering into a strange land, and as strangers in it, they do not know what are the customs of the people who live in that strange land. When communitarians try to explain to them why they live in their way this is when they begin to feel like they are being brainwashed into embracing their communistic ideals and goals. This indoctrination is what they feel they must resist. However, they can see that people are doing better socially and materially in the intentional communities, so they decide they would like to enjoy these things as well. This is when they try to deceive their way into one. They say to themselves, “Well, I’m not going to let these crazy people hypnotize me into becoming a communitarian, but if I play my cards right (thinking secretly that the community’s ideals and goals are just a game to play) I bet I will make out like a bandit.” So, what makes those who love this lifestyle think they are going to succeed in integrating people into their communities who secretly think and plan in this way? How will the true communitarians be able to spot them before they enter into their communities?

    Reply
    • Cynthia Tina

      Hi Daniel and Patti, You bring up an interesting perspective and good question.

      I think having a strong multi-stage membership process helps prospective members become accustomed to community life and cooperative values. It also gives current residents the opportunity to get to know potential members.

      “Making out like a bandit” isn’t possible in many intentional communities that have restrictions on property speculation.

      Of course, bad actors can and do appear in communities. However, the strategies above can help to limit that from happening while making space for mutual learning and culture change in the process.

      Reply
  2. hilary

    Hi, Cynthia,

    You offer thoughtful, directly applicable guidance consistent with my forty years of experience in intentional community. Thank you especially for pulling together the resources affirming community as a key factor in sustaining health and well-being.

    Reply
    • Cynthia Tina

      Thanks Hilary! It’s good to hear you found the piece consistent with your experience as well.

      Reply
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Cynthia Tina

Hi! I’m Cynthia.

I’ve visited 150+ intentional communities — ecovillages, cohousing, coops, spiritual, permaculture, & more types of community. I created CommunityFinders to help you on your community journey. How is your journey going? How can I help?

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