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Eco inspired life - The Union of Grass Valley

Cohousing News - Sat, 04/12/2014 - 02:58

Eco inspired life
The Union of Grass Valley
Feels a little like walking through a model train village, I thought as I followed the path to Stu and Mags Matthews' home in the Nevada City Cohousing neighborhood. Colorful homes – some yellow, blue and terracotta – lined the walkway. The scent of ...

Categories: News

Eco inspired life - The Union of Grass Valley

Cohousing News - Sat, 04/12/2014 - 02:58

Eco inspired life
The Union of Grass Valley
Feels a little like walking through a model train village, I thought as I followed the path to Stu and Mags Matthews' home in the Nevada City Cohousing neighborhood. Colorful homes – some yellow, blue and terracotta – lined the walkway. The scent of ...

Categories: News

Cohousing, abitare ognuno per sè e tutti insieme - La Repubblica Genova.it

Cohousing News - Fri, 04/11/2014 - 12:11

La Repubblica Genova.it

Cohousing, abitare ognuno per sè e tutti insieme
La Repubblica Genova.it
Cohousing, abitare ognuno per sè e tutti insieme Spazi comuni, risparmio energetico senza rinunciare alla propria autonomia. La ricetta del cohousing, uno stile di vita alternativo, già molto diffuso nel Nord Europa arriva anche a Genova con il “Coh ...

Categories: News

Date Book: Community events in Chilliwack - Chilliwack Progress

Cohousing News - Fri, 04/11/2014 - 10:03

Date Book: Community events in Chilliwack
Chilliwack Progress
Elderberry Commons is a seniors' cohousing and is part of the vision for the continuing development at the Yarrow Ecovillage (www.yarrowecovillage.ca) and will be the main topic of discussion, but anyone interested in cohousing in general is more than ...

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Categories: News

Three-Legged Stools in Non-income Sharing Communities

Laird's blog - Fri, 04/11/2014 - 01:31
In the clear majority of intentional communities (88-90%), members do not share income. In the overwhelming majority of those, the group takes a hands-off approach with respect to members' personal finances. So long as residents can cover their HOA dues, it's not the community's business. Or is it?

The point of an intentional community is to create a better quality of life for its members through high alignment with common values, through a greater degree of sharing, and through developing an enhanced sense of connection and neighborhood camaraderie. For some, it also a platform from which to do good work in the world—either by modeling a more just and sustainable culture, or by concentrating group resources so that a few individuals can do social change work on behalf of the whole.

Most communities hold sustainability as a common value, which is often translated as being in right relationship with the Earth (certainly a good thing). But it's more than that. It's also right relationship with each other, which is social sustainability. And it's also being in right relationship to the exchange of goods and services, or economic sustainability.

The main point of this essay is that sustainability is a three-legged stool, which does not tend to be stable when one of the legs is missing. Of the three, it's the economic leg that is most often short or wobbly, and that brings me back to the opening paragraph and the fact that most non-income-sharing communities—despite their being intentional about trying to create a better quality of life for their members—tend to ignore the economic component. Whoops!

So how do economics interweave with social and environmental sustainability? Glad you asked. In simple terms, economic sustainability encompasses people making a living by doing things that are aligned with their values and for which everyone involved in the exchange feels is fair (no one's been taken advantage of). This is necessary because it doesn't make much sense to try to meet all of your needs yourself. If your neighbor is a whiz at plumbing and you're a master gardener, it works better all around if she installs your shower and you supply her with carrots and potatoes.

But let's take this further. By living in community you're purposefully living more cooperatively, which means you can collectively own a riding lawn mower and a table saw, obviating the need for everyone to buy their own (or do without). That means you can attain a high quality life without forking over as many dollars (because you can leverage resources through sharing). That means you can either work fewer hours or choose employment that you enjoy more but doesn't pay as well: you're ahead either way. What's more, sharing equates with less resource consumption, which is good for the environment.

Building on this concept (less time spent doing work you don't enjoy), at the end of the day you're not as tired—either because you're working fewer hours or doing more satisfying work. That means you're more fun to be around, less reactive (more resilient), less inclined to have a couple stiff drinks to "unwind," and less likely to hole up in the den with a movie or zone out surfing the web. That means your social life has improved. 

Is it getting clearer how one kind of sustainability impacts another?

Almost all intentional communities wrestle with questions of ecological impact and how to navigate sticky social dynamics. How about strengthening that third leg?

Here's are some ideas of that might look like, to prime the pump: 
o  Budgets could include money set aside to capitalize a loan fund that could be used to help people afford the down payment to buy into the community.

o  The community could conceive of itself as an economic engine, thinking of how its property and facilities are a major asset that could be utilized more fully (without compromising the socially valued uses now in place) to support business ventures with a high value match—perhaps growing open-pollinated or heirloom vegetable seeds instead of lawn; renting the common house dining room on off nights for neighborhood events; devoting a couple of little-used rooms as co-office space for fledgling businesses—complete with high speed internet.

o  Members with entrepreneurial energy could form a support group that helps members create business plans, secure start-up funding, and develop jobs on site for those hoping to walk to work and save on wardrobe. Most communities have a number of people who would like part-time employment (10-20 hours/week) at home with flexible hours at decent wages. (Hint: communities are excellent candidates for flex-time and job sharing—two stay-at-home moms can share one job with the off-duty woman handling childcare for both) Further, community folks tend to be well educated and possess exceptional social skills. Surely the entrepreneurial whiz kids can turn that into a market advantage.

Part of the reason that groups tend to avoid economics is that the need doesn't touch all members. In particular, founders tend to have entrepreneurial talent (starting a business is fairly similar to starting a community) and thus are less likely to need help with their personal finances. Unfortunately, that's not necessarily true for the folks who come later. Not only is that hard to see right away, but it can be awkward focusing group attention on a need that only affects part of the group. Another reason is that it can be difficult for entrepreneurs and non-entrepreneurs to play nice together (see The Entrepreneurial Dilemma for more on this).

I'm not saying that developing models of economic sustainability is easy, but I think they're essential, and have every bit as much right to group attention as the ecological and social. We need that stool to be stable!
Categories: Long Form Blogs

Storia tormentata di un anarchico dell'innovazione - CheFuturo!

Cohousing News - Thu, 04/10/2014 - 04:01

CheFuturo!

Storia tormentata di un anarchico dell'innovazione
CheFuturo!
Ma conoscendo Massimo, la domanda è: what's next? Progetto sociale e cohousing, per invecchiamento attivo … Lui e la pensione sono due concetti antitetici. L'innovazione a volte sta nella semplicità. Tutti oggi parlano di downsizing della propria ...

Categories: News

How Communities Value Labor, Revisited

Laird's blog - Tue, 04/08/2014 - 23:44
Two days ago I received this thoughtful communication in response to my previous blog Paid Versus Voluntary Labor in Cooperative Culture:

I my view intentional communities are by definition communistic—I mean the real definition, not the politicized one. Everyone brings different skill sets and resources to the table. The problem as I see it is properly valuing these skills. It is sort of reasonable to expect individuals with management skills will end up managing. The problem becomes how do you prevent them from taking over, as seems to always happen in real life communistic societies.

Rotary International does it by changing its leadership every year. This prevents the taking over problem at the cost not having the best leadership every year. This can be somewhat mitigated by having a standing bureaucracy behind the leaders but just moves the "taking over" down a few layers.

This does not address the related problem with other skill sets, as you pointed out. I find it hard to imagine a healthy individual with a high-end skills being willing to support individuals with low value skills, and who may be unhealthy to boot for long periods—unless those individuals can bring something else of value to the table.
 

My point is that I don't see intentional communities ever being viable on a large scale.
 
I've extracted two main points from this note, and I'm going to tackle them separately.

1. How do you balance the need for effective leadership (a skill set that's unevenly distributed) with the danger of leaders abusing their power?

The first thing that needs to happen, in my view, is that cooperative groups need to define what kind of leadership they want and what constitutes healthy uses of power. While I don't think this is that hard to accomplish (think servant leadership, and leaders as facilitators), most groups have done neither and the resulting ambiguity has led to all manner of mischief—mainly because we all bring to the cooperative experience a personal history of being damaged by leaders who have abused power and we're guarded against that happening again. While it's good to not be naive, it's a grave problem (because of the tendency to project the sins of past leaders onto current ones) and damn hard to discuss the perception that power has been misused without going thermonuclear.

Leaders need to be held accountable for fulfilling their duties and acting within their authority, yet they also need to be supported and appreciated for their contributions (just like anyone else). Mostly cooperative groups do a miserable job of this, with leaders far more likely to get struck than stroked.

In this brittle and unbalanced environment, taking on leadership roles is not very attractive. (Who wants to wear the shirt with the bulls eye in the middle?) This discourages members from developing their leadership capacity and tends to keep the same people (those with saint-like qualities and/or thick hides) in leadership positions regardless of their openness to sharing the dais.

While I think it's silly to expect everyone to be equally capable of leadership, you can (and should) invest in training members to develop their leadership skills and look for opportunities to give people work appropriate to their capacity and inspiration. I believe we can (and must) develop models of leadership where:
o  Leaders know what qualities are wanted in their position (which, by the way, can vary substantially based on the position)
o  Leaders are evaluated periodically to assess how well they're doing (performance relative to job description)
o  Leaders are celebrated for their accomplishments 
o  Leaders are supported when they're in over their heads
o  The group invests in developing leadership capacity among its membership.

While I appreciate the concern about how badly power has been used by leaders at the national level flying under the banner of communism, I think we first have to develop robust models on the local level and work our way up. Though I hear the skepticism, I'm hopeful of developing dynamic models of democratic engagement based on consensus principles, and then ratcheting up to larger circles.
 
To be sure, there are a number of challenges to this:

a) Skilled facilitation
Meetings should be run by neutral facilitators; not by committee chairs, board presidents, or dictators for life. There needs to be even-handed access to the agenda and the emphasis needs to be on inclusivity and energetic congruence—rather than on brokering a majority and then ramming it home.

b) Adequate communication skills
This can be worked from both ends. Attention can be paid to reaching people where they are (which includes a variety of formats and ways to engage) and to developing the ability of people to be more articulate, better listeners, and less reactive.

c) Overcoming apathy
How do you keep the average member engaged in group issues—especially when they have little direct say in the outcome? For the most part this is a matter of providing an attractive point of entrée and making it clear how their input is respected and taken into account (this is particularly challenging when their viewpoint does not prevail).

I don't believe that the delegation of power necessarily leads to its abuse, but you need a strong a commitment to: a) collaborative leadership; b) transparency of operation (where everyone is informed of what's happening and why); and c) diffusion of leadership—to the extent that it can be accomplished without sacrificing dynamism or productivity.

2. Isn't the commitment among intentional communities to value everyone's contributions evenly (or at least heading in that direction) a fatal flaw in terms of modeling a society that works better? That is, how can it possible scale up? Why would people who can command high salaries live in such societies?
That's a fair question. It's one thing to have an ideal (or at least an idea) of moving toward alternative economics by treating equally all labor volunteered by members to the group's well being—regardless of whether that's mopping the kitchen floor, or setting up and troubleshooting a sophisticated website (replete with blog feeds and video clips). But how far can you realistically take that?

How will you entice people who could earn top dollar in the mainstream business world to volunteer their services to the group for an attaboy at the next potluck—which is the same coin offered to those doing the potluck dishes?



The answer is that this choice is not based solely on economics; the reward is social as well. In fact, once you get past the lower levels of Maslovian needs (food, water, shelter, clothing, sex, sleep, safety), the more weight is given to social considerations. People enjoy making contributions in support of others, in recognition of friendship, for the good of the tribe. This is not martyrdom or idealistic zealotry; it's identification with the group, and doing one's part. Further, the more that the individual receives in the way of recognition, a sense of belonging, and security, the more they're prone to give. It feels good.
To what extent does it make sense for the strong to take care of the weak (a catchall that includes those with low paying skills, the infirm, those prone to sickness, the depressed, etc)? Well, how about asking that the other way around: what sense does it make to build a society that throws people under the bus if they can't answer the bell?

While I'm not advocating that weakness be rewarded, it seems inhumane to ignore it or to respond solely with tough love. It seems to me that a compassionate society needs to guarantee that everyone's basic needs will be met, while still finding ways to honor initiative, productivity, and reliability. It's a balancing act.

On the societal level, there is a point to be made about how cultures have choices about how the cost of education relates to compensation. In the US, for example, doctors and lawyers are highly paid professionals, which at least in part is justified by high schooling costs. In cultures with more state subsidized education (for example, Cuba and Russia) doctors and lawyers are still important professions and command a decent salary—just not an indecent salary. And this has nothing to do with the quality of the training or the skills of the practitioners. Thus, how the state allocates funds has an impact on wage differentials.

As a final note, do you really want people making vocational choices principally based on the size of the jackpot once they're licensed? Is that a world you want to live in? Is that a doctor you'd want to trust your health to, or a lawyer whose advice you'd seek for the health of your trust? Think about it.
Categories: Long Form Blogs

Cohousing, riqualificazione del patrimonio esistente - call for papers - ProfessioneArchitetto

Cohousing News - Tue, 04/08/2014 - 17:46

Cohousing, riqualificazione del patrimonio esistente - call for papers
ProfessioneArchitetto
E' aperta una call for papers per partecipare alla giornata di studi promossa da un gruppo di ricercatori del Dipartimento di Architettura dell'Università degli Studi Roma Tre, e dedicata a programmi di cohousing e a progetti di riqualificazione del ...

Categories: News

A Mondolfo la casa "la fai tu insieme ad altri" - Il Resto del Carlino

Cohousing News - Tue, 04/08/2014 - 06:19

Il Resto del Carlino

A Mondolfo la casa "la fai tu insieme ad altri"
Il Resto del Carlino
Il progetto "Co-housing e autocostruzione" vede la realizzazione di 18 appartamenti a basso prezzo. Ma ogni famiglia dovrà garantire da 700 a 900 ore di lavoro nel cantiere. Pesaro, il progetto «Co-housing e autocostruzione» (Foto Andreoli). Pesaro, 7 ...

Categories: News

«Ho un piano per ripopolare il paese» - il Resto del Carlino - Imola - Il Resto del Carlino

Cohousing News - Tue, 04/08/2014 - 02:58

«Ho un piano per ripopolare il paese» - il Resto del Carlino - Imola
Il Resto del Carlino
IL PRIMO cittadino non esclude nemmeno la «formula del cohousing: se alcune famiglie creano un gruppo d'acquisto di tre o quattro lotti, è possibile ottenere un abbattimento dei costi, non solo del terreno, ma anche dell'opera di costruzione». Insomma ...

Categories: News

Die Beteiligten haben sich zum Ziel gesetzt, gemeinschaftlich möglichst ... - oekonews.at

Cohousing News - Mon, 04/07/2014 - 17:56

Die Beteiligten haben sich zum Ziel gesetzt, gemeinschaftlich möglichst ...
oekonews.at
Was vor zehn Jahren als Traum begann, wird jetzt gerade in bauliche Wirklichkeit gebracht – das niederösterreichische Cohousing-Projekt „Pomali“, am Rand des Dunkelsteiner Waldes zwischen Krems und St. Pölten.

Categories: News

NONNO CERCA UN COINQUILINO - Cado in piedi

Cohousing News - Sun, 04/06/2014 - 07:02

NONNO CERCA UN COINQUILINO
Cado in piedi
Non solo gli studenti universitari, ora anche gli anziani cercano coinquilini con cui dividere le spese. Per fare economia, certo, ma anche per avere compagnia. Il silver cohousing funziona in Olanda e Danimarca da più di dieci anni, ma ora si sta ...

Categories: News

Paid Versus Volunteer Labor in Cooperative Culture

Laird's blog - Sun, 04/06/2014 - 02:02
When intentional communities start out, there is generally no end of the work and limited funds to hire its completion. If the group survives its start-up, then it will eventually transition from the hurly-burly rush of Pioneer Phase into the more measured pace of Settler Phase, where the unending punch list of things that needed to be done yesterday has finally been tamed and the group begins to taste of what "normal" means. Then things get interesting.

In the salad days, everything is typically accomplished through volunteerism fueled by idealistic zeal and the unbridled enthusiasm of the newly converted. Over time, however, that predictably wanes. Staying up into the night scrubbing god-knows-what off the walls of the used house trailer you've purchased (for a song) to handle overflow housing during your construction pushes no longer seems like fun. Now you want to pay someone to shovel snow off the solar panels so that you can spend the evening with your family and friends watching Bones.

Here's what you can predict will characterize a built community:

A. While everyone had to meet a certain minimum standard of financial wherewithal in order to catch the bottom rung of the ladder, over time the range of financial positions among members will tend to widen (some will feel flush and some will feel flushed). What happens is that life intervenes, and everyone is not dealt the same cards.

Some residents will retire and be managing on a fixed income. Others will see their income climb as their careers advance, kids graduate from college, and the mortgage gets paid off. Some will lose their jobs, and will be scrambling to meet their HOA dues. Others have trust funds and never worry about money. It's a mixed bag.

If you have money, then time tends to be the limiting factor. If you're underemployed, then labor is abundant and dollars are dear.

B. Almost all groups ask residents to contribute volunteer labor to the betterment of the community. Sometimes it's quantified; sometimes it's not. Sometimes it's recorded; sometimes it's on the honor system. But everyone is encouraged to have their oar in the water.

It's tricky setting a target for hours/month because:
o  People's availability and capacity for contributing are all over the map.
o  You don't want to set a minimum that's so high that many residents will struggle to meet it.
o  You don't want to set a maximum because it's an advantage to have residents contribute extra if they're inclined (Caution: That said, you don't want martyrs—people working beyond the expected amount and then complaining about it).
o  You don't want a large gap between those contributing least and those contributing most because it leads to guilt and feeling taken advantage of.

To the extent that community labor is about getting the work done (saving the group the expense of hiring), it makes no difference whether residents do the work themselves or pay someone else to do it for them. However, that's not the whole picture. To the extent possible (through work days and project teams) groups also promote working together, to build esprit de corps and enhance connections. Paying someone else to cover your work shift doesn't help with that.

On the one hand, the pay or play option with regard to work expectations provides flexibility, such that residents can protect whichever resource—time or money—is most precious to them. On the other, it allows an easy out for the well to do, undercutting camaraderie and the we're-all-in-this-together attitude that prevailed during Pioneer Days.

C. Despite B, there is always more work that's needed (or at least desired) than there is resident labor that's sufficiently available, skilled, and motivated to cover it. While outside hiring is a no brainer for some jobs (because the work is so odious—pumping out the septic tank; so skilled—structural engineering for the common house trusses; or so esoteric—teaching tae bo to the teens and tweens) there will almost certainly be some amount of desired work that is not covered by volunteerism yet residents are capable of covering. 

This naturally leads to the idea of hiring internally to cover the shortfall. In fact, it may be a preference to do so (why support strangers over neighbors?) To be sure, there is predictable awkwardness about simultaneously being: a) on equal footing with someone as a fellow resident in the community; and b) in an employer/employee relationship in the context of the hired work. But let's suppose you've figured all that out. There's still a further problem: hiring erodes enthusiasm for volunteering.

Once residents start getting paid, why would anyone contribute above and beyond as a volunteer? Work that people were willing to do for free when everyone was volunteering, suddenly becomes drudgery if money is available for labor and you're not getting any.

The tone shifts from "Let's pull together and get this done" to "Just do your expected hours and then start filling out invoices for anything beyond that." And it gets worse. There is often not enough funding to cover all the desired work not being covered by volunteers, which leads to tenderness around why some work gets paid and other work doesn't. When there was no money for internal compensation, there was little squabbling; now that there's money, there's bickering.

Here are some questions that will need to be addressed if you travel down this road:

o  How (and by whom) will it be decided which jobs get paid, and which will have to wait for additional funding?
o  Should all work done by residents by paid the same (analogous to the way volunteer labor is valued), paid market rate, or something in between?

o  How will you maintain a culture of volunteerism in the face of increased remuneration for community work?

o  Will you be able to hold residents accountable as employees (in ways that are nearly impossible when every is a volunteer)?

Ironically, in an effort to move toward economic sustainability, hiring community members can place considerable pressure on social sustainability.
Categories: Long Form Blogs

West Seattle Saturday: Save trees; play games; help schools; fight hunger ... - West Seattle Blog (blog)

Cohousing News - Sat, 04/05/2014 - 11:54

West Seattle Saturday: Save trees; play games; help schools; fight hunger ...
West Seattle Blog (blog)
TALK WITH YOUR SCHOOL BOARD REP: West Seattle's school-board rep Marty McLaren invites anyone who wants to talk with her about Seattle Public Schools issues to come to the common house of Puget Ridge Cohousing 10 am-noon today. (7020 18th ...

Categories: News

Olympia Cohousing group hopes to expand - Bellingham Herald

Cohousing News - Sat, 04/05/2014 - 03:45

The Olympian

Olympia Cohousing group hopes to expand
Bellingham Herald
Located in west Olympia, Woodard Lane Cohousing is a 2.34-acre neighborhood within a neighborhood. In April 2010, residents moved into Woodard Lane's three finished “fourplexes,” each containing four dwelling units. One unit has served as a temporary ...
Woodard Lane 'family' hopes to expandThe Olympian

all 4 news articles »
Categories: News

Olympia Cohousing group hopes to expand - TheNewsTribune.com

Cohousing News - Sat, 04/05/2014 - 03:24

The Olympian

Olympia Cohousing group hopes to expand
TheNewsTribune.com
Olympia's first cohousing community is navigating more red tape in order to build a new “common house” and more dwelling units. Located in west Olympia, Woodard Lane Cohousing is a 2.34-acre neighborhood within a neighborhood. In April 2010 ...
Woodard Lane 'family' hopes to expandBellingham Herald

all 4 news articles »
Categories: News

Olympia Cohousing group hopes to expand - TheNewsTribune.com

Cohousing News - Sat, 04/05/2014 - 03:24

The Olympian

Olympia Cohousing group hopes to expand
TheNewsTribune.com
Olympia's first cohousing community is navigating more red tape in order to build a new “common house” and more dwelling units. Located in west Olympia, Woodard Lane Cohousing is a 2.34-acre neighborhood within a neighborhood. In April 2010 ...
Woodard Lane 'family' hopes to expandThe Olympian

all 4 news articles »
Categories: News

Pilotní projekt cohousingového seniorského bydlení v Praze - Cohousing Plus - Enviweb

Cohousing News - Fri, 04/04/2014 - 18:19

Pilotní projekt cohousingového seniorského bydlení v Praze - Cohousing Plus
Enviweb
TZB-info.cz Abstrakt: Pilotní projekt Cohousing Plus bude představen na veletrhu FOR SENIOR, který se koná v Praze Letňanech do 6. 4. 2014. Návrh i celý koncept Cohousingu Plus v sobě propojuje individuální a komunitní bydlení a může tak výrazně ...

and more »
Categories: News

Pilotní projekt cohousingového seniorského bydlení v Praze - Cohousing Plus - TZB-info

Cohousing News - Fri, 04/04/2014 - 18:02

TZB-info

Pilotní projekt cohousingového seniorského bydlení v Praze - Cohousing Plus
TZB-info
Pilotní projekt Cohousing Plus bude představen na veletrhu FOR SENIOR, který se koná v Praze Letňanech do 6. 4. 2014. Návrh i celý koncept Cohousingu Plus v sobě propojuje individuální a komunitní bydlení a může tak výrazně přispět ke zkvalitnění ...

and more »
Categories: News

Inequalities in Feminist Culture

Laird's blog - Fri, 04/04/2014 - 11:54
For groups that embrace cooperative leadership—where there is reliance on the wisdom of the whole, instead of that of a single person or council of elders—the ideal is feminist culture, by which I mean a commitment to gender equality and a basic belief that all humans have the same inherent worth regardless of productivity, skills, or sagacity, and that everyone should have a voice in decisions affecting them.

That said, it is demonstrably not true that everyone has the same talent or proficiency at accomplishing what the group needs to maintain its health or to pursue its mission. In short, there is a sense in which everyone is equal… and a sense in which everyone isn't. It gets confusing.

While it's all well an good to strive for a level playing field, not everyone's interested in doing the work to close the gaps between where they are and those ahead of them, and there are some delicate questions around how much of the group's resources should go toward eliminating inequalities—not the least of which is because you'll never get there. 

Please don't misunderstand me. I think investing in capacity building and personal growth are excellent ideas. I'm only saying that there are too many ways in which people are different and no amount of ideological purity or tour de force training will result in a membership comprised of interchangeable parts. While that observation is not very profound, my experience has been that cooperative groups rarely act as if they fully understand that.

Sure, groups get it that all members are not competent auto mechanics, crackerjack facilitators, or gourmet chefs. (For that matter not everyone is that wonderful at scrubbing floors or balancing a checkbook, either.) And there are some distinctions between members that are relatively easy to acknowledge and discus openly:
o  Endurance
o  Size
o  Strength
o  Discretionary Time
o  Education & Training
o  Credentials

Other distinctions, however, are a bit trickier. All the following topics could be: a) straight forward to acknowledge; b) somewhat obscure; or c) controversial to interpret:
o  Physical Health
o  Wealth
o  Experience
o  Skill
o  Privilege

Last, there is there are subjects that members rarely discuss openly, and can even feel offended that you asked about:
o  Mental Health
o  Power 
o  Counseling History
o  Family Challenges
o  Financial Challenges
o  Addictions
o  Personal History with Abuse

Notice that there is no particular correlation between the tenderness of the topic and the likelihood that it will be a factor in group dynamics. My main point in this essay is that there are a number of important ways in which people are reliably different, yet most cooperative groups do not have a clear sense of how to explore these differences, or even an agreement that they should be discussed at all. They just hold their breath and hope for the best.

It's crippling to be actively working toward a goal of equality among members when there are significant differences that are off limits. If you can't discuss them, how will you determine how large they are (or even how large the range of opinions is about the size of the gap), what those differences mean, or what you want to do about them (if anything)?

To be sure, these taboo topics are subjects we've been conditioned to consider private—things we share only with intimate friends and partners. Yet they still impact the group, and if you're serious about working sensitively with differences, then you need to be able to develop a sense of what constitutes healthy inequalities and what are differences that erode the group's cohesion and effectiveness. 

The challenge is whether you have the awareness, courage, and maturity to be able to explore assessments of inequalities wherever they occur relative to group function. I'm not saying that there is a "right" way to handle differences; I'm saying that whistling in the dark and pretending that they don't exist doesn't work.
Categories: Long Form Blogs
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