What is Cooperative Living? True Interdependence and Loyalty

What is Cooperative Living? True Interdependence and Loyalty

It is easy to pay lip service to the idea that people are more important than possessions and power. When it comes to application in our lives, however, we need more of a reason to compromise selfishness and material comfort than an altruistic vision. We need to rely upon each other for our food needs, for our birth-to-death security, and for companionship.

There are many intentional communities which function as “bedroom communities” in which members share a shallow level of interdependence but work at their own jobs off-site. They might share a few meals or garden responsibilities, but for the most part no one’s basic sense of security is too deeply affected if they don’t get along or if someone decides to leave. This allows for a lot of transience and flexibility among community members, but it also creates a more shallow level of connection and provides little incentive for people to work things out when disagreements arise.

If we depend on the people in our community for food and security, and we value the strength and growth which comes through compromise (emotional sandpaper), then we are much more willing to forgive small inconveniences and work out solutions for larger problems. Harmony is a necessity in cooperative living, and communication is essential to harmony. This is why the model of cooperative kin groups based on small business could be a way for people living in the context of our current culture to restructure their lives. If each person plays a cardinal role in food production, then their immediate value is easily seen.

Imagine you have a small business with 10 people making horse fences. Your advertising/marketing community member is renowned for not washing their dishes, but they bring in a lot of opportunity for work. Instead of screaming or kicking them out (and losing revenue), you sit down and work out a compromise: if they don’t like dishes then they agree to cut more firewood or sweep, or trade someone else in the community to take care of their chores. These kinds of conversations are much more likely to be civil if each person needs the others equally. (Of course, this again comes back to values. If childcare is just as valuable as money-making labor, then a grandmother who stays at home caring for the kids is equally necessary to the group as the young adult in charge of advertising.)

Sharing this deeper level of interdependence does not mean every member is committed for life to stay in the community. There is still room for people to come and go, it just might require a little more attention and planning or it might cause the rest of the community to have to step up to take on the bread labor weight of whoever is leaving. Also, careful selection of community members goes a long way in creating a situation in which people enjoy their life together so much that they do not feel a need to leave. If the members truly value the personal growth which comes from living in interdependence, then they are much less likely to want to leave due to unresolved conflicts. Also, the joint business venture makes it less likely that anyone would want to leave the community for financial or employment reasons.

Loyalty plays a big part here as well. Just because a community member is struggling with a physical or emotional issue doesn’t mean they should be ostracized. We are all badly damaged by the current culture and also experience difficult times in the evolution of the psyche as we move through stages of life and identity (i.e. maiden to mother to crone). Because we all seek birth-to-death security, if we are quick to abandon tribal members who flounder for a while, then the group trust in the tribe will be shaken. (“If they got kicked out so easily, I might be too!”) The same rules that apply to our internal self-talk also apply to our external interactions: let go of judgment of others, let go of judgment of ourselves. Be patient with yourself; be patient with others. The outer reflects the inner and vice-versa.

The question remains: when is it time to let go of a community member, and when is it time to invest more energy in them? The question is similar to the levels of friendship. If an individual has only been involved for a few months and is on a trial basis, it might be better for all concerned if they seek a better fit elsewhere. Yet if this person has invested years of dedicated work, then a lot more support and patience may be appropriate.

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