Some time during the year that my then-wife, Carol, and I were members of Twin Oaks Community, I served as Recreation Manager. Twin Oaks government was based on the Planner-Manager system that B. F. Skinner described in his utopian novel, Walden Two. As a young community, only a couple of years old, we were serious about creating a cultural environment that supported cooperation and egalitarianism.
With a fair amount of leisure time on our hands (the work week totaled about 44 hours/person, which included both income producing and household labor), we wanted to provide philosophically appropriate recreational opportunities. We noticed that one of the more popular spare time activities, the game of Risk, seemed to produce rancor and long-lasting ill feelings amongst its participants. Arguments ensued and tempers flared so frequently that the community spirit we were trying to nurture was continually being threatened.
The community expected me, as Recreation Manager, to solve the problem. So I removed the game from the recreation library: not a popular move, nor a politically astute action, but the furor died down and members found other games to play.
Another activity popular with a devoted handful of members was volleyball. We had some very athletic members, both men and women, who were borderline volleyball fanatics. People early on formed two teams and stuck with them. Trash talk between the teams continued off the court and into everyday life. And people who were less athletic, but who would have liked to join in the game, were either laughed off the court or outright denied access to the game. These behaviors were not very much in keeping with the cultural changes we were hoping to foster.
After observing a couple of spirited games, I offered a simple change to Twin Oaks Volleyball Rules: Instead of rotations around one side of the net, rotation would now go under the net so that one player from each side would change sides with each change-of-service. The net effect (pun intended) was that all players would play on both sides so team rivalries could not form. This had the advantage that new players could join the game without having to break into an existing team. Furthermore, inexperienced players would be playing with a variety of experienced players, and could improve their skills in a more supportive environment. Remarkably, this change was embraced by the players. Volleyball became even more popular, with more people playing than before. And the trash talk stopped.
All this happened in 1970. Now, move up in time to 1983. I now live in Silver Spring, MD, with my wife, Katie. Chatting with our new neighbors, Brad and Ginny, who recently moved into the house next door, I learned that Brad had visited Twin Oaks several years ago, and was an avid volleyball player. The only thing he complained about his visit to Twin Oaks was that they had this crazy volleyball rule that had people rotating under the net, so you never knew which team you were on. “It took all the competition out of it,” were his exact words.