I was on the phone with a friend and we talked about how there are many people that are so comfortable with taking from others. We then speculated about how does a person get to be that way. And how deep does it run in our society?
We continued down speculation path with the scenario of a ten year old boy stealing a cookie, the dad wanting to come down hard and the mom saying "Oh for crying out loud, it's just a damn cookie." And then it's candy from the store. And then clothes. And then ....
The pontification is probably riddled with holes. But I wonder about a lesson in here that applies to community.
And I want Diana's feedback.
My theory is that little bits of disrespect lead to slightly bigger forms of disrespect which lead to bigger .... well, you get the idea .... So the solution is to resolve the tiniest forms of disrespect right away.
In community we could have a scenario where somebody (A) makes cookies, and somebody else (B) takes one without the permission of the baker. Perhaps word gets around that a cookie is missing. B hears about it.
I would like to think that in a healthy community, B will race over to A and say "It was me! I'm so sorry! I have to make up for it. I'll do anything to make this right!"
I know that I like the idea of being in a community where this happens. I feel a sort of wholesome purity in an environment like that.
But I suspect that would not happen in most communities.
Some scenarios I see happening:
1) B thinks "Oh for crying out loud, it's just a damn cookie" and forgets about it.
2) B confides in C: "should I do something?" and C advises: "Oh for crying out loud, it's just a damn cookie"
And it begins.
The theory is that a tiny form of disrespect acts as the seed for a plant that will bear larger and larger fruits of disrespect. And those fruits contain lots more seeds.
And there are many forms of tiny disrespect.
I guess the thing I am fishing for is: do you think there is weight to this theory? While it may not be absolutely true, is there some truth to it?
Well, Paul, you asked for my feedback, and I confess that I can't quite relate to this issue. It's probably because the internal structures that lead a well-organized, well-functioning community mitigate against stealing within the community. I actually haven't heard of stealing in a community except for one community naive enough to not have a clear and rigorous new-member process. A habitually dishonest person joined them, who then stole from the community itself. And then the community tightened up their new-member process. But I've actually only heard of this happening once.
Here's what I usually see instead: (1) The community has a new-member process that involves the person's meeting the community's requirements, (2) spending the amount of time needed in the provisional member process (usually 6 months or more) (3) being oriented and educated about the community during this time, (4) having to meet the community's criteria for full membership during this time, and (5) being approved, or not, by all full members of the community at the end of this period. (The last step isn't true in cohousing communities, however, as there cannot be a Yes or No approval process when people are buying a housing unit on the open market.)
Other factors which mitigate against stealing in community, besides a well-organized new-member process, include clear agreements in writing about various policies and procedures in the group; a fair, participatory governance process in which each full member has decision-making rights (this is often, but not always, consensus); people being well-informed about the decisions and projects of each committee, and the policy decisions of the whole-group business meetings; and regular sharing circle or check-in non-business meetings in which people describe what's going on for them in their lives lately and how they feel about it.
These practices tend to produce a group of neighbors, friends, and colleagues who know each other fairly well, and who share a desire to be well-thought of by other community members. People want to look good in the eyes of their friends and neighbors! Communities are such small, relatively intimate societies that the kind of anonymity that is common in mainstream (non-community) culture, and which can give rise to strangers stealing from strangers, just doesn't happen. No one would want to be labeled as a thief.
That said, I've just thought of two exceptions. One is when children or (disturbed) teenagers steal in the community. I've seen this, but it doesn't last long because the rest of the community gives the child, or teenager, immediate feedback that that is NOT OK.
The other instance is when it's a neighbor doing the stealing. This happened at Earthaven once when someone was stealing construction tools out of our cars (so we locked our cars). That hasn't happened in years, and we don't lock our cars anymore (or keep construction tools in them either). We had a pretty good idea which neighbor's teenager it was, and when that family moved away, the stealing stopped.
We also have a mentally ill neighbor who comes into our houses, takes something small, and leaves a can of beer or something similar in its place. Annoying but not too serious, and we all know it's that particular neighbor. If she does it too much we lock our doors for awhile until it stops, then quit locking them again.
And, Paul, re your ideal response, I actually have seen people at Earthaven realize that they borrowed something someone was needing back right away. The person puts the word out, "Hey, has anyone seen my 12-foot ladder? I need it back by Sunday." And someone will rush forward and say, "Oh, I'm sorry: I've got it; I borrowed it to fix the roof. I'll bring it right back."
My neighbor regularly borrows my mom's and my wheelbarrow and I regularly borrow his garden tools. He lets me use his freezer and we let him use the shower in our greenhouse. He fixes things on our homesite and the tenant in his rental unit can use our greenhouseshower too, for which he gets extra rent. When we have parties he brings over extra chairs, and a dish to share. He borrows my truck when his car's in the shop. I borrow his strawbales when I need straw and then replace them the next time I go to town. Sometimes my mom and I find a pot of stew sitting on our refrigerator when we come home; he made extra stew and gave us some. Life in community.
Re Paul's question in reworded form, I'm sorry but I can't quite relate to the question by imagining the scenario you describe in a community setting. Seems to me that people don't agree on what disrespectful behavior might mean. An action or behavior that one person might call "disrespectful" another might view as,"Oh, Jack is having a bad day," or, "Oh, he must be in a grumpy mood." So first, it's hard for me to imagine a community where no one ever behaves some way that others might not consider disrespectful, or that some might think "X" behavior is disrespectful and others might think it's no big deal.
Then there's the matter of degree. Let's say someone is mildly grumpy one day. Do I think, "Hey, you're being disrespectful towards me!!" and get upset? Or do I think, "Oh, yeah, that's Jack." Or do I not even notice it much because it's such small potatoes and I'm feeling too good to let Jack's mood affect me? Let's say someone else, or the same person, violates a community agreement, which I believe is a far higher order of magnitude than someone being mildly grumpy. Do I bring it up to a committee? Does a committee ask Jack to comply with the agreement? Does the whole business meeting have an agenda item at their next meeting about Jack's violation of the agreement?
What I've seen is that how people respond depends on many factors: the seriousness of violating that agreement in terms of consequences to the community, how many times Jack may have violated it before only the first time, if Jack has high, medium, or low social capital in the community, what else may be going on in the community at the same time that might be more potentially harmful to it, more in need of immediate action, involving more people's well-being than Jack's behavior, etc.
To me, life in community seems rich and complex, multi-faceted, and always changing. It's more like a three-dimensional (or maybe four-dimensional) kaleidoscope than something so simple and straightforward as the scenario you offer, Paul.
But a question I can imagine is, if Jack violates a community agreement, and then continues to violate it, yes, absolutely, I think the group should point that out to him and ask him to comply with the agreement. In my workshops I suggest ways people can help other community, via no-shame/no-blame ways, stay accountable to group agreements. I also describe (and this is in Creating a Life Together too) how the group can set up what I call a "graduated series of consequences" to put increasing amounts of "community eye" on a person who may be doing harm to another member, or to the community. With the last consequence, of course, being to be asked to leave the community.
Paul, if you use one of the broader senses of the word "community," you speak of the world at large. All of man kind is a community of sorts. If you look at the generations, each one is reputed as being more unruly and disrespectful than the previous. So by this, broad definition and observation, I'd say yes. There definitely is substance to your thesis. I can also say that raising puppies has similar aspects. If I get lax with one, the others get unruly as well. Also the first one is emboldened, and will try more daring disregards. If I'm consistent with with praise and discipline, my puppies remain obedient and playful. Now with people, I daresay the goal is definitely not obedience, but cooperation and tolerance. I can definitely see your scenario playing out into a chaos of sorts. Maybe not at first, but much later.
"Although the world is full of suffering, it is full also of the overcoming of it." - Helen Keller -- Jeremiah Bailey Central Indiana
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