Breakdown of Process in Cohousing
From: Fred H Olson (fholsoncohousing.org)
Date: Wed, 1 Jan 2003 06:48:01 -0700 (MST)
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It was posted by Fred the Cohousing-L list manager <fholson [at] cohousing.org> 
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I'm living in a cohousing project where there has been a critical breakdown 
of process.

Our "community" has been living together for about two and a half years and 
we have suffered many disruptive social interactions and legal conflicts.  

We have had an affair, multiple thefts and destructive behavior by an 
unmanageable teenager who has severe psychological and biochemical and 
behavioral problems, vandalism by an adult who lost his temper, verbal 
assault, accusations and fears regarding "inappropriate touching of 
children," a private "confrontation" and shaming of a member who was 
suffering mental health problems and finally a pushing and shoving match that 
resulted in one member attaining a restraining order against the "other."  
The anger and fear has has gotten so virulent that one member has attempted 
to ruin another's career.

I've heard about the phenomenon of the "lightning rod" member in some of the 
cohousing literature.  Tag... I'm it.  

I like the metaphor of the lightning rod because it is very descriptive of 
the phenomenon as I experience it.  I "pick up" the static of dysfunctional, 
harmful social interactions and then respond with anger and outrage that is 
circulating in the subterfuge of the collective unconscious.  Have there been 
other cohousing neighborhoods where people act out their unconscious 
conflicts with one another 

I have been both the victim (multiple thefts by a youth who is out of control 
and the restraining order) and I must also take responsibility for 
contributed towards this conflict.  I've been asking the board of directors 
for some direction in "process" issues (i.e., community dynamics) or to get 
some kind of professional mediation for the community.  The answer that I 
keep getting over and over again is "It isn't our job."  

The board sees itself as a "rubber stamp" structure to fulfill the 
requirements of the condominium association.  The "consensus is" that these 
issues are disputes between individual members of the community.  I am at a 
total loss in trying to explain that dynamics of this magnitude effect 
everyone, and to ignore them is only to allow the snowball to accelerate and 
are destructive to the well-being of the community.

I am writing this to the cohousing list in order to gain some perspective.  

Have things like this happened in other cohousing communities?  Have there 
ever been failed communities?  Does the lightening rod personality finally 
give it up and move?  What happens after the lightening rod leaves? What 
happens if the lightening rod just decides to downgrade the community to a 
neighborhood and continues to live as though his/her community members are 
strangers?  How does one deal with passive aggressive and even aggressive 
dynamics in a neighborhood.

Heady stuff for the New Year.  It breaks my heart.

I will finish this inquiry with two quotations from two sages from the 
Buddhist and Jewish traditions:

Anger

When the community was discussing ethics after Zazen one evening Black Bear 
remarked, "I have been having a hard time dealing with my anger."
Raven said, "Check it out afterward."
Black Bear said, "What good will that do?"
Raven said, "It might have been Great Bear's anger."

Robert Aitken from Zen Master Raven

"God created human beings because he likes good stories"
Isaac Basheval Singer


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