I live in a eco-cohousing community of 40 homes, and over 60 adults. we have smallish separate PassivHaus homes; car sharing; a “Common House” where people cook and eat together; shared community tasks; and organisation and governance by consensus. It’s quite large as cohousing goes, and while several values are common, there is also much diversity. Some minority groups find a home here: in our case, including vegans. We try to be inter-generational, though there are more older people than younger. That’s partly due to economic factors.
It is a surprisingly complex little society, and any group like this has its own life, its own character, which would take a long time to describe. For Opencare, I’d like to focus just on one of the challenges that I see here: how we engage with our own and each other’s well-being. We have at present no special provision for caring for each other: it happens in some ways at some times, informally.
Sharing some non-mainstream values, and a vision that is not yet shared by the majority of people, there seems to be some kind of assumption that we will provide a safe space for “people like us”, a haven from the strain of being minorities who are disregarded, or even criticised, elsewhere. This need for a sense of psychological safety does appear in various ways, sometimes surprisingly. This is often hidden in the rest of society. Otherwise, our needs are probably similar to most people’s.
We do have methods for dealing with conflict, but the challenge seems to be to get people to engage with them. Recently, a small group of members underwent training in Restorative Circles [https://www.restorativecircles.org/]. If we all understood and participated in this, it might help deal with issues that have surfaced. Relatedly, several members have developed, to differing degrees, along the path of Nonviolent Communication [https://www.cnvc.org/]. If we all interacted with each other following NVC principles, maybe that would be a highly positive influence on our community culture, and the well-being of all of us. But how does one persuade a diverse group of people with different backgrounds and histories to engage in one practice like NVC? What about other practices, like co-counselling?
This brings me to outlining the challenges that I, personally, see for our cohousing group. How do we collectively approach the issue of mental and spiritual well-being, with little common ground to start with? How can we then grow (in) a culture that effectively supports the well-being of individuals, and of the group as a whole? How can we be sure that an individual will receive the care that they need? Can we rely on informal relationships, or should we organise this in some way? Part of our well-being is the sharing of common purpose: how can we frame and agree our common purposes, from members whose values diverge? Are we fixed with the vision of the founders, or can we (and do we want to) move on?
These are hard questions to answer, but I have the sense that we will need to answer them more and more, if we are to develop the resilience that we will need as mainstream politics and economics unravel. We need now to care for each other’s resources of time, energy and good will, and as we age, we will increasingly need to look after our health and strength if we are to achieve what we want to achieve, being a positive transformative influence in the world.