What Protocol for the individual inside a collective?
This article is my preparation for one of the sessions at OpenCare Village: Infrastructure for autonomy
Through analyse of some of the structures I’m or was part of, I want to set a parameter of personal care. I think I will have more questions then answers at the end of the ride, but lets still try to make a fruitful read.
First, you have to know i was diagnosed with mild borderline personality disorder a couple of years ago. While the most extreme outrages are now under control i still can have anxiety attacks that will block me, for a couple of days and i will be unreliable to contact or connect with. Knowing that most of my job is organizing events, being a project manager in small or larger groups, makes it quite a challenging. I learned to organize my life in such way that other people are bothered the least possible way and can enjoy my highs as much as possible. Some people in my entourage understand very well this liability, but in formal or new structures it is sometimes difficult to be at ease.
Through my reflection, I came across organic, collectively growing and peer to peer organization as the most suitable for myself as a person but also for people in need of a more humane approach inside organizations. In absolute terms, I see these collective entities as a machine fed by every participant regardless of the level of energy they put in, but giving back to a general audience: the collective or even broader: society. They are well engineered by core members but give place for anybody else to check in and out without to much of a change of creating conflicts, something I personally can quite difficultly manage. It’s not ‘the end by al means’, but succeeding the goal while the people inside are respected as an entity. Because why would we be frustrated if at the end collectively the goal succeeded even if the energy wasn’t spread evenly between the participants. True: it sounds less engaging, but it opens a world post-individuality, where you don’t need strong individual leaders all the time, but an organic set of connections between a larger group believing in the higher goal altogether.
In the next couple of paragraphs, I will present to you a couple of organizations I had the pleasure to work with, create or follow up. Each with their own structures, positive sides and biases. I will try to speak from a personal angle without criticizing any other member as I find it an important thinking exercise to help build the structure were within the people can thrive and not criticize the members for the way you want the collective to be.
Soft Revolution / Pic Nic The Streets
These were my first experiences with organic organizations. The first was an artist collective drenched in the Do It Yourself spirit created by myself and a bunch of friends. We organized festivals, created a board game, wrote a book and made some meta-expositions. Through almost ten years of working together we learned from each other flaws and only worked on something when it was suitable for the whole group. What kept us going was our kindness towards each other, our understanding of the human being. But when we arrived at the crossroad between continuing an amateurish journey or professionalizing our collective we chose the second one. Not knowing the stressful implication, it had within the group while we all were stepping into our professional work environment (we started our collective when we were 16-17 till we were 24-25), we couldn’t deliver the last couple of installations and had to dismantle our collective. I still hold great strengths and knowledge from this time and use it as important building stone for any other organization. Understanding each other flaws and not judging them but embracing them is something I would love to share with anybody else. We are always eager for perfection and showing the best. But if to get to that best, you have to care less about the other then it hasn’t any meaning for me. It’s not an absolutism, but a constant work in balance.
Another story happening around the same time goes with Pic Nic The Streets, a citizen movement started in 2012 that wanted to fight for more public space by picnicking on the main boulevard Anspach. For a couple of years, we organized systematic pic nicks, resulting in a carfree central lane, but also in spin-offs like Canal Park for a big park at Porte De Ninove and Cyclo Guerilla for more bike lanes. It was a thriving time for City activists but ended up in a lot of ego-fights and underlying conflicts between activist groups that maybe wanted the same, but had a nuanced approach that resulted in conflicts. I was really saddened about this rivalry between people wanting to look for each other and better the world. Sometimes it became a toxic environment where people found it more important to be right then to care for his or her fellow activist. That is where my enthusiasm for classic activism stopped. But luckily for me there were lots of alternatives.
POC21 / Edgeryders
In the summer of 2015, one of my projects (Vélo M2) was selected for the 5-week innovation camp in an abandoned castle near Paris. I wasn’t prepared at all for the mind-blowing experience that would impact the way I think and live from then on. POC21 was a temporary place where every day around 100 people lived and worked together around 13 projects. The symbiosis that occurred there was one of kind. I think the biggest reason of their success was the creation of an immediate trust between all participants. We were into it for the same narrative and will do it together. By creating a taskboard with everything that was needed to do to keep the machine rolling without taking account that everybody gave equal amount of energy it created another way of working. Not guild trapping you in doing it, but giving you the space for the things you wanted to do. Of course it wasn’t always as perfect and I think the architects of the project had a lot of conflicts, but almost all the time it occurred in an open discussion. There was the space to doubt, to fail, to negotiate the coming or not of the president of France, …
Having met really great people at POC21 I came in touch with Edgeryders, where I started writing occasionally for. While it wasn’t at a first glance the most intuitive platform, I loved the vibe coming from the comments while writing pieces. No easy comments, but moments of thoughtful sharing. I was invited for LOTE4 and continued to engage into the conversation. The word ‘conversation’ is for me the best way to describe what Edgeryders is, a constant conversation with fellow humans about deeper subjects. I know how hard some of the Edgeryders core members fight for the organization, but what I always loved about the structure is the easy switcheroo between being active and passive in the organization. I curated an event around care at Huis VDH for them and learned much about the organization as about my own skills. Without any problem, I was able to switch to being a passive member again while feeling no pressure to do more or be more involved. That organic feel is something I really appreciate. I understand those core members are an important asset, but giving the opportunity for others to wander around inside the collective is a great way to care for our members.
CIN / Vélo M2
Where the first example was a background introduction and the second a more or less ideal situation, the third kind of organizations are the one I search the most answers for. Civic Innovation Network is a platform where I’m now an occasional ‘scenarist’ for and Vélo M2 is a project I created with a couple of engineers. Both have a massive potential, both are now connected through a possible fund I helped creating, but in both I can’t find my ideal place as an individual. I asked myself multiple times why I wasn’t able to fit the narrative. When for example I got more and more involved in CIN my anxieties where getting higher and less manageable. CIN is achieving great things, but every time I’m hesitating in what my place is in it. The demanded structure at Vélo M2 with weekly meetings and monthly working sessions made me feel trapped and again scared. And then the question occurred: in an environment where Open Source, collectiveness but also growth is a key feature is it the individual that needs to adapt towards the collective or is it the collective that has to be flexible towards each individual it encounters. For growing and likewise still learning entities it looks like it’s important to create long-lasting mechanisms, structures that helps stabilize the organization for a fruitful future.
But then the ethical questions arise, what do we do with those that can’t, or are less able to manage a structured, framed context and need the flexibility. Is it a task for the collective to look after them, to simply understand them, and loose maybe some momentum because of the lacking stability or is it the individual that needs to understand or made clear what he or he can’t do? In the couple of years I’m struggling with my anxieties I often chose the second one. For example at my main job at Brussels International Fantastic Film Festival it took me almost three years to create the right balance between creating my own agenda following my ups and downs, trying to explain that to my colleagues and knowing that in the two week period of the festival I need to fight ANY possible anxiety because of the fact that I manage 150 guests for that period of time. At Fermenthings, a shop I own with a friend, before starting I gave him one task that I would not work on from minute one: it was paperwork. I don’t understand the logic of the bureaucracy and it simply blocks me to work on anything else. I know it would be a stumbling-block for the whole organisation. Thanks to a lot of attempts and fails I’m starting to understand better what my role can be. I love to create, to enthusiasm people and structure vision, but I need organized and stable people around me to compensate my lack of consistency.
I felt so often overwhelmed and helpless trying to understand myself. I would have loved to find people, feeling the same struggles or questions willing to create the right protocol, so maybe through this OpenCare Village festival we could open the discussion about care of the individual inside the collective. I didn’t expect to write such a personal paper, and for those I made unease with it, I apologies. But my only hope through this is a better understanding of each others ‘condition humain’ and maybe we would find collective answers for the individuals through this mean.