Re: Don't discuss this in committees
From: Kay Argyle (
Date: Wed, 11 Dec 2002 17:32:13 -0700 (MST)
Responses tend to be delayed when you delete most of what you've written,
write some more and delete most of it ....

Forbidding talk simply drives it underground.  When multiple households are
involved, _certainly_ anytime there is a question of "taking sides," it is
definitely a community matter.

Maybe (hopefully) this has no application to your situation, but --

Summer of last year, my friend M. was made unwelcome on a committee she
cared very much about, and the community response was a shrug.  Things went
downhill from there, affecting my own relationships as well (I won't rehash
the details, I'm sure I've bitched already about what was going on).

There were minor and not-so-minor blowups.  At one point or another M. & I
each talked the other out of moving.  Another household did move, when I
went to the Process Committee about them sabotaging a project of M.'s.

After a while I realized at root of the problem was negative talk going
on -- at meals, I wondered?  I tried for a while for changes to make it
easier for us to attend meals, partly on the principle that people can't
gossip behind your back if you're present.  I hoped also that if people knew
us better they wouldn't want to say nasty things -- there were incidents
that made me feel that people were projecting things onto us, and didn't
really see us at all.

I got far madder over M.'s treatment than I did my own.  As fall turned to
winter it spilled into my dealings with the community as a whole, especially
as I started to feel that (a) one party in particular was doing her/his best
to shut us out, and (b) a number of people knew of his/her and other's
unethical behavior and didn't put a stop to it.  If anything, people seemed
inclined to suppress me, because my indignation made them uncomfortable.
That made me even less cooperative.

Somebody dropped a word in my ear that things were being said at a
confidential community discussion group.  That explained a lot.  Since who
said it would never come to the ears of people who didn't attend, the
troublemaker could drip any poison s/he wanted.  Hearing things
"confidentially," people couldn't come to M. to ask whether such-and-such
had really happened and what was her side of the story.

With no reality check, the talk grew like fungus in the dark.  It damaged
her relationships in the community, without her even knowing why.  Because
they heard she was a problem, they treated her as a problem -- and since she
was being treated with distrust and a priori judgement of bad intent,
naturally she didn't respond well, and the situation spiraled.

Two more units went up for sale, when the troublemaker's spouse got stressed
out.  (The spouse had gone house hunting over other community problems, so I
don't hold myself responsible, though sorry to see the spouse & the relative
who owned the other side of the duplex go.)

That M. and I stayed was due largely to my -- er, principled stand on the
issues (although the term "bloody-mindedness" has a certain validity).  I
*-well was not going to allow this community to be a place where
manipulative tactics determined who lived
here; that wasn't what the community was supposed to be.

At a retreat this summer, the outside facilitator's mandate was to help the
community figure out the stumbling blocks keeping us from accomplishing
community projects.  As he quickly saw, the situation around us was a major

A number of people admitted to passing along "She always" and "she never"
generalizations about M. that had no basis in their own experience of her.

Having been dragged out in the open, and people realizing what they
themselves were contributing, the situation is much less tense, as people
mend fences (if you can use that term of a community that makes lack of
fences a point of pride).  I don't see that it would have changed without
being brought into the open.


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