Re: Looking for advice about enhancing our Friends
From: Jonnie Pekelny (
Date: Thu, 24 Jan 2008 18:52:34 -0800 (PST)
Apparently, I hit a raw nerve for some people with this question. I
certainly agree that it's a whole load of work to get cohousing built and
that we need to be able to give the people who are building it a supportive
environment and tools. I wasn't suggesting that my community would like to
go off and start using all its energy on building and maintaining vast
networks of people who have no future in cohousing, or that we would like to
invite random people to our business meetings, or (eventually) our open

But I cannot see how having a generally inviting attitude and maintaining a
spirit of connection is a bad thing. I see it as very necessary and one of
the things that brings me to cohousing. There are a lot of possibilities
beyond trying to save the world, alone, today, and shutting the door on
people. And, hey, if we find our energy being siphoned off on the wrong
projects, we'll refocus for a while!

What we're looking to do is build in an easier way for people to stay in
touch with us. Right now our system is pretty minimal. We don't have very
many social events and we don't let people outside the immediate active
membership know about them. We have a "friends list" for anyone who is
interested in receiving updates from us, but we hardly ever post anything
there, and mostly our membership isn't on the list, so there's no mingling
of members and non-members. We have a forum discussion system we use to do
internal business, but we haven't been clear about to designating that into
public and members-only, so we have former members who have held on to their
access to that as a way of staying in touch and I don't blame them.

I see quite a few reasons for having a friends network of some kind:

* As a recruitment and support tool for our community: if people know about
us and know what's going on with us, they are more likely to become general
proponents of cohousing in the neighborhood and in the world, and, some of
them, are more likely to eventually take the plunge and join.

* As a way of promoting relationships with people in our community and
neighborhood: as Rob says, I think that's what cohousing is basically about.
This doesn't have to mean random people hanging out in our private or common
house (although we don't have either one yet). I expect that most
relationships with the larger community will be either very specific --
people's specific friendships with specific people in the community, as
Sharon and Katie describe -- or on the community promotion level, where
certain social events will be held for the purpose of interacting or
collaborating with the larger community.

* As a way to honor the relationship and sense of community we have with
former Members and Associates feel, while being clear about roles: some
people have talked about "cutting the bait" and such. I don't find this
language very helpful, in any of my relationships actually, and certainly
not in cohousing. For me it creates a sense of urgency, scarcity and loss. I
agree that it's important to clarify roles in cohousing. Is a person
actually able and ready to join and to participate at the required level? If
not, it's better for everyone if they find some other role until/unless they
are ready. But I find that this decision is easier to make in a general
context of connection, and community.

I serve on the Membership Team in our community. Recently, because of
various factors, we've had a lot of turnover. So, I've had to have quite a
few conversations with people with Associates (and one Member) who are
coming to the realization that, because of our new situation, they need to
step back, or withdraw in some way. But it's hard for them to take the
plunge, because they fear losing us, and they fear losing the dream of
cohousing. They hold on to their status, even though they're not actually
doing the work or showing up at meetings. This is not helpful and may create
problems down the road, if we have non-members overly influencing decisions,
as some of you have suggested. But, I have found that a very gentle and
pro-community and pro-connection approach works best in helping people
release that death grip on membership, and, frankly, I think it helps the
rest of us to cope with the changes.

I say to the person that I have found, first of all, that cohousing is a
revolving door: openings come up over and over and they may well be able to
step in later at some point either here or somewhere else. I also say that I
have found that you don't have to commit to live in cohousing to hang around
with us, or with cohousers in general or to have community in your life.
I've reminded them that they can keep tabs on the project, can come to our
potlucks, can keep in touch with us and that withdrawing doesn't mean LOSING
US, or LOSING COMMUNITY, or LOSING COHOUSING, but simply being clear that,
right now, they are not on track to live with us and help us build the place
where we are going to be living. I think that creating a more viable social
niche for people, where members can interact with one another and with
non-members can reassure people that this really is true and can also allow
the rest of us to do our work more effectively.


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