Re: Movinmg forward with the best info you have in decisionmaking.
From: Raines Cohen (
Date: Sun, 20 Mar 2005 08:32:21 -0800 (PST)
On 3/19/05 10:17 PM, normangauss [at] <normangauss [at]> 

>Until we are able to assess the likely long-term consequences of our
>actions, we cannot be confident that anything we do today we will eventually

Precisely. And success in community living comes from recognizing this 
fact, acknowledging it, and MOVING AHEAD ANYWAYS with what you know 
rather than getting paralysed in indecision and over-analysis. If you can 
build TRUST that the group will SURVIVE and doing something won't MAKE 
FLEXIBILITY and because you live in a community you can COPE with the 
and IT DOESN'T ALL FALL ON YOU because you live in a CARING COMMUNITY 
that is RICH in terms of resources and reserves and compassion!

(pardon the capitalization, I just felt it important to get the key point 
across - having seen more than one community, on more than one issue, 
stall in similar ways).

Seriously, especially here in California (and even more in your lovely 
mid-coast region, as featured in the recent movie "Sideways"), plants 
grow fast - they are a renewable resource, flexible and changeable over 
time. If the group can provide general guidance on values/principles and 
then have a subgroup like a landscape committee where people can go and 
advise and participate and get more input by doing the work, that's 
great. If weeds are a problem, call a work party to tackle it... many 
hands make light work. Hire some professional help to assist... we 
routinely do that here, and the committee has a budget so they don't have 
to come back to the full group for every landscaping session.

At Swan's in Oakland, there was some serious debate over the landscape 
plan in the first few years, which the community (not just the developer) 
had spent lots of $ for and lots of time pre-move-in working with 
professional landscape architects to develop. It turns out that one 
member was impacted by a particular choice of plant in a particular 
location in a significant way, and many felt it was important to 
accomodate that concern and make a small, easy change to eliminate that 
impact. Another member on the landscape committee, one who wasn't part of 
the initial process felt like the plan was a consensed decision and 
therefore mandatory in its entirety to implement fully, verbatim. This 
difference led to much discord on the committee, and made it harder for 
it to work together to get its work done (in retrospect, we should have 
brought in professional outside conflict resolution services to not let 
it fester so long). The recalcitrant member eventually left the 
community, after recognizing a values alignment/priorities/flexiblity 
that did not match the community's.

I really find that a sense of perspective is helpful for living in 
community. Learn more about your neighbors and their priorities. Go out 
of you way to respect theirs and help them with their goals, and in the 
process they'll get educated about your priorities and will respect them. 
If you have information that is relevant to a decision, make sure it is 
available. But consider the consequences to the social fabric of the 
community before continuing to draw lines in the sand. If everybody did 
that on every issue, would you have a community? Who would want to come 
to meetings? If you feel like your boundaries are being crossed, it's OK 
to say so. But also be ready to listen to your neighbors as to why they 
think what's happening is OK, and to accept that their point of view as 
part of what the community should be respecting.

It's very easy to imagine the worst-possible consequences of any 
decision. But doing so without also assessing the best-possible outcome, 
and looking at the probabilities of either outcome (not to mention 
everything inbetween), weighted by the knowledge that the group can not 
only adapt to circumstances/new information but change decisions at any 
time, can prevent making any decision at alll, something which has its 
own (usually negative) consequences. It's not like the effects of a 
decision are hidden forever -- people have to look at the trees every 
day, and perhaps when one effect becomes apparent, somebody else will 
engage and help find another creative solution. If it's important for you 
to hear them say "Norm, you were right", then imagine them saying that, 
and move on.

This is precisely why consensus process has a "stand aside" option, one 
you should feel comfortable using. It gives you the opportunity to say, 
"I think what you're doing is wrong and I'm not willing to participate in 
the implementation of it, but I'm not going to stand in the way of the 
group moving forward with what nearly everyone else thinks is right, 
because I understand the importance of moving forward."

Stand asides should be recorded in minutes, they give you a chance to get 
your issues out there, but for the group to move forward with awareness 
of them. Blocks should be extremely rare -- something to use a few times 
per lifetime, they work by getting the group to do the work to make sure 
everybody is heard and to come up with innovative solutions, to make 
their use unnecessary. If a decision has MULTIPLE stand asides on an 
issue, that's a red flag for a facilitator, too, that more process is 

In my experience, the more this portion of the process is rushed, the 
harder it is to figure out who has what issue and how to get them 
addressed/incorporated. Are the committees doing their homework and 
getting information out to everybody in time for discussion before 
decision? Is the facilitator/facilitation team allocating enough time? 
Are people feeling heard? Compromises in these areas tend to lead to the 
greatest stress and actually make it take more time to come to consensus. 
If the trust is there that the facilitator will go through the full 
process where necessary, then you can find shortcuts and understand that 
a "check in" on an issue is just that, not a forced decision.

The first year of community living is the hardest... it does get easier. 
You can help accelerate this process by investing energy into finding the 
connections with neighbors and building on them rather than magnifying 
the differences.


Raines Cohen <my initials,2,dash,coho,dash,L at my first name .com>

  Secretary, Berkeley [CA] Cohousing
Where a surprise common dinner visit by Chuck (yes, that Chuck) led to 
new plans for CH soundproofing!

  Member, Swan's Market Coho [Oakland, CA] <>
Celebrating our nonprofit developer EBALDC's 30th anniversary. And where 
the grid-tied solar electric is installed, at zero cost to the community, 
thanks to outside investors getting tax credits!

  Treasurer, East Bay Cohousing <>
Drawing up a job description to hire a member for volunteer coordination.

  Boardmember, Coho/US <>
Which just ran a sold-out Bay Area tour yesterday; register today for the 
Denver-Boulder tour in April.

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