Re: Use of email
From: Ann Zabaldo (
Date: Tue, 11 Feb 2014 11:13:00 -0800 (PST)
Sharon and all — see below

On Feb 11, 2014, at 11:06 AM, Sharon Villines <sharon [at]> 

> On Feb 10, 2014, at 6:50 PM, Philip Dowds <rphilipdowds [at]> wrote:
>> So here’s my question:  Why is the Internet regarded as such a high-risk, 
>> error-prone, annoying and alienating vehicle for cohousing communities? 

> I'm with Philip on this. The contradictions in arguments from people who 
> advocate face-to-face over email are so numerous that I find the whole 
> argument specious. The most insulting and hurtful and vicious interactions 
> with people I've had or witnessed were face-to-face and in meetings. Many of 
> the most intimate, enriching, and/or intelligent considered interactions have 
> been on email -- and daily. Many of my most important relationships are 
> maintained by email. Email opens an international platform for friendship and 
> exploration of ideas.

I don’t think anyone would deny that vicious attacks take place in real time as 
well as digital space.  That doesn’t make either one better than the other.  It 
means both are misused.

> Our community was organized on email. Without it, it is hard to see how we 
> could have ever gotten ourselves organized.

Before email … cohousing certainly did get organized and built.  We put a man 
on the moon w/out email.  NOTE:   Please don’t send me lots of emails detailing 
the technical communications channels NASA had available in the 60’s.  They 
didn’t have email.   Ghandi didn’t have email either…
> I do not find that people who advocate face-to-face as the cure for conflicts 
> are more willing to engage with conflict in person. I think they just find it 
> easier to avoid conflict in person. They control the meeting by conveying 
> their anxiety.

Well.  The same could be said for people who like to communicate on email:  
they like to control the conversation by being able to say whatever they want 
on email and not facing anyone.  No one on our community list can control the 
number, length, intensity, etc. of emails by the writer. 

We can continue to go down a list of pros and cons or try to find third way of 
seeing what works for everyone.
> The advantage of email goes to the writer and to the introvert who thinks 
> better when alone.
> The advantage of meetings goes to extroverts and people who like to shmoose. 

Yup to both.
> Email is inclusive and a written message can be more specific and complete. 

Again … depends on interpretation.    I’d say it’s inclusive of people who like 
email.  As you know in our own TVC community many people don’t read email 
because of past issues w/ the medium.  Some will not read any email generated 
by certain other people.  And I’m not on our member’s list at all.  So you 
could argue that some types of email communication on our list has actually 
divided the community.
> Face to face is exclusive. Only those who happen to bump into each other 
> daily, immediate neighbors, find it as easy as email. Only those who can 
> attend another meeting can participate in meetings. Minutes rarely convey all 
> the points discussed so the meeting people form their own culture.

Ditto email.

But again, I don’t think this is getting us anywhere useful.  
> Cohousing is supposed to be inclusive, a cooperative effort.

Yes.  Absolutely.  And as the “pioneers” of cohousing … the 150+/- coho 
communities in North America and all the ones in the rest of the world … we’re 
trying to figure out how this all works.  We have a lot more years to go, a lot 
more experiences to share before we can begin interpreting what works well and 
what works less well.  And, I imagine that while principles will arise … there 
will not be a “one size fits all.”  Each community is unique.  That’s what 
makes cohousing sustainable.
> We have two teams that do not use the team email lists set up to allow 
> interested members who are not on that team to join the conversation. One 
> team has never their list and is perceived as closed and one that recently 
> changed has closed down information in a vital aspect of the community. It is 
> incredibly frustrating. There is no participation in dialogue before a 
> proposal comes forward. Knowledge is not built in the general community as 
> information is gathered and the proposal developed so presentations of 
> proposals are longer and more tedious, leaving little time for discussion. We 
> too often now don’t know a problem has surfaced.

As I understand it … the reasons these teams either do not post to email or are 
“closed” is because of the number and sometimes harsh emails they receive from 
non team members along w/ interference by non team members.  As you say … the 
minutes don’t convey everything,   So a non team member reads something, 
misinterprets it, doesn’t ask a question and instead “pounces.”  As a member of 
a small team (not one of the two referenced) I can tell you this gets OLD.
>  But our biggest email complainers are people who rarely come to any meetings.

I’m not sure that not attending meetings and complaining about the quantity of 
email are connected …
> One argument against email is that people say things in email that they would 
> never say face-to-face. I think this is an advantage, not a negative. It's 
> important to hear what people think and feel. I want to hear it regardless of 
> how badly it might be communicated.

Well, Sharon.  That works for you.  For the majority of our community including 
me … that doesn’t work.  So my thing is … the people who want to express 
themselves on email … go for it.  I just don’t want to be opening email 
dripping w/ upset and criticism.  Therefore, I forgo the email list altogether.

> But I also think it is important for a list to have a moderator, just like a 
> meeting facilitator, to step in sometimes to summarize the arguments given so 
> far and to correct false information and assumptions. Not to stop or censor 
> messages.

That would be extremely helpful but it would take a person of enormous patience 
and a very neutral attitude to successfully pull this off in our community.
> Rob Sandelin, one of our great list members who has gone on to other things, 
> once said the key to cohousing is don’t bother anyone and don't be bothered 
> yourself.

Wise words by a wise person!

> To say "we can't discuss this on email" is like saying you shut up because I 
> don't want to hear it. Do any of us have that right?

If communications are abusive, we have each the right — and I would say the 
obligation —  to end them whether in print or in person.  The ability to 
control one’s temper and behavior are the signs of being an adult.  When a 
person is unable to engage in self control then others may take action. 

>  Sharon  ——

> Sharon Villines, Washington DC

> "Let us make a special effort to stop communicating with each other, so we 
> can have some conversation." Judith Martin

So just a few thoughts on communication whether email or in person:

1.  Pause before responding — take a deep breath.

2.  Ask a question rather than assuming your interpretation is correct.  How 
many arguments could be avoided just by getting data.

3.  Think about what actually happened or was said.
Human beings are meaning making machines.  Judgments are interpretations of 
what is experienced.  E.g. a person slams a door as she leaves the room.  One 
judgment:  he/she is angry!  One interpretation:  he/she has a major case of 
diarrhea — they are in a hurry to get to the bathroom.  What actually happened 
was — and the only thing that happened was — the door closed w/ a loud bang as 
person left the room.  Until you ASK the person … you don’t know the reason.

3.  Avoid judgments — so hard to do but practice makes it easier.  E.g.  “you 
ALWAYS” or “You NEVER” or he/she/it is lazy; their kids, dogs, friends are 
unruly; — all are judgments and surely don’t facilitate communication or 

4.  Always assume good intent.

5.  Breathe.

Just FYI — Miss Manners is not a great fan of email for having conversations.  
She would use email for communicating information:  e.g. meeting at 8p.

Best --

Ann Zabaldo
Takoma Village Cohousing
Washington, DC
Principal, Cohousing Collaborative, LLC
Falls Church VA

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