“Relational” Community, “Developmental” Community

By Diana Leafe Christian

This blog entry is in response to Craig’s Forum comment on June 4th in the “Researching Your Community” Forum about “Do-ers” and “Be-ers” in cohousing.

I think most cohousers are good-hearted, compassionate people. And I have a working hypothesis that cohousers (and people in intentional communities in general) apply compassion in different ways: some wanting to nurture individuals and others wanting to nurture more abstract community principles.

To elaborate, I think people hold at least two different unconscious assumptions about how their cohousing community is supposed to function, and thus, how they apply compassion. People with what I call a “relational” or “therpeutic” unconscious assumption (“Be-ers”?) place more emphasis on people’s feelings than on achieving the community’s goals (such as finishing the landscaping, renovating the laundry room, building carports, etc.) They tend to go out of their way to make sure no one feels upset, even if it means reversing community decisions about these projects, violating agreements, or stopping the community’s progress towards finishing the projects. Emotional distress trumps agreements and projects. “We care about our community’s goals and projects, but people come first.”

And people with what I call a “developmental” or “stategic” unconscious assumption (“Do-ers”?) operate as if people are responsible for their own emotional issues, and place more emphasis on moving the community toward its goals — finishing its projects — than on people’s feelings. They assume the community will honor its agreements and its decision-making method. Community self-governance trumps emotional distress. “We care about each other as individuals, but since we’re each responsible for how we feel, developing the community and doing our projects comes first.”

I think a source of difficulty in cohousing communities can occur in the tug-of-war between these different styles of relating, which, as noted above, I think arise from unexamined assumptions about why we’re even living in cohousing. I also think the effects of these views are cyclical: one view will influence community culture for a while, then the other.

So I agree with Craig in his June 4th posting, if you’re looking for a cohousing community to join, please keep these subtle dynamics in mind. You may see evidence of one or another viewpoint prevailing in any given business meeting you sit in on, or any dinner conversations you may be privy to. Whichever viewpoint you may see, please know that others in the community probably hold the other view as well. And surely there may be people who are balanced between these views, and/or, people with other ways of looking at these issues than either the “Be” or “Do” way.

It also may be helpful for you to discern if you are a “Do-er” or a “Be-er.” How will this play out in the community you join?

— Diana Leafe Christian 7/11/08

Category: Personal Growth


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