Bill of rights/social codes
From: David Mandel (
Date: Mon, 6 Jan 1997 04:53:43 -0600
Marti of Salt Lake wrote:
"... We need to conciously create the structure for our interactions,
socializing and physically working together. ..."

I admire the ambition, and sometimes I really do wish we had some better
written principles of behavior and participation around here, but at the
same time:

Three-plus years in a cohousing community have taught me, and I think most
of my neighbors would agree, that the dynamics of living here are at once
too complicated and too unpredictable to be successfully subject to a lot
of specific rigid rules. For instance, that old bugaboo, pets: We talked
about it before we moved in and adopted what seemed like reasonable
numerical limits. They're even enshrined in our CC&Rs. No one is supposed
to have more than two cats. But now, five years later, we have found
ourselves again engaged in a difficult discussion on the subject. The
original rule didn't anticipate:
        @ A couple of extreme cat lovers joined the group after the initial
        @ The principled difference some people see between indoor and
outdoor cats.
        @ Living in an old, established neighborhood, we have been
blessed/cursed with dozens of stray cats.
        @ It turns out we have widely divergent feelings about them.
        @ A veterinarian has come to live in the community since we moved
in. Among other things, he fixes strays that can be tamed enough to be

        We've spent much time at three general meetings recently trying to
deal with the issue, and little by little, we have, for the most part, come
to appreciate each others' points of view. That, I believe, could be far
more important than the more concrete results. We adopted some guidelines
about numbers, feeding and cleanup, but they incorporate quite a bit of
flexibility, certainly more than many of the non-cat people would have
wanted. Time will tell how it works out.

        My main point here is the following advice: Don't waste too much
time and energy on making rigid rules for everyday life, especially before
you move in. The reality is going to be different from what you expect in
at least some important ways. Also, some of the people will undoubtedly
join after you make rules, and surely you will want to consider their
feelings as well.

        Finally, you will likely find that for some things, the "right
thing to do" is to change the rules from time to time solely for the sake
of change. For instance: Several times already we have revamped the systems
by which we allocate the work of maintaining and governing the community.
We are in the throes of doing it yet again. And while maybe the new plan we
adopt will be a bit more effective in some ways, I'm sure it too will be
replaced, or at least amended, when it grows stale. We're learning that
there is no perfect system for regulating imperfect people; was it Tom
Jefferson or Tom Paine who mused mischievously that societies need
revolutions every once in a while to keep them vibrant.

David Mandel, Southside Park, Sacramento

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