12 Angry Cohousers
From: Sheila Braun (sheila.braunworldnet.att.net)
Date: Fri, 19 Apr 2002 11:29:01 -0600 (MDT)
from Sheila Braun, Champlain Valley Cohousing, Charlotte, VT.

Have any of you seen the movie _12 Angry Men_? It's interesting in light of
this discussion of values around communication styles. I watched it a year
or two ago and was shocked at the various methods the people (men) in the
movie used to influence each other. The main character, perhaps at the time
the film was made a model of leadership and effectiveness, engages each of
the others in ways that would be rejected entirely by many cohousers as "not
okay." Yet clearly he is the moral center of the film.

My point is that valued communication styles change as society changes. Many
of us born before or around 1960 have become adults in a world that is
largely foreign to us. The rules have changed *dramatically.* I came across
a first-grade exercise book a few years ago. The first page had my name, and
"I am a ____ (choose one: girl/boy)", and  "When I grow up, I can be a
______ (girls choose one: teacher, nurse, mother, secretary, librarian)".
I'm sure the boys in the class were similarly--or perhaps even more--limited
in their choices by their gender.

The same change in values around what is an okay career choice for a girl or
boy has occurred around what is an okay communication style in a meeting.
For one thing, meetings (in general) include a mix of men and women, whereas
forty years ago, meetings and lives were far more segregated. Women had
sewing circles, men had board meetings. Now men and women are all mixed
together in meetings throughout all aspects of society, and across all sorts
of lines that used to separate us. Not just lines of gender, but background
and neighborhood lines (we are so much more mobile and neighborhoods are so
much less stable therefore), racial lines (not as much as many of us would
like), age lines, and so on.

But the place we've landed in where communication styles are concerned is
one that is not yet defined. The conversation on our list about outbursts in
meetings expresses well how many different ways we have of understanding
"the rules" of communication.

To complicate matters even more, our relative strangeness to each other
makes establishing the rules even harder. I grew up in a part of the world
where people had not only lifetime understanding of who each other were, but
multi-generational understanding. I swear it makes a difference in my
relationship with you if our grandmothers knew each other as well as we do.
Yet here we are, cohousers, living in a neighborhood pattern trying to
recover the intimacy, neighborliness, and stability we have lost (without
the provincialism) with people whose great-grandparents probably never had
any contact with each other's ethnic groups, and whose values are almost
completely uncharted territory for us. Where there is no basic familiarity
with your background, how can I understand you well?

We replace long-standing familiarity with each other with rules for
behavior. In the face of our strangeness to each other and the strangeness
of the world at large, we struggle to find the comfort we feel we may have
lost. We compare values, we exchange observations, we give feedback about
how peoples' styles make us feel--and in all of it a note (or more than a
note) of dogmatism creeps in. "This is how you're *supposed* to do it," we
say to each other when we don't like how each other behaves.

The truth is that we're all pretty much clueless right now. We have to make
up a lot as we go along. Somebody might have a philosophy that will take off
for a while (like the philosophy of leadership expressed in 12 Angry
Men)--say, a set of guidelines for integrity and communication, but the
chances are good that the next generation will replace them with something
more (or less) evolved.

How do you mix strangers together in an intimate neighborhood setting? I
have no idea. But I'm pretty sure that dogmatism and excessive rule-making
do more harm than good. I'd rather just acknowledge that we're all
different, exercise as much forbearance with you as I wish you to exercise
with me, and deal with stuff as it comes.


...who has been thinking lately how boring _Harry Potter_ would be if
Hermione never snapped at Ron.

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