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Unpacking Impacted Tensions

Laird's Blog -

As a professional consultant in group dynamics I rarely get asked to work with a group when everything is going fine. Usually they're leaking oil, have a busted leaf spring, or can't seem to shift into third gear—and are hoping for inexpensive repairs from me, the itinerant shade tree mechanic.

Overcoming Inertia
First of all, it can be awkward admitting (to a stranger, no less!) that your group has troubles that it's not able to navigate on its own. For most of us that's a humbling admission. 

One of the most important milestones in the history of my community (of 40 years), Sandhill Farm, was when we started asking outside facilitators to guide our annual winter retreats—where we'd set aside 4-5 days to conduct strategic planning; take a deep look at unhealthy patterns; and/or try out a new way of relating to each other based on the skill set and training of the facilitator. Unfortunately, it took us more than 15 years to start that tradition—to admit that we needed help. Up until then we relied solely on ourselves, and it was a bumpy ride.

But let's suppose you're past that hurdle. In general, the most complicated situations I encounter feature tension that's triggered by current events—yet is mainly fueled by a historic pattern of unresolved distress. In a blink, once the old pattern gets evoked the group enters gridlock, with frustration and despair souring the air. Not pretty.

So let's break down what's happening. Yes, it's complex, but it's not brain surgery. For the purpose of putting flesh on the bones let's say that the old dynamic centers around long-term member Dale, and the pattern is that Dale is all-too-often late in offering input on plenary topics (maybe Dale misses meetings, maybe he/she doesn't always read the minutes, maybe it takes Dale a while to formulate his/her thoughts). Suppose that some version of this has been going on for years and there have been a number of attempts to articulate the pattern and why it's problematic, yet the behavior persists. That's the back story.

The Presenting TriggerIn the most intriguing cases, the surface issue is compelling in its own right, and the groan response from the group can be baffling to Dale. (Why is everyone being so reactive to my germane comments?)

The key here is understanding that Dale is looking at one thing (the relevance of his/her input) while others have their attention on its tardiness. Dale feels disrespected by so many cold shoulders; the group feels disrespected by Dale (again) not contributing in a timely way. Both of these views can be examined and worked with, though not simultaneously.

The Dysfunctional Pattern
While some groups are not that stout when it comes to members giving each other constructive feedback (to be fair, it's a difficult skill to master), let's suppose that the group is ahead of the curve and is pretty good at it, and that serious attempts have been made to illuminate the dynamic for Dale. However, if the pattern persists for any length of time and the group feels that it's made reasonable efforts to try to turn it around, it won't take long before the group will gradually give up on Dale, expecting bad behavior—to the point that they might not even hear Dale's input; they'll just proceed immediately to "Here we go again" and "Wouldn't we all be better off if Dale would just shut up?" Not good.
The key point is that if the dynamic goes unresolved then it tends to continue to deteriorate. In addition to having problems with Dale, now there is a tendency on the part of others to not hear Dale, which undercuts the community's commitment to inclusivity and working with the input of all. Uh oh.

If this persists further, the group will start to be both irritated with Dale for coming in late and for failing to work with the feedback (as evidenced by there being no change in behavior). Perhaps the most insidious part of this is that the group will tend to believe that responsibility for the dynamic lies solely with Dale—not seeing their part in closing off to Dale. 

Instead of trying to talk it through (which experience has shown doesn't work), the group moves quickly from bad behavior by Dale to eye rolling, deep sighs, and crossed arms. Yuck.

Help Is on the Way
So how do you get off the merry-go-round? While every situation cannot be turned around (just as everyone is not meant to live together), I always believe it's worth a try. The approach that I use is to unpack a current example of the core dynamic—in this instance, Dale entering into the conversation late. Carefully, I would select someone in the group who is irritated by Dale and work this in a dyad, just as I would any conflict, relying on a four-step sequence of questions:

1. What are the feelings?
What is the emotional experience of each player?

2. What's the story?
What is the relevant series of events that is associated with the strong feelings? 

3. Why does it matter?
What is the meaning of the reactions? What's at stake?

4. What are you willing to do about it?
Now that you've had the opportunity to explain your experience in depth—and learned what the experience of the other player is—what are you willing to offer in the way of a unilateral olive branch meant to repair damage to the relationship without selling out, disavowing your values, accepting blame, or altering your personality. It has to be an honest offer that can be freely given. 

Note that this step is not, "What do you want the other person to do?" I find that offering something tends to land much better than making a request (which can land as a demand).

In my view it is essential that the above sequence be facilitated with curiosity rather than judgment. Just as the group comes to expect Dale to misbehave, Dale will anticipate the group's hostility and the facilitator will need to set a different tone—one that steers clear of blame and that opens the door to possibility. It is not an easy thing to do (maintain an attitude of wonder in the face of tension), yet it's worth gold.

The key to this working is that Dale and their counterpart be given an honest chance to follow through on their commitments to do something new, and that hearts do not remain hardened against that possibility. Of course, this won't get you very far if Dale (or their counterpart) makes an offer that they subsequently renege on. They have to follow through for there to be hope of turning the corner. 

It's important to see this is the lynch pin of the dynamic. If you can establish that Dale and others can change their behavior, then everything can shift—which is what you wanted all along.

A New Co-Housing Group Is Finding Its Feet In West Sacramento - Builder Magazine

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Builder Magazine

A New Co-Housing Group Is Finding Its Feet In West Sacramento
Builder Magazine
An unnamed group is looking to buy an undeveloped half-acre land parcel near Raley Field in West Sacramento. The group plans to build a four-story, 28-household co-housing community on the property, provided that more interested households can be ...

The Hot New Millennial Housing Trend Is a Repeat of the Middle Ages - The Atlantic

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The Atlantic

The Hot New Millennial Housing Trend Is a Repeat of the Middle Ages
The Atlantic
Cohousing, in which a large community lives together and shares household duties, is gaining popularity. In cohousing, individuals or families generally have their own houses, bedrooms, or apartments but share things like kitchens and community spaces.

Common Roots Co-op

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Website: http://www.commonrootscoop.blogspot.com City: Prince George's County State: Maryland Zip: Contact Email: rosemary.welton@gmail.com Content Phone: Contant Name: Rosemary & Andy

Where's Walden?

Laird's Blog -

Today's essay will unfold in four parts, where "Walden" is the common thread that weaves hem together.

1. Walden Pond
For most readers this will be the first association that comes to mind, the modest body of water about 20 miles west of Boston, made famous because philosopher Henry David Thoreau lived the simple life there during the period 1845-47, and then wrote about it.

Thoreau's best known work was Civil Disobedience, in which he laid out his thinking about the right relationship of the individual to government. He was also a naturalist and thus something of an inspiration—well ahead of his time—to those seeking back-to-the-land simplicity and a spiritual connection to place in the 20th Century. I was such a person when I helped start Sandhill Farm in 1974, an income-sharing agrarian community.

2. Walden Two
In 1948, behavioral psychologist B.F. Skinner chose to popularize his thinking by publishing Walden Two, in which he describes a fictional utopian community that operated under behaviorist principles.This book subsequently became the core inspiration for a handful of intentional communities that blossomed in the Hippie Era of 1965-75, including Twin Oaks (Louisa VA), Lake Village (Kalamazoo MI), and Los Horcones (Hermosillo MX)—all of which still exist today.

As someone who was deeply invested in community networking for 35 years, this was just one of the fascinating strands of cooperative living that I became aware of and tracked. Although behaviorist thinking never became dominant in the Communities Movement, the root principle of positive reinforcement (as opposed to controlling or guiding behavior through punishment) is alive and well in almost all cooperative living groups. It simply works better.

3. Woodsburner
This is the title of John Pipkin's first novel, published in 2009. I read it last month and it's the fictional account of four lives—Henry David Thoreau, Oddmund Hus (a socially awkward orphan Norwegian immigrant), Eliot Calvert (prosperous bookseller, inept playwright, and discreet purveyor of pornographic postcards), and Caleb Ephraim Dowdy (renegade minister and opium addict) whose lives intersect on April 30, 1844 in and near Concord MA when Henry accidentally sets the woods on fire—a thing he actually did.

In this treatment Thoreau is in anguish over whether to drop out (by building a cabin on Walden Pond and devoting his life to writing) or returning to the family pencil business, where they've been able to set the gold standard for domestic production based on a superior source of graphite called plumbago. Should he focus on civil obligations or civil engineering?

Simultaneously the other members of the dramatis personae are wrestling with important life choices, even as they strive to determine just how bad the fire is and what role they should play in containing it.

It's a barn burner—even if few actual outbuildings succumbed to the flames.
4. Walden Farkas
Earlier his week I spent an agreeable 18 hours visiting with Walden (and his two boisterous English Setters) at his home in McMinnville OR. Though it had been 43 years since we'd last seen each other, amazingly, we had no trouble dropping back into a depth of sharing that was the reason we had been friends all those decades ago.

Walden and I lived on the same dorm floors our freshman and sophomore years at Carleton College (1967-69) and became good friends. Although our relationship was strained when Walden dropped out before our second year ended, we managed to keep the pot stirred by getting together a few times during the first half dozen years immediately following. Then we lost track of each other… until two weeks ago, when a message from Walden magically materialized in my In Box.

In a laconic two-sentence email he reported that he'd stumbled across my blog and now lived in Oregon. Knowing that I was coming his way last week he suggested we get together. Well, hell, it seemed like a good idea to me, and it worked out that I could be dropped off in McMinnville Sunday evening, en route to my Monday afternoon rendezvous with train #28, the eastbound Empire Builder.

In this year of challenged health, I've enjoyed many wonderful visits with family and friends—people who made it a point to see me, not knowing if it might be their last time. Of course, no one knows for sure when the last time might be, but the question is understandably more in the forefront when you're diagnosed with an aggressive cancer. For all of that, the possibility of getting together with Walden had not been on my radar at all, and thus was a great treat.

I was touched both by his finding me, and by his deciding to reach out. He's mostly lived alone the past four decades (excepting his canine companions) and it meant a lot to me that he decided to interrupt his routine to invite me into his home.

Mostly we just yakked, allowing the conversation to flow wherever it wanted. There were funny remembrances, convoluted stories about what we'd each been doing the last four decades, bafflement that Donald Trump actually has a chance to become the next President, and the opportunity to share what we'd each distilled into life's lessons.

I may not know where Waldo is, but I seem to have no problem with Walden.

Cohousing (aka Dorms for Grownups) and other Living Alternatives in Minnesota - Midwest Home Magazine (registration) (blog)

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Midwest Home Magazine (registration) (blog)

Cohousing (aka Dorms for Grownups) and other Living Alternatives in Minnesota
Midwest Home Magazine (registration) (blog)
Cohousing “bring[s] together the value of private homes with the benefits of more sustainable living. That means residents actively participate in the design and operation of their neighborhoods, and share common facilities and good connections with ...

Cohousing group zeroing in on West Sacramento location - Sacramento Business Journal

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Sacramento Business Journal

Cohousing group zeroing in on West Sacramento location
Sacramento Business Journal
A cohousing group has an option to buy about a half acre near Raley Field, for an eventual four-story project of up to 28 households. Anne Geraghty, a convener with the group, said the next step is to get together enough people interested in taking ...

Berkeley Moshav

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Website: http://www.urbanmoshav.org/berkeley.html City: Albany State: California Zip: 94706 Contact Email: berkeley@urbanmoshav.org Content Phone: Contant Name: Roger Studley

Reacquiring Warp Speed

Laird's Blog -

This past weekend I was conducting Weekend IV of a two-year facilitation training in the Pacific Northwest. It marked the first work I'd done as a process consultant in three months—since co-trainer Ma'ikwe Ludwig and I conducted Weekend III of the same training.

As you can appreciate, this was an important marker for me as a cancer survivor who wants very much to be also be a career survivor, albeit on a somewhat modified (read humane) schedule. While the travel out (by train) was somewhat tiring, I came out a day early to arrive on site with enough breathing room to rest well before going on stage.

Under the model we use for the training, three-quarters of each weekend is devoted to preparing for, delivering, and debriefing real meetings that the students facilitate for the host group. The concept is that students learn faster facing live bullets than by hearing the trainers tell stories or conducting role plays. While I'm convinced that this is sound pedagogy, its efficacy hinges on the trainers being able to teach the moment—each of which is unscripted.

Thus, a training weekend presents a serious test of how far along I've come in recovering my cognitive agility. While the results in June were so-so, it was highly gratifying to be able to perform again at a professional level, to be able to come in and redirect sensitively as dictated by the situation. Whew. Thinking that I can do it is not the same as showing that I can do it.

An important teaching element is being able to demonstrate to the students how to make effective choices in the complexity and chaos of live meetings. In the most delicate moments this can mean being able to access any or all of the following skills:

o  Sorting the wheat from the chaff—extracting the essence of statements more or less as quickly as people speak.

o  Having a working memory of what has happened previously that bears on the current moment.

o  Phrasing comments such that the meaning is clear and requests are within the capacity of key individuals to respond positively.

o  Being ready to offer a deeper, cogent explanation of why your requests or observations are pertinent in the event the audience is confused.

o  Recognizing quickly when the group is heading in a dangerous or unproductive direction, offering a constructive redirection.

Describing such moments isn't nearly as powerful as witnessing them, so it's up to the trainers to be able to carry the mail.

While it's undoubtedly useful to be able to function on impulse power, there is nothing quite like achieving warp speed. It's nice to be back.

Imagine cohousing in the Gorge: Authors, cohousing architects coming to HR Oct. 21 - Hood River News

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Imagine cohousing in the Gorge: Authors, cohousing architects coming to HR Oct. 21
Hood River News
Cohousing communities are custom neighborhoods designed to combine private homes with extensive community facilities to create some of the most socially and environmentally sustainable housing built today. The presentation will feature cohousing ...

At the 16th Pole

Laird's Blog -

The title for today's essay comes from the world of horse racing. In a one-mile race (typically once around the track), there are poles placed every 1/16th of a mile (every half furlong) which are visual indications to jockeys of how far along they are from the finish line. The last pole before the finish is the 16th pole.

In less than two weeks I'll be traveling back to Mayo Clinic to have my Day 60 check-up. Sept 27 marks 60 days since my stem-cell transplant, and Dr Buadi wants to see me then to figure out what success we've achieved in placing my cancer into remission. It's an important assessment, the results of which will go a long way in determining how best to manage my health going forward.

While the cancer was surely knocked back July 27 when I took melphalan (the poison that killed everything in my bone marrow, good cells as well as bad), the question is how far and for how long. As I have a relatively aggressive form of multiple myeloma the doctors need to keep a close eye on my markers, to be alert for its return. Both Dr Buadi (the hematologist who oversaw the transplant treatment in Rochester) and Dr Alkaied (the oncologist who oversees my treatment in Duluth) are anticipating that I'll be placed on a maintenance level of chemotherapy—because of the aggressive nature of my myeloma, how well chemo worked over the winter and spring, and how well I tolerated it. 

The tests coming up Sept 27 will determine which treatment will be selected. It might be pills; it might be infusions. While the latter is more awkward (infusions will need to be administered in a hospital or clinic on an outpatient basis, probably once every two weeks) pills can be taken anywhere. That said, I'll do whatever the doctors recommend.

Fortunately, I've been assured by Alkaied (I met with him this past Monday for the first time since June, before my trip to Mayo's) that there can be flexibility about dates. This is important to me as someone who hopes to resume his consulting/teaching career on a modified basis, and thus needs some latitude with respect to travel.

Meanwhile, the tests done Monday looked good. (I can hardly tell you how reassuring it is to watch your doctor scan the computer screen looking at your test results and saying, sotto voce, "Good" and even "Excellent." What you don't want to hear is, "Uh oh" or "Yikes!") Unfortunately, my Monday appointment with Alkaied did not allow enough time to return the most important test result: the amount of light chains in my blood and urine. In the kind of myeloma I have I was producing way too many light chain plasma cells and thus, in my case, this has been the most important indicator of the strength of the cancer. 

When I was first hospitalized in late January my light chain count was around 1600 (where 100 is considered acceptable). By the time I went to Mayo for the stem-cell transplant in July, the chemotherapy had driven that number down to under 50—proof that the chemo was working. So it was good news when Alkaied's nurse called Tuesday (I had left for Oregon by train Monday night) and told Susan that my light chain count was practically nonexistent. Whoopee!

Essentially, the test results at this stage (Day 48) could not be better. (Can you see me smiling?) Yes, it's early days and there will be more challenges ahead, but right now I'm enjoying the sun shining on my face, with the wind at my back. Today, life is pretty damn good.

Rainbow's in Rosedale

New listings on ic.org -

Website: City: Kansas City State: Kansas Zip: 66103 Contact Email: Rainbows.in.Rosedale@gmail.com Content Phone: (559) 289-2716 Contant Name: Terry Rouse and Kimberly Hunter

Elgin Agrarian Community Promises Co-Op Living on the Blackland Prairie: “It's like an urban twist on traditional ... - Austin Chronicle

Cohousing News from Google -

Austin Chronicle

Elgin Agrarian Community Promises Co-Op Living on the Blackland Prairie: “It's like an urban twist on traditional ...
Austin Chronicle
May, a retired geophysicist and the community's first subscriber, was drawn to the co-op because of its similarity to cohousing, a type of neighborhood where families have separate homes but commit to neighborly behavior in the form of weekly shared ...

and more »

Second cohousing development in Vancouver planned in Riley Park neighbourhood - Straight.com

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Second cohousing development in Vancouver planned in Riley Park neighbourhood
Called cohousing, it puts future neighbours together in the planning, construction, and management of a multifamily development. In March this year, residents of the first cohousing project in the city moved into their new homes on the 1700 block of ...

Morning briefing: Cohousing out, 'grandfamilies' in at Union Corners - Madison.com

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Morning briefing: Cohousing out, 'grandfamilies' in at Union Corners
Take a look at the stories from around our area and world that are making news today. Cohousing out of Union Corners project: Allison Geyer writes in Isthmus: "After more than two years of planning and negotiation, Union Corners developer Gorman & Co.

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