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Culture

Activism
Twin Oakers are involved in a variety of activist work. Some social justice activities that members have participated in include serving food to the homeless with Food Not Bombs, working at a battered women's shelter, going to demonstrations, animal rights work, protesting the School of the Americas/Assassins in Georgia, writing letters for Amnesty International, participating in Lesbian/Gay/Bi/Trans/Queer Pride marches, and more. While many individuals at Twin Oaks engage in activist activities, as a community we do not officially endorse any particular course of political activism (i.e. members do this work as individuals, not in the name of community).

Computers

We collectively own about 15 public computers, many of which are networked with each other and connected to the internet. They are available for both community work and personal use. We share a T1 connection--with the dozens of users we have though we generally can't stream video and we don't allow file sharing. Many members have their own personal computer (laptops and desktops) kept in their bedrooms, which they can use for either community work or personal use. Most members have email accounts and use them for both internal (within the community) and external communication. As you've discovered, Twin Oaks has an extensive webpage and several members have their own webpages.

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Conflict
In any group of people living or working together, some amount of conflict is inevitable. At Twin Oaks, there are different types of conflict. Conflict can spring from values differences, from communication difficulties, from different assumptions of what's "normal" or "acceptable" and from having different perspectives on the same set of events. Some conflict is work-related, some is interpersonal. There are different ways we deal with conflict as it arises. Sometimes the people involved simply talk to each other to resolve differences. Sometimes the people prefer to have a mediated meeting, in which a third party is present either as a facilitator with skills in helping resolve conflict, or simply as a witness, creating a feeling of greater safety. Our Process Team offers support and resources for people in conflict, and also keeps an eye on "hot" issues in the community which might cause conflict to come up. We try to keep in mind that it isn't the existence of conflict that determines the health of a group, but rather the manner in which a group does or doesn't deal with conflict which determines it's health.

Twin Oaks culture places a much higher value on cooperation than mainstream culture. Sometimes, this can mean we need to learn new skills, and we strive to "raise the cultural bar" around communication skills. To a large extent, the expectation at Twin Oaks is that if conflict does arise, members be willing to engage in working it out,and to use respectful communication in doing so. The ability to see and understand (although not always agree on) more than one perspective of "the truth", and each of us being able to take responsibility for our own behavior in partially creating the conflict are skills that can go a long way in resolving conflict . We're still learning. Conflict resolution exists here along a spectrum; different members have different opinions. We find common ground in our hope that ultimately we can find a way to work out our differences and work together.

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Connection to the Mainstream
Members can be as connected to the mainstream as they desire. A few prefer to live a quiet life on a farm, while many others are quite connected to the mainstream. We get newspapers from Louisa, Charlottesville, Richmond and Washington DC. Many members listen to the radio, especially NPR. We have chosen to not have television here, as we want to avoid it's influence in importing mainstream values such as consumerism, violence, pre-packaged "canned" entertainment, etc. However, we are not purists, and we do rent and watch various movies, including documentaries and independent and foreign films.

We have more than a dozen public computers, all linked to the internet, and many members read news, surf the net and email with friends. There are almost daily trips to town for social, volunteer, or political activities, to go to the library, to visit friends, to take a day off, etc. We shop at local shops and know the people there. There are also quite a few ex-members who have settled in the town and city near us, and so we are further spread out into the larger community in that way. Although we are interested in creating a culture that is distinct from the mainstream, we are not interested in isolating ourselves from the mainstream.

Diet
We have a mixed diet at Twin Oaks--some members are vegetarian, some are meat-eaters, and some are vegan (people who consume no animal products at all e.g. no butter, no eggs). Diet can be pretty fluid at Twin Oaks; members often follow their dietary instincts, and eat differently at different times over the months and years. We produce a significant portion of our own food including vegetables, fruit, beans, and meat, and this means some people make diet choices based on knowing they are eating organic, free-range, locally-produced food.

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Ecological Sustainability
Twin Oaks incorporates a variety of ecological practices. Our choice to share houses and cars reduces our footprint on the earth; our 18 vehicles and 7 residences for 100 people are both well below the national average, and use substantially less resources per person. Because we work in our community-owned businesses on our land, our commute involves a short walk through the woods instead of using fuel. When we do drive (for business or social reasons), we carpool extensively.We build our own buildings, and although our building techniques in terms of structure of the building are fairly conventional, we incorporate a wide variety of alternative energy features. These include passive solar features (large south-facing windows to light and heat the building), super-insulation, skylights and suntubes for natural lighting, cellulose insulation in some places (instead of fiberglass), wood heat (using wood from our own forests and scrap from our sawmill) in almost all of our buildings, solar hot water, photovoltaic solar electricity in one residence, multi-use of most spaces, permaculture landscaping around buildings, and more.

Growing a significant portion of our food in our organic garden also helps us be more sustainable, by not using pesticides, and by reducing the amount of food we buy that needs to be transported by trucks. We also buy most purchased food in bulk, thereby reducing packaging.

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Feminism
Twin Oaks feminist values manifest on at least two different levels--systemically and culturally.

Systemically: Much of the organizational infrastructure here is classically feminist in nature; for example, our decision-making process is egalitarian (as opposed to hierarchical) and the community’s labor system equally values traditionally women’s work (cooking, cleaning, laundry, some amount of child-care) whereas in the mainstream this work is often undervalued when done as paid labor, and/or is done over and above paid labor.

Culturally: We have much less division of labor based on gender. Women and men both do traditionally women’s and men’s work. Both men and women prepare food, fix cars, do child-care, use power tools, etc. Unlike the mainstream, there are no cultural barriers to being a manager or being involved in our system of self-government. It’s assumed that personal boundaries will be respected and that all people (especially men towards women) will be sensitive and tuned into interacting with and treating each other with appropriate respect. We largely ignore mainstream values of clothing choices, make-up, hair (including body hair), etc., instead opting for a fashion of self-determination. Whereas in the mainstream, certain relationship styles tend to be socially and economically rewarded (most notably a man and woman married to each other), at Twin Oaks a much wider range of relationship choices are accepted as normal and are not remarked upon.

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Holidays
Twin Oaks is sufficient in size to have developed our own holiday culture, including rituals and ceremonies which are unique to our village life. We have one member who serves as our Holiday Manager, who coordinates the organization of each holiday activity. Read about specific examples.

Non-Violence
One of our primary values is non-violence. Our culture is one that values resolving conflict in a cooperative, peaceful manner, and living one's daily life in line with those principles. We do not tolerate physical violence at Twin Oaks, and verbal violence (this can mean different things to different people) is discouraged. We have members who have been involved in the war-tax resistance movement, and our choice to not have television here is partially rooted in wanting to avoid importing the violence often found in that medium.

Relationships
We have a quite wide variety of intimate relationship styles at Twin Oaks. Some members are single, some are married, some are in non-married but long-term committed relationships, some have a series of relationships over time, some people are celibate, and some are polyamorous (in relationships with more than one person at a time). We have bisexual, lesbian, gay and heterosexual people living here. (plus some who would refuse to be labeled). There is no community norm about relationship choices--it's up to the individual. Unlike mainstream culture, we tend not to have social or economic rewards for choosing a particular relationship style.

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Social Scene
We are very social creatures at Twin Oaks. We have all kinds of different social and cultural activities. We have innumerable on-going, weekly activities that are at least somewhat social in nature, and over time have included a singing group, a band, yoga class, juggling group, knitting group, art night, scrabble night, video nights, women's and men's groups, political discussion groups, etc. Events of a more purely social nature (dances, parties, games nights, etc.) also happen frequently. We also tend to socialize throughout the day, during work and at other times.We chat with each other, lay in the sun in hammocks, read, email, canoe on the river, play music, go to church, do political activism work, etc. However, members also take alone-time as needed, walking in the woods, spending time in their room, and other solitary pursuits. People can be as socially engaged or as solitary as they like, according to personal preference.

Spirituality/Religion
As a community, we purposefully have no one specific spiritual direction/path; the choice is left up to the individual. As a result, we have quite a variety. Many members practice no spiritual path or religion at all, and would be identified as atheist or agnostic. Our membership also includes Buddhists, Pagans, Christians of several (mostly progressive) varieties, and general "New Age" types.

In terms of religious observances: the community officially celebrates the Solstices and Equinoxes, usually with a day off of work, a party and an informal ritual. (all optional) There is a group of Pagans who gather throughout the year for more involved rituals. We host a local Quaker meeting, we sometimes have Friday night Shabbat gatherings, we sometimes have a meditation group, and sometimes members attend services at a nearby country church.

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