Why we can’t get it right once and for all
From: Sharon Villines (sharonsharonvillines.com)
Date: Sun, 28 Mar 2021 14:40:19 -0700 (PDT)
A nerdy post for a Sunday but I’ve discovered why I resist the idea that you 
can define the rules of your community before you commit to move-in, or as one 
community did, write ALL the rules before too many people get involved. (“Too 
many” was more than three.)

Each of us constructs our own reality that changes moment-to-moment with new 
information. People coming together in a new organization, assembling 
themselves in a new order, and taking a new direction, will be most successful 
if they can synchronize their realities—not conform them but make room for 
them. That can’t be done by setting down rules. Everyone has a different idea 
about what they are getting into and those ideas change throughout the  process.

"How Emotions Are Made” by psycho-neurologist Lisa Barrett presents the 
findings of current research on how the brain works — how the brain forms mind. 
It is a groundbreaking explanation of why the classical models of certainty and 
boundaries don’t work. Why you can’t get it right once and for all, or why the 
perfect answer hasn’t been worked out in 30 years of cohousing. It doesn’t work 
because the classical models of organization aren’t true. 

Our concepts and expectations (she calls them predictions) about the world are 
defined by each of our brains and are re-formed each time we bring them to 
consciousness (and probably even while we don’t). Re-forming means correcting 
and extending them. Each opinion, response, action, etc means re-assembling 
stored data—not just consulting our stored already polished responses. The 
brain starts this assembling and ordering before we are even aware of needing a 

My analogy, but I think it is accurate: Making a decision is like searching a 
database in which we have stored many terabytes of information in tiny bits and 
pieces. These bits are corrected and added from second to second because we 
perceive new information, form a new piece of emotional reality, and have new 
experiences. With each decision these bits are re-assembled in a new unique way 
to meet the current unique need or goal.

Cohousing brings a ton of new experiences that have to be perceived and sorted 
out. Your brain is likely to come up with different responses are bound to 
change in every contact with the group, and certainly change over the years of 
building the community. Concepts of reality and solutions to problems will be 
re-perceived or re-ordered by each person many, many times. 

The synchronization of realities is important and takes time. You have to give 
your brain and everyone else's brain time to do that. A few decisions can be 
made on the basis of current information but writing them in stone is unlikely 
to be workable. Exploring and understanding realities is likely to be more 
fruitful. To the extent that considering rules does that, it can be a good 
practice. But it needs to be done in a way that enhances bonding, not sets up 

The book is not an easy read but not impossibly technical. The ideas are 
discussed in a more precise vocabulary. (It aligns very nicely with Buddhist 
teachings about the self if you are familiar with those.) 

It’s the only book I’ve ever read in which I have 3 bookmarks in addition to 
strategically placed stickies and highlighting. Barrett gives so many examples 
that I get bored and want to move on so I have skipped whole chapters. Then 
find I need to go back and read them. It makes more sense when I understand why 
I need that much detail.

"How Emotions Are Made: The Secret Life of the Brain" by Lisa Feldman Barrett 
Ph.D, Neuroscientist in the Psych department at Northeastern.


Sharon Villines
affordablecohousing [at] groups.io

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