by Abraham Paiss

The idea of community is a concept we see and hear about all the time. Spiritual community, social community, online community or even the people who live in your neighborhood are examples of modern-day communities.

But what does it really take to live successfully within a close community of people? Over the past 18 years I have had the opportunity to live in two very different Colorado cohousing communities. One was rural and quite large with 42 households, and the other is quite urban and small with only 11 households. Both neighborhoods use the cohousing principles of resident participation, design for community, shared common facilities, non-hierarchical decision making and resident management.

What I learned over these years is that while living in community is not a solution for all the world’s ills, it is far better than living isolated in either a large city or in the suburbs. After all humans are a social species and for 95% of human history we have lived in extended families, tribes and villages. Deep down inside living in community is the norm.

From my personal experience living successfully in community takes at least four attributes:

1. Honesty – Because of the higher level of interaction members of a community cross paths and effect one another more often and on more levels that living by yourself or only with your nuclear family. Telling the truth becomes even more critical in this situation. Honesty can sometime be brutal so the intention is to be honest without intentionally causing harm, ridicule or shame.

2. Patience – Clear communication takes time. Individual listening and processing styles can vary greatly. While one person may be able to hear a suggestion and act immediately more often we require time and distance to integrate new information before being ready to act. Depending on the form of decision making in a community it may take quite a bit longer for a decision to be reached than in a more typical top-down decision making arrangements.

3. Tolerance – Even in a community of middle income white suburbanites, the amount of diversity can be astounding. Differences in political, spiritual and religious beliefs, communication and parenting styles, life experience, economic status, age, sexual orientation and birth order all contribute to who we are. Because of the increased closeness and interdependence of community members, successful community living requires a level of tolerance beyond what is typically needed in our artificially independent society.

4. Generosity – When I was in the stage of attracting new members to my current cohousing community where I have now lived for 16 years, it was clear that a person was not going to do well if their first question was “What can this community offer me?” Rather potential community members need to consider what they are bring to the “party.” Through random acts of kindness and generosity community life can become rich and supportive without any one member feeling burnt out.

With just these four attributes living in community can be a rewarding and supportive experience. And as we weave our way through the Great Transition, this will become more and more important.

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