If you’re looking for a cohousing core group or existing community to join, you’re probably thinking about what you want. You may also be considering what personal characteristics tend to lead to enjoying —even thriving — in cohousing.
Because I live in community myself, and I've talked with many others who live in community (both cohousing and non-cohousing), I've gotten a sense of the personal characteristics I think help a person thrive in cohousing.
• Confidence, self-acceptance, self-esteem
• Humility, willingness to listen and learn
• Willingness to serve, to contribute to something larger than yourself
By “confidence” and “self-esteem,” I don’t mean egotism or self-importance, but the simple appreciation of one’s own worth. This usually results in an innate willingness to extend respect and good will to others. In my experience, people who feel fairly good about themselves tend to treat other people well, and to enjoy living in community. However, people at the lower end of the self-worth spectrum (including those who behave as if they feel worthless and inferior, as well as those who behave in ways that are prideful or dismissive) seem to have difficulty adjusting to community. Sometimes these folks have trouble with other people’s feedback hitting them too hard. Sometimes they don’t know how to take their fair sense of responsibility for things they; either taking either too much responsibility: “Oh, I’m a terrible person!”, or too little responsibility: “I do not do that! You’re the one with the problem.”
By “assertive” I mean the ability to speak up, ask questions, ask for what you want (sensitively and respectfully), patiently persist, and take the initiative. Sometimes it simply means having enough initiative, patience, and persistence just to deal intelligently with something in the community that really needs help! By “humility,” I certainly don’t mean self-deprecation or groveling, but a simple willingness to assume that we may not know many things, we may not have all the answers, we may learn something new. This kind of humility is a simple kind of gentle gratitude, and respect for ourselves and others. It also means not assuming we know more than other people, but can learn new things.
By “willingness to serve,” I mean taking genuine pleasure in working with others to create something that is much larger than our own small selves. You might recall a time when you worked with friends or colleagues on a project that benefited others, or one which you could never have done alone. If you enjoyed the experience, I expect you know what I mean. I often view living in my community, Earthaven Ecovillage, as a lifelong ecological art project. It’s a lot bigger than anything I could ever do by myself — it takes collaborating shoulder-to-shoulder with others. And that’s certainly what cohousing is: cooperating and collaborating shoulder-to-shoulder.
If you don’t believe you have some or all of these above characteristics, of course you can still enjoy life in cohousing. And in my experience, if you encourage yourself in these characteristics, you’ll enjoy your new cohousing community all the more. Good luck!
—Diana Leafe Christian