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Cohousing community planned for Longmont takes another step forward - Longmont Times-Call

Cohousing News from Google -

Longmont Times-Call

Cohousing community planned for Longmont takes another step forward
Longmont Times-Call
Bohn Farm Cohousing Community project manager Peter Spaulding will hold an informational meeting at Izaak Walton Clubhouse, 18 S. Sunset Street, from 9:30 to 11:30 a.m. Saturday. For those who want to learn more about this planned community, visit ...

Accountability: Conflating Task Monitors with the Police

Laird's Blog -

One of the most challenging topics for cooperative groups to tackle is accountability. What do you do when someone doesn't deliver on a promise or is perceived to be breaking an agreement?

For the most part cooperative groups simply hope the problem will go away—and fortunately, it largely does. That is, most members will voluntarily be good citizens on their own recognizance. They'll do their chores, help out on Work Days, and mostly follow through on commitments to the group—all without anyone sending out reminders or looking over their shoulder.

However, good intentions are not enough. Some will forget, some will be too busy, some chafe at expectations of any kind, some will purposefully step back from commitments because of a story they have about how they were wronged and it's never been addressed, etc. So the question is not whether it's going to happen, but how you're going to handle it.

The short answer is that you're going to have to learn how to talk about it, because here's the deal—it doesn't go away on its own. In fact, unaddressed it's a cancer on the good will and cohesion of the group. So the stakes are high.

Hint: While there's no doubt that noncompliance and deficient performance are a problem, that does not necessarily mean that the responsibility lies wholly with the person perceived to have broken the rule or failed to have kept an agreement.

Let's look over some of the potential factors in this dynamic, any number of which may be in play:

—Ambiguous Requests
Are you confident that what the accuser believes to be the understanding is the same thing that the accused understands? There's a reason for the adage: there's many a slip twixt the cup and the lip. This potential for unclarity is all the greater if the agreements are oral and not captured in writing. In any event, we may be talking about a misunderstanding or mishearing more than willful negligence or defiance.

—Undefined Flexibility
All groups I know allow for the possibility of extenuating circumstances to allow reasonable relief from commitments when people are overwhelmed by other factors in their life (compromised health, family emergency, loss of job, etc). The problem is that the limits of flexibility or how exceptions are invoked are rarely pinned down and the accuser may be interpreting their appropriate application differently than the accused. Uh oh.

—Shame & Guilt
A good bit of the paralysis that surrounds accountability relates to people's fear of feeling shame or guilt in a public forum. Some can't imagine the embarrassment of being called out; others want no part of subjecting others to something they imagine to be that painful. As such they are unwilling to take even the first steps down that road. Some don't want to impose their personal standards on others, while others can't seem to wait for an opportunity to do so. 

A lot of what's in place here relates to the role of shame and guilt in one's family of origin, and that experience is likely to be all over the map—making it damn hard to know what demons you're letting out of the box once you invoke their energy.

—Fear of Consequences
Another factor is what to do if it's determined that someone is out of account. Is moral suasion enough, or do you need a club in the closet for serious offenders? Some groups are flat out allergic to punishments (fines, say) while others seem altogether willing to go there if someone misses a chore cycle and doesn't make it up. To be sure, the backdrop in which this occurs is that the group (and the members who comprise it) always have recourse to the protection and rights extended to them by civil authorities in instances of lawbreaking and public safety, but that only happens in rare and extreme cases (thank god). 

The main point I want to make here is that you can commit to talking abut accountability without embracing a set of consequences (or, for that matter, deciding that you won't have consequences).

—Police State Anxiety
Amazingly, it is common among cooperative groups to have no one (I prefer a committee) designated to handle task monitoring, which seems weird to me. For the most part, I've come to understand this as: a) a fear of people passing judgment on each other (no one wants the Work Police knocking on their door asking where they were on the afternoon of Nov 12, while everyone else was raking leaves and getting the houses ready for winter); and b) a lack of confidence in the community's willingness to work constructively with upset—which is where they suspect conversations about noncompliance are likely to go.

As no one wants to live in a police state, the topic of accountability becomes anathema.
• • •While I get that those are real fears, are you liking the alternative any better—where the complaining goes on behind people's backs, and others are left to shoulder more of the work to cover those doing less? Not much of a bargain, is it?

Without advocating for or against consequences, I urge groups to commit to talking about it whenever a member is viewed as being out of account. However, since we want this to be constructive, and minimally disruptive, I advocate that this be distributed among the standing committees, where each is responsible for agreements and tasks in their arena.

Then, whenever someone has a concern about noncompliance, they'd be encouraged to follow a sequence such as this (until the matter is settled):

1. Talk with the person directly.
2. Talk with the person with the help of a mutually acceptable third party (or parties).
3. Ask the relevant committee for help (with the Conflict Resolution Team backing up the committee if it gets hairy).
4. Take it to the plenary.

At each point along the way, a good faith effort should be made to accommodate the preferences of both the accuser and the accused about setting, timing, and who's present in the way of support. While these may be facilitated conversations, participation should be voluntary with no one being coerced to accept another's viewpoints or conclusions.

If it is not clear which committee's bailiwick the matter falls into, then the Conflict Resolution Team will play centerfield, handling all requests that come along until and unless they're handed off to another committee.

A big advantage of expressly giving committees the job of task monitoring in their purview is that it becomes a license to initiate conversations about work or compliance with agreements. Absent the assignment of such authority, the person who shows initiative is susceptible to being labeled a busybody. The point of this is not to embarrass or shame: it's to get information and troubleshoot at the least expensive level. Remember: we're creating cooperative culture; not recapitulating the combative, competitive culture of the mainstream.

While it's possible for a matter to go all the way to plenary (the court of last resort), that will rarely happen if committees are doing their job about compassionately talking with folks who are perceived to not be doing theirs.

Mismanaging My Impatience in Meetings

Laird's Blog -

I recently attended the meeting of a cooperative at which I was representing a group that had an interest in the main topic. Because I didn't need to present anything and was not a decision-maker in that setting, I was there mostly to listen and provide background as needed.

Things got off to a solid start, and after 15 minutes it was reasonably clear where the concerns lay and what the most likely remedies were. However, it took another 60 minutes before everyone present was brought into alignment about those things. It was excruciating.

What happened? Well, a number of things, all of which are depressingly common:

o  Jumping aroundAlthough it quickly became apparent that there were only two main concerns, I'll be damned if some speakers didn't feel compelled to make statements about both subtopics in a single turn at the microphone, making it hard to follow the bouncing ball. 

People do this, I speculate, in a misguided effort to get out everything they have to say in one go, regardless of the diffusing effect it has on the group's focus. It's generally much better if the facilitator limits the conversation to one subtopic at a time.

o  Straying off topic
While it's not fair to blame participants for a lack of discipline about containing their comments to one thread at a time if the facilitator is not offering that structure; it is, however, fair to hold participants accountable for comments that wander beyond the scope of the agenda topic, and to ask them to eschew free associating.

o  Repetition
When the focus is soft, or the facilitator is casual about offering summaries, people often find it irresistible giving their views more than once. Even though this tends to be numbing for the group, speakers often feel insecure about whether they've been heard if they don't immediately see the group actively working with their input.

o  Lack of concision
Meeting behavior is different than casual conversation, but the way many people contribute in meetings is just the same is when they're yakking with friends over a beer. In plenary you want contributions to not just be on topic, you want them lean. And they'd be well advised to leave chewing the fat for storytelling around the campfire.

o  Not keeping the conversation at the plenary level 
At what point does it make sense to stop talking about a topic in plenary and turn it over to a subgroup to tease out details? Groups that have not discussed where this line stands will frequently drift across it and get mired in minutia instead of handing it off to committee with alacrity and a crisp mandate.

o  Inability to coalesce the sense of the meeting
One the more important facilitative skills is the ability to sort wheat from chaff, offering a tight summary of what the group is likely to be able to agree to, or where the conversation is headed, based on what's been said so far. Even when you get it wrong, just being close will often help the group get there with only minor adjustments.

Some groups—especially ones using consensus—labor under the false impression that you can't reach a conclusion until everyone has spoken. Not so! While it's important to protect everyone's opportunity to have a say, it frequently happens that after a number of people have spoken that there are no additional viewpoints to contribute, and the group can legitimately move on. To be sure, you need to test for that (rather than just assume it), but it only takes a moment to offer a summary with the caveat, "Does that work for everyone?"

It's amazing to me how often groups miss the agreement in the room until they've been bludgeoned with it.
• • •Observing all this, it was painful sitting through the meeting. As time went on, I found myself stepping in more and more, without portfolio, to offer summaries, suggest agreements, and identify loose ends. (As a professional facilitator, it's virtually impossible for me to turn it off when I'm in a meeting—whether I'm up front with a baton or not.) While I meant for my contributions to be constructive, in the end-of-meeting evaluation I got my knuckles rapped by a participant who felt he was hearing too much from me, a mere observer.

Sigh. I reckon enlightenment and the patience of the Buddha still elude me.

Where Will Laird Live?

Laird's Blog -

Two months after Ma'ikwe pulled the plug on our partnership, I've narrowed the main candidates for the W2L2 Sweepstakes down to two prime contenders. In no particular order, here are my reflections about the advantages of each.
Staying at Dancing Rabbit

o  I know the climate and enjoy it.

o  I have friends here already, including the men's group that meets weekly and all the folks over at Sandhill, just three miles away.

o  I'd remain close to the FIC headquarters, where I can help (even after transitioning out of the center of operations by the end of the year).

o  I can continue with all manner of support people I already know: doctor, dentist, bridge club, and all the stores in the area I know where to go to get what.

o  I know many of the rhythms and systems of DR (which means I won't have to learn new ones).

o  The cost of living is low in northeast MO, and my income is mostly elsewhere (from consulting and teaching), which is a great combo.

o  I'd be part of an important experiment in sustainable living at DR.

o  DR has an educational component that is on the rise and there are excellent prospects for that translating into teaching opportunities without leaving home (and without assuming more than my fair share of administrative overhead—about which I figure I'm running a surplus in Akashic accounting).

o  Moving will be much simpler (out of Moon Lodge and into another living space in the village—I could do it in a wheelbarrow).

o  DR is a central location for access to train travel in any direction (relevant because my work lies in all directions, and I prefer going by choo choo). If, for example, I moved to one of the coasts, I'd be looking at a three-day slog whenever I had work on the other coast.

o  There are a number of projects I've fantasized doing when my life slowed down (which I believe is starting to happen) and these will be more easily accomplished in northeast MO, where the resources are already in place and I have access to them. These include such disparate things as building and operating a smokehouse, pioneering some specialty condiment recipes, and getting back into wood carving. Also, at DR it will probably be easy to offer part-time help (such as back-up when one of the regular cooks is on vacation and kitchen assistance is needed for pizza night at the Milkweed Mercantile).

Creating a New Community Elsewhere

o  The satisfaction and stimulation of living with a handful of friends with whom I already have close bonds—deeper than those I currently have in northeast MO (excepting with Ma'ikwe, who has made it clear she wants less of me).

o  Not dragging out the potentially awkward separation from Ma'ikwe. While I think we'll mostly do fine, I'm still sad at losing the marriage and am unsure about how triggering it may be watching her energy go elsewhere.

o  The excitement of doing something I believe I know a lot about: setting up a successful community, based on members with high social skills and a commitment to being a positive influence in the world. There is, after all, a steady need for more intentional communities—especially high functioning ones.

Why it might not be that big a deal

o  My pattern right now is that I'm on the road 40-50% of the time, and that's not likely to change much, at least in the short run. So I'll only be home 50-60% of the time to enjoy all the benefits above. When I'm on the road it doesn't matter that much where home is (though I'd prefer shared housing, so that I don't come home from trips to find dead house plants, multicolored mold in the refrigerator, and dust covered shelving.

o  I expect to spend more time writing now and that's more or less a solitary activity. Though I like having others read my drafts and offer comments, mostly that's accomplished electronically anyway, so it doesn't make much difference where my desk is.

o  I know I want to live with friends, or at least quite near them. Human beings are herd animals and we crave each others' company. I need that contact. Fortunately, either choice above is likely to provide it.
• • •While my mind isn't made up yet, the fog is lifting. A lot will hinge on how excited my close friends elsewhere are about the prospect of creating something together. Stay tuned to this channel for late-breaking announcements.

11 People in One House? Hartford Zoning Case Part of National Trend - Connecticut Law Tribune

Cohousing News from Google -

Connecticut Law Tribune

11 People in One House? Hartford Zoning Case Part of National Trend
Connecticut Law Tribune
In recent years, nontraditional housing arrangements, often called "co-housing," have run smack dab into decades-old laws detailing just who can live together in a single-family house in a residential neighborhood. Such an issue has led to a high ...

Google News

11 People in One House? Hartford Zoning Case Part of National Trend - Connecticut Law Tribune

Cohousing News from Google -

Connecticut Law Tribune

11 People in One House? Hartford Zoning Case Part of National Trend
Connecticut Law Tribune
In recent years, nontraditional housing arrangements, often called "co-housing," have run smack dab into decades-old laws detailing just who can live together in a single-family house in a residential neighborhood. Such an issue has led to a high ...

Backing Into Health

Laird's Blog -

Sunday, I lay on my stomach for the first time in four weeks (not because I was on the beach for spring break; I was getting a massage). Fortunately, it was better than I feared.

The Back Story 
My woes began six months, when I strained the muscles in my lower back by lifting improperly. Recovery from that was frustratingly slow but I was definitely progressing when I caught a cold in mid-February. The ensuing cough (the inevitable conclusion of a cold) kept the muscles around my ribs sore for a fortnight, and I was just getting over that when I accepted an offer to have some body work done around the first of this month.

Unfortunately, in a well-intended effort to stimulate the flow of chi, the practitioner was more enthusiastic than my torso could handle, resulting on two ribs popping out of position, right where they join the breastbone. This made breathing tricky (and coughing excruciating) and it's been a challenge all month to lift anything heavier than a coffee cup. This set back (back set?) was hard on my morale.

A couple weeks ago I went to see my local physician (an osteopath) to get his take on my condition. He confirmed that two ribs were out of alignment and gave me an exercise to do three times daily to help get everything realigned. Bit by bit, I've been feeling less tender and more able to function normally—now I can lift as much as two gallons (if I'm careful) and can work at my desk all day without a nap.

Thus, when my friend Jennifer suggested I sign up for a massage (being offered by the older sister of Jennifer's daughter's girlfriend, who was halfway through massage school and needing practice), I hesitated. I needed results that would be forward for my back; not backwards. 

Getting Back on the Horse Table
While I ultimately decided to give it a try, I arrived for my appointment with no small amount of trepidation. While I was quite stiff just lying down on the table (wondering how crazy I was opening myself up to semi-trained hands), I immediately enjoyed the heating pad on the upholstered table. My back muscles said, "Thank you!"

At the outset I explained my back history and the first portion of the massage proceeded well. I was so relaxed, in fact, that I almost fell asleep. Then the moment of truth arrived, when the masseuse asked me to roll over on my belly—a position I had not attempted since my ribs popped out. Encouraged by how things had gone so far, I gently turned over and was pleasantly surprised that the discomfort on my sternum was mild. Whew. (Of course, no pressure was being applied yet, so the test was yet to come.)

Working slowly, but deliberately, she gradually worked deeper into my back. At one time I was close to the edge of what I could tolerate and I asked her to not go any firmer. I was surprised when she reported that she was already working deeply and that she had hardly encountered any knots (I thought I'd be lumpier than an old mattress).

While happy with the results in the moment, I noticed that I was feeling increasingly sore in the hours afterwards and bed looked pretty good that night. What I couldn't tell right away was whether the soreness was productive (as in moving blood into damaged areas) or just adding to the strain on my poor body.

Fortunately I felt much better in the morning. More limber, and less reflexively tense—like I no longer needed to protect myself as much. For the first time in weeks I swept the floor, beat a rug, and did dishes, all of which were highly mood elevating.

Back to the Future?
To be sure, I'm not fully recovered, and I have no real idea how much longer that will take. For one thing, my ribs are still not right, sharply limiting how much I lift. While it's unquestionably better to be improving. I've got a long way to go before I can handle ordinary homesteading chores without assistance.

I figure that I'll have turned a major corner when I'm well enough to start stretching and exercising (even going for walks) on a regular basis. 

When I recall all those years when I blithely assumed the absence of pain to be "normal," I shake my head at the folly of it all.

11 People in One House? Hartford Zoning Case Part of National Trend - Connecticut Law Tribune

Cohousing News from Google -

Connecticut Law Tribune

11 People in One House? Hartford Zoning Case Part of National Trend
Connecticut Law Tribune
In recent years, nontraditional housing arrangements, often called "co-housing," have run smack dab into decades-old laws detailing just who can live together in a single-family house in a residential neighborhood. Such an issue has led to a high ...

and more »

11 People in One House? Hartford Zoning Case Part of National Trend - Connecticut Law Tribune

Cohousing News from Google -

Connecticut Law Tribune

11 People in One House? Hartford Zoning Case Part of National Trend
Connecticut Law Tribune
In recent years, nontraditional housing arrangements, often called "co-housing," have run smack dab into decades-old laws detailing just who can live together in a single-family house in a residential neighborhood. Such an issue has led to a high ...

and more »

Balancing Transparency and Discretion, Part II

Laird's Blog -

Earlier in the week I received this compelling email from a friend:

I'm thinking of proposing a policy at our democratic free school where charges of misconduct will be handled at the plenary level—in a meeting of the entire school. (I'm writing you because I often look to intentional communities instead of other alternative schools for inspiration about good process, because other schools don't use consensus like we do, and don't have as high a degree of student involvement.)

Some people in the school community have concerns about my proposal because they believe that not every matter of safety should go to the whole school for consideration. Their main concern is in dramatic incidents like sexual or physical assault, where they are worried that a kid may feel afraid to go in front of the everyone to talk about what happened. What would you recommend?  

A counter-proposal is for a small conflict resolution group to make the decision, or to make a recommendation to the plenary, keeping information about the victim confidential. My hesitation with this approach is that we have used a committee for conflict resolution in the past and, in my opinion, it overstepped its authority and made big decisions without disclosing the details to the community.

What a good question! It's an attempt to balance due process (fairness) with confidentiality and the protection of both: a) the victim, from the potential embarrassment of having their experience examined in a public setting; and b) the accused, from the possibility of having their name smeared before it’s been determined if they’ve done anything wrong. In essence, this is another version of a topic I first wrote about July 31, 2014: Balancing Transparency and Discretion. It also touches on the dynamic tension between public and private: at what point is it the group's business to know about a private matter?

I think the priorities here are:

1. Having the lowest possible barriers to issues related to the group coming out, so that wrongs can be addressed and the innocent protected. You don't want: a) murky standards of accountability to undermine the group's resolve to address issues; nor b) your willingness to examine issues to be daunted by the prospect of volatility in the exploration.

2. Proceeding in a way that protects both authenticity and compassion. Thus, you want relevant information to be shared as widely as seems appropriate (trust is directly related to the dissemination of accurate information), yet at the same time you want to proceed in a way that seems least threatening and most accessible for the principal players.

Taken all together, I think what works best in this regard is a carefully selected Ministry Committee (the name is a traditional one in Quaker circles, referring to the task of laboring with members in tension with each other or with the group, and does not relate the relationship between individual and spirit). I like this approach because it tends to be less overwhelming than the plenary (supporting the concern raised by those uneasy with my friend's proposal), and because the committee members can be selected carefully to highlight the qualities wanted in this committee—which will hopefully translate into their being able to proceed more sensitively and sagaciously than the plenary.

Their mandate would be to hear and oversee the handling of complaints about member conduct that are not resolvable directly or informally.

In pursuit of its work, the committee would keep several things in mind:

A. Their first task will be to determine if the accusation places the school at risk such that the civil authorities need to be called in, or the rest of the school needs to be apprised immediately because of overriding concerns for endangerment to life or property.
B. If the danger or urgency of the accusation does not justify informing the whole school at the outset (Point A), then, at the conclusion of the investigation, the committee will discuss with the accused and the accuser what can be shared with the whole school, where the committee will try to secure permission to disseminate an even-handed summary of what happened as broadly as possible within the school community. 

C. Outside of what is agreed to be shared with the whole school or with the proper civil authorities (under Points A & B above), the committee is expected to not discuss details of the incident or its investigation with anyone outside the committee. This agreement notwithstanding, the committee may deem it prudent to keep sealed records of its investigations, against the possibility of future incidents of a similar nature, or involving the same players.
D. If Point A does not obtain, then the committee will conduct its investigation is such a way that is most comfortable for both the accuser and the accused, regarding matters of setting, timing, and support. (Note that the accuser and accused may have very different preferences in this regard, requiring delicate negotiations to resolve.)

E. If the committee recommends that punitive or behavior-limiting consequences are appropriate, then these will be discussed with the school’s governing board and ratified or adjusted as appropriate before they are implemented. That is, the committee is not licensed to impose sanctions on their own without review. This caveat accomplishes two things: 1) defanging the committee for those fearing its wrath; and 2) curtailing concerns about a runaway committee that exceeds it authority.

Mike April of Amherst celebrates 50th by helping building Easthampton Habitat ... - GazetteNET

Cohousing News from Google -

Mike April of Amherst celebrates 50th by helping building Easthampton Habitat ...
The couple lives with their two children in Amherst's Cherry Hill Cohousing on Pulpit Hill Road, and as a result are familiar with sharing skills and resources. Barbara April said that in their neighborhood, neighbors frequently help each other out ...

Castro resident's three-year quest to shut down a hacker hostel - San Francisco Chronicle

Cohousing News from Google -

San Francisco Chronicle

Castro resident's three-year quest to shut down a hacker hostel
San Francisco Chronicle
Raines Cohen, a co-housing coach and community organizer with Cohousing California, which supports cooperative living situations, said hacker hostels “are totally in the spirit of the tech culture, building places where people can connect and support ...


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