Re: Is consensus holding back the cohousing movement?
From: Sharon Villines (
Date: Tue, 26 Jan 2021 11:57:20 -0800 (PST)
I hesitated to weigh in on this on top of Anna (who lives 2 doors away and 
notices everyday if I’m watching TV or not). But waiting has also clarified 
some issues that I think we need to cross-stitch on a pillow with some roses 
and thorns:

1. Decision-making is hard regardless of the decision-making method. 

What is easier in both the short and long term than consensus? Is community 
enriched with autocratic decision-making? Or majority vote. Or management 
company decisions? Or political tradeoffs.

2. Making decisions that affect everyone individually is hard. 

A team is not making decisions about planting trees for themselves. They are 
making decisions for many people as individuals. And no one hired you to do it 
–– you have no professional training in placing and planting trees.

3. Communications are hard.

In the process of investigation and study, information is lost. Preferences 
gathered in October are forgotten by January. Options have changed by the time 
the order is placed. People have different mental images of expected results. A 
feature that is very important to some is not even noticed by others. Without 
communication, these expectations cause conflict.

4. Having patience is hard.

A decision that you see as clearcut, a no brainer, is new to others and they 
need to sit with it. It may seem more efficient to set time limits on 
discussion, but that may discourage some people from getting involved at all. 
And some of those people will nurse grievances that build up and affect their 
comfort in the community.

5. Decisions that affect us physically and emotionally are hard.

Cohousing is where we live. Our soul is invested. Can we live with appliances 
made in Germany? Which religious practices are comfortable for us in the CH? Do 
we value casual or formal? Do we need better air in the CH? Sometimes these are 
decisions made for health or ethical reasons, but they are also decisions about 
things that affect us physically and emotionally at a barely conscious level. 

6. Decisions that place limits on our future are hard. 

If we plant trees outside the kitchen window will we be sorry next winter when 
there is no light or next summer when the birds are roosting and pooping on the 
glider? If we give up the hot tub, will we really build that darkroom? If we 
give up parking spaces, will it be a problem in the future?

7. Decisions that require sacrifices to our ethical beliefs are hard.

Engaging and trying to change ourselves and the world is hard. It’s swimming 
upstream everyday. How far can we go on shopping locally? Or organic? Can we 
avoid shopping at a store that treats employees unfairly? Is that even the best 
way to change the store? Is the effect of using wool the same for animal 
welfare as using leather? 

8. Decisions that require spending large amounts of money are hard.

Cohousing is designed to facilitate and encourage community living but is also 
a significant real estate investment. We become managers of multi-million 
dollar buildings that require spending tens of thousands of dollars to 
maintain. Actively consenting to spend $500,000 on solar panels even with all 
their promise is still hard.

9. Decisions that must harmonize multiple socio-economic, ethnic, and cultural 
differences are hard.

We want diversity but then we want consensus. In addition to behavioral 
expectations, cultural expectations often require spending money and time on 
things that have little value to us personally. Avoiding discrimination against 
or in favor of one group or the other according to age, gender, socio-economic 
class, education levels, etc., requires a depth of consideration that few of us 
have done on a daily, moment to moment basis.


Some people are not in a place in their lives that allows them to accept all 
these Hards. They are too stressed physically or mentally to cope with them or 
too happy without them. They have nuclear families or long-term friendships are 
as satisfying as they need. Or ill parents who require as much energy for 
others as they have — right now.

None of these Hards are likely to be easier by adding more process, or 
training, or setting time or discussion limits. Some can be more easily made 
using another decision-making method or additional training but it is still a 
matter of degree.

Some decisions are made more appropriately by different methods. Majority vote 
for choosing dates when most people can be in town. Ranked choice voting for 
choosing the strongest preference between 6 alternatives. Solidarity for 
actions that might put the community legal or economic at risk. 

Group decisions become easier as community members gain understanding and build 
trust, but there are always new community members with new opinions, needs, 
customs, expectations, etc. It is not unusual for someone to join a community 
with ideas of fixing it.

Basically, decision-making becomes easier when we accept that it is hard. And 
hard for good reason, not because we are inexperienced, afraid of conflict, 
have psychological problems, are too dominant or too passive, or are social 
failures. Decisions are easier when we don’t make judgments about why or how 
people disagree with us.

Sharon Villines, Washington DC
"Reality is something you rise above." Liza Minnelli

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