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Always Lock the Door When You Leave

June 12, 2011, at 07:06 PM

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Any group of responsible citizens lives by a set of rules. They can be implicit or explicit -- in other words they can be unspoken but understood versus written down and carefully phrased. A great example of an implied rule in many households is “Always lock the door when you leave.” That may or may not be true in your community, but when everyone leaves my house, and at night, I make sure the door is locked. It’s not in the law books to my knowledge; it’s considered common sense or common courtesy.

Since your situation has probably been full of chaos and anarchy for some time, you may need to come up with explicit rules that might otherwise be common sense or common courtesy. What are the specific rules that your residents need? You might start with “always wipe your feet before you enter” (i.e. "leave the past outside") as a basic house rule. I use that as an example in United Front, to get the program started. You might create a house rule about who can call meetings, under which circumstances or how often you’ll have them. You might explicitly agree on a voting method or a system of democracy that works for you.

At first I had what I would call a “weighted democracy.” Every resident had a 1-vote minimum, but we all agreed that some of our residents were much more sensible than others and they got additional votes in our system, because their opinions were regarded as more important. Once we got to about 24 residents, that weighted system was very important. If even just a few of our most sensible residents agreed on something, it would outweigh almost everyone else. That's a governance system that won't work for every situation, but during the chaos of so many new residents coming forward we used the weighted democracy to limit the chaos it might cause in our external life.

Eventually our trust became extremely high, and we had many very reasonable residents, and we changed to a one-for-one vote system. Now we only vote when absolutely necessary — big life-changing decisions — and daily life is full of decision-making by the resident who is Front at any given moment, or the resident to whom the decision really matters. This is made possible by implicit rules: our shared goals and dreams. Since we have nearly 100% buy-in on our shared goals and dreams, everyone is working from the same map. We each take different routes to get to our goals, but since it's the same goals we just have to tolerate the different paths to shared goals rather than behaviors that are directly counter to individual goals.

Until you have built up trust and shared goals and dreams, it’s necessary to have a system where decisions can be made and your life can become more orderly. At your next meeting, discuss house rules. Here are some suggestions:

  • You may discuss your concerns at meetings.
  • You will not attack (verbally or otherwise) others during meetings.
  • You will have a vote on any group decisions.

By the way, give guests the right to vote, even if their vote is not equal. We're working on building trust and mutual respect, and you want guests to show up to meetings and feel like their voice matters. Full voting rights (i.e. equal votes or shares in the vote) can be reserved for residents who signed the lease. You might have a weighted system, where active welcoming committee members get more votes, or where sensible residents with a long track-record of being responsible internal & external citizens get additional votes. Be careful of weighing your voting system such that any one voter can outweigh the majority; that can lead to a huge imbalance if that one voter has any denial or a big blind spot in what is ordinarily a very capable person.

In my system we have some specific house rules such as “You won’t compromise others’ relationships.” This includes that we may not fight with each other’s friends or family, break up with someone else’s partner, etc. This keeps us from damaging each other’s relationships outside of our body. This has been a house rule of ours for so long that it's habitual -- when we get angry at someone, we automatically check who is angry before we have any life-altering outburst (i.e. we won't say "I hate you", "I want to break up with you", "Get out", etc. without making sure that the resident(s) directly involved with the person agree that this is the right thing to say. We might, however, say "I'm angry at you." That's OK.)

A meeting is not a good time to criticize or blame, or to feel guilty. It's a good time to put protections and expectations in place, and to voice concerns that could create future agenda items. Like most people, your guests and residents want to earn respect and trust, so they need to have every opportunity to do so.

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