The Sixteen Essential Capacities of Community

Capacity for: Actions:
1. ATTENTION sense, probe, observe, listen, find patterns
2. INSTINCT perceive, intuit, let come, know subconsciously
3. APPRECIATION discover, play, learn, laugh, understand, thank
4. REFLECTION suspend, consider, open, let go, entertain, explore
5. INTENTION love, have passion. persevere, follow through
6. CRITICAL THINKING question, infer, deduce
7. ELICITATION incite, provoke, draw out
8. IMAGINATION conceive, ideate, let emerge
9. COLLABORATION facilitate, help, connect, cooperate, co-develop
10. RESPONSIBILITY care, nurture, cultivate, mend, sustain, groom
11. RESOURCEFULNESS bring to bear, supply, give, equip, prepare
12. CREATIVITY model, recreate, innovate, realize
13. COMMUNICATION relate stories, convey, converse, explain, describe
14. DEMONSTRATION offer, show, exhibit
15. IMPROVISATION respond, decide, try, experiment, perform
16. RESILIENCE/GRACE self-change, adapt, self-manage

Last week I mentioned that the seven qualities needed to be an excellent collaborator and those needed to be an exceptional sexual partner were surprisingly similar. It occurs to me that the capacities needed to be an ideal member of a Natural Community or Natural Enterprise are likewise similar to those needed to be an exceptional life partner.

I think there are sixteen such capacities, listed in the table above. Try this experiment:

  1. On a scale of 1-10, rate yourself on each of the sixteen capacities. Circle the 3-5 capacities you rated yourself lowest. 
  2. Using the same scale, rate your life partner or significant other, and your best friend or favourite work colleague. Circle the 3-5 capacities you rated lowest for each of these people.

If you’re like me, you’ll probably find that (a) your weaknesses (and strengths) and those of the people whose relationships you value most are complementary, and (b) areas of mutual weakness are real problem areas in your relationship.

The paradox is that we pick our life partners based on mutual chemistry, not on the complementarity of their strengths. Sometimes the chemistry is strong enough to keep the relationship together despite mutual weaknesses (which often result in incredible fights, especially when both partners are weak in capacities 1, 3, 10, 11, 14 or 15). At least when it comes to selecting partners with whom to make a living, or with whom to live in an Intentional Community, we tend to be relatively objective.

All creatures are born with most of these capacities, and in natural environments they get practice strengthening them, joyfully, from the moment they are born. These capacities are selected for in nature because they help us to survive. In natural environments the requirements of life are simple: make a living with those in your community (discover, harvest and share food and shelter), and work around obstacles that nature sometimes puts in your path (storms, floods, fires, droughts, diseases etc.) The sixteen capacities equip you brilliantly for these tasks, as anyone who watches birds or wildlife can attest.

Humans decided a few millennia ago to live an artificial life in self-constructed artificial environments instead. The sixteen capacities are still enormously advantageous in these more difficult environments, but our artificial environments create new challenges — overpopulation and overcrowding, and the resulting scarcities of resources, wars and poverty and pollution and epidemic diseases. Workarounds for these human-created obstacles to a joyful, natural life are much harder to find. I continue to believe that these artificial environments, and our excess numbers and consumption, are unsustainable and will lead to the inevitable collapse that has befallen every previous civilization. And I believe the best models of sustainability for those who survive that collapse will be natural, intentional communities whose members have worked to increase their own capacities and create a life together with those with complementary capacities.
My intention is, one day, to find the people I was meant to live with, and to create with them a natural community. In the meantime, I’m working on improving my own capacities. I suspect I’m like a lot of males in that I need to work most on capacities 1, 10, 11, 14 and 15. All it takes, I think, is practice.

I watch young birds and wildlife practicing doing these things and I’m amazed at how easy and fun it is for them. I watch young children, even before the school system starts to brainwash them, already starting to lose these capacities, already being told to spend their time doing other things, competing with each other, their curiosity and imagination atrophying from lack of practice, their self-confidence under siege, being desensitized and made into everybody else. Imagine an education ‘system’ that taught and encouraged thesesixteen capacities exclusively!

Imagine a world where we helped each other get better at these things. Imagine what might then be possible.

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4 Responses to The Sixteen Essential Capacities of Community

  1. prad says:

    there are really some brilliant observations here, imho!the effect of going to the artificial environment and of ‘growing up’ (not to be confused with maturing) cannot be overstated.and as always the presentation is exemplary!

  2. Theresa says:

    That is a useful list. I agree with you about our excess numbers and consumption. I’m not so sure I agree with what you say about “artificial environments”. I believe that cities are the natural environments of human beings and allow us to be mentally stimulated and to grow learn and prosper as a race. Of course at this point populations have gotten out of control. I don’t think that living in a community of 150 people would be good for learning or generating new ideas unless there was still access to internet for interacting with people in the rest of the world. From my experience living in some isolated places I think I still like the city best for stimulating my mental life.

  3. Mariella says:

    ……TRUST……… I missed trust… I feel/think no community sense is possible without trust.

  4. Susan Hales says:

    Hi, Dave! Great list, one I plan to share with my own readers (all four of them). Your plea for an education system prompts me to point to a locally renowned historic figure, Marietta Johnson, who founded a system of Organic Education based primarily on the teachings of Dewey, and many of the things mentioned in your list are things she also valued and promoted. See this article: for an interesting description of the school and its founder. They are celebrating their 100th anniversary this year. (I went to kindergarten there but no further, and have come to wish very much that I had benefitted more from these concepts.)As always, my best from Mobile, Alabama.

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