RE: Enforcing group agreements
From: Rob Sandelin (Exchange) (
Date: Wed, 24 Jul 1996 17:13:45 -0500
Using your cat example, my point is you have no cat agreement anymore.
Since people don't honor it, or know about it, its worthless and anyone
who comes in to the community can have as many cats as they want. So
really what has happened is that your agreement has changed, and you
just haven't acknowledged the change yet.  Maybe you never will bother
to acknowlege the change, but anybody who wants to can have more than
two cats because that has already been established as the operational
protocol.  Anyone who you try and limit to the agreement will point to
the others not in compliance and say, they are not bound by this rule so
why should I be?  And they are completely right. Then you find one day
you have way more cats than anybody wants, but you've hosed yourself by
not honoring your previous agreements. 

The deeper issue is that people don't care about the things you ALL
worked to agree on. In my opinion, this is dysfunctional in a
cooperative community and is something that would really worry me if it
happened in my community.  

Sometimes these things happen because of conflict avoidance, don't want
to hassle people or even talk about a difficult agreement or situation,
sometimes everyone agrees tacitly to let things slide or to make an

Where this can cause problems is when people join your community based
on the written agreements, then they find out they are not honored, or
that what's written as agreed to isn't what actually is.  What happens
then is a HUGE undermining of ALL the agreements you have in writing,
because if you can't trust one, can you trust any?  Again, this is
primarily when new people come in, they don't have the history of the
why things are, so they take the written agreements at face value and
expect everyone else does too. That's why keeping these up to date is
good idea.

For example, in our written pet policy we have a clause that pets are to
be spaid.  A member decided to get a dog to raise puppies to sell and
went around and talked to the group about it and at that time no one had
a problem with it. We were going to update our policies document at a
board meeting but never got around to it.  Later a couple joined who saw
that clause and thought it was great because they have strong feelings
about breeding animals and selling them... Oops, they later found out
this had been sort of bypassed and they immediately started questioning
all the agreements, because , to their point of view, they could not
rely on what we PUT IN WRITING what we agreed to. This is still an
unresolved issue in our group, and eventually we will have to deal with
it.  I'm still not sure they trust any of our agreements.  As a group,
updating such things is a lower priority than the millions of other
things to do so it doesn't get done, and we then have trust problems.

Another point about our spaid thing is that to everyone at the time this
was not a big issue, nobody was really passionate about it.  Now there
is someone who this is one of the most important things about
Sharingwood to them, and its not enforced.  I would said, so what? But
to them, its a top 5 issue. It is currently an unresolved conflict
within the group. Since the Dog in question is going away soon, it will
cease to be an issue directly, but we still will need to retouch that
agreement and discuss keeping the spaid part or not. We are avoiding
this conflict until the dog leaves, but we will deal with it. 

At Sharingwood, everyone who lives in our neighborhood is bound by the
rules, whether they are kin, just visiting for a weekend, or a live in
lover, mother in law, etc.  Often as temporary situations, they don't
know the rules, but transgressions get noticed and the rule will be
explained.  We expect the owners to do this, but its not a big deal.
For instance, any kids who comes to visit and rides a bike has to wear a
helmet.  No exceptions.  If they didn't bring one they borrow one or
don't ride their bike. Its enforced not only by all the adults, but also
by every kid.  The other day I test rode my bike to see if I had my
gears adjusted right and three people all told me to put on a helmet!  I
was annoyed, but also went and put on my helment. I couldn't imagine
blowing off my neighbors and not following the helment rule, it would be
totally the wrong thing to do. 

Honoring agreements has a lot to do with the intregity of your
community. If you have bogus agreements that nobody follows, you should
ditch them publically and delebrately.  Whereas maybe you couldn't
imagine living in a place where community agreements are enforced.  I
couldn't imagine living in a place where they were not. If you don't
care about an agreement that everyone made, and nobody follows it, but
you keep the agreement how could you have any community intgrety? If
burning trash is not allowed, but its done by 5 people with impunity,
what does that say about the intregity of community agreements? What
does that say about the value people hold for the time and energy
putting together an agreement?  What does that say about the trust
people have in what you agree to? 

Sure stuff goes out of date and gets fixed later, but to have people
blowing off things that you ALL agreed to sounds like really
dysfunctional conflict avoidance is going on. I think would really
unacceptable for most my neighbors to have someone come live in our
neighborhood and blow off our rules. I can't even imagine that
happening, as the person would get such flack as they would leave, or we
would change the agreement if a change was  needed.  
Rob Sandelin

>-----Original Message-----
Sent:           Wednesday, July 24, 1996 1:35 PM
Subject:        Re: Enforcing group agreements
In a message dated 96-07-24 13:54:33 EDT, Rob writes:

>In my experience,if you do not deal with broken agreements right away and
right up >front, then you effectively have NO agreement. 

There are 3 things that come to mind
1) We have several people who are ATTACHED to a member of the group - 2
lovers, one is a sister. These 3 people are not ATTACHED to the
but to the individuals they live with. The community accepts that, flows
around them, and hopes that with time, they will join in/ contribute
more to
the community as a whole. All 3 contribute a lot IN THEIR OWN WAY,
mostly by
giving a lot to individual within the community. All 3 are very stubborn
people, and not easily influenced. So they say " I didn't agree to
because they don't go to meetings.

2) We have several people who over achieve in several areas of life, and
of things are left undone on a regular basis. They drive some folks
while other folks accept them as true eccentrics and others rejoice in
flamboyant style. Each of these individuals has different groups that
accept/reject their behavior, yet overall it causes a more tolerant
to prevail. "Your friend drives me crazy, but you put up with my
ways, so I guess it evens out" 

3) Many of our agreements are "So what?" kind of agreements. We agreed
not to
have more than 2 cats per household - 3 have more. We agreed not to let
off a leash on the property, but one is old and dying and the owner lets
off now and again. We agreed not to leave sheets tacked up to the
after 1 year, yet several folks still haven't gotten around to putting
proper window coverings.

What I am saying is, I don't want to live in a situation where
everything is
so neat and clean, every little thing is mandated, every breach noted.
the whole group really have to discuss giving the dying dog special
dispensation? No, because we are small enough to overlook these small
breaches. If we were 40 households, would we be so tolerant? 

>If agreements are never enforced or followed, whats the point of making
agreements at all?

Important agreements are generally followed, and the kind of general
stuff that some folks ignore is OK to have in general. I mean, it would
be a
disaster if  20 households each had 3 or 4 cats!! 3 households violating
general policy has not created a crisis at this point in time.We are not
at enforcing stuff. By and large we rely on peer pressure. Some folks
much more susceptable to peer pressure than others. And some agreements
reached under the negative impact of consensus " I don't care enough to
anything because I have better things to do than sit in this meeting for
another hour."  

Mela Silva
Southside Park
Sacramento CA

Results generated by Tiger Technologies Web hosting using MHonArc.