Thursday, 30 October 2014

Community Done Right - the Twin Pines Co-Op

I want to single out the Twin Pines Co-op as a place that does community right, and I'd like to tell you why that is.

We're still going to talk a little bit about Lawrence, Kansas.  Particularly this is going to be about the Twin Pines co-op - referenced earlier in "the kindness of strangers, the power of community."

To recap, briefly, I visited a co-op where I stayed for a month 15 years ago (Olive House) and they referred me to somewhere that might have a place to stay (Sunflower House).  Sunflower didn't have a place, but after sitting down for 5 minutes various people gave me a beer, offered to let me sleep on the porch, offered me money if I needed it, and connected me with another place that might have an indoor space (Twin Pines).

Twin Pines let me stay.  There wasn't an official exchange, a trade of services or money, except for a simple "we'll figure it out later."  They meant it.  Everyone I talked to had a warm welcome and was curious and conversational.  I got used to people being interested in where I was from, and why I had picked Lawrence as a stop on my trip.

Eventually I attended the House Meeting, where I assumed I would sort out the cost of my relatively brief stay.  There were lots of other things for discussion, like renting out the front yard for parking spaces during the upcoming football game(s), but the subject of rent eventually came up.

Draw a mental circle around this next paragraph.  It's the important part.

Some people in the co-op had struggled with rent for one reason or another.  They talked about it in calm, compassionate tones, and everyone was clear that kicking anyone out or even creating "disciplinary" things just wasn't an option they wanted to explore.  Since it was a co-op everyone needed to pay a certain amount to continue to pay rent for the whole building, and that was also calmly talked about, but everyone was clear that they wanted to make room for everyone else to go through something difficult and not just get tossed out on their ear.

Money is so often the sort of conversation that invites people to act awful, compared to their baseline.  In some situations even looking at images of money or having it mentioned casually causes them to act less "humane."  The Twin Pines co-op, even when the rubber was hitting the road financially, was still acting with compassion, acknowledging that people had been through difficulty (and even saying they were glad they could help them through it), and talking about it as calmly and compassionately as if they were talking about the dinner plan.  As for the cost of staying there, that conversation was just as nuanced and easygoing and straightforward.  I did a bit of work, I paid a bit of cash, and it seemed like it worked for everyone.

Looking after each other happens when it's difficult or complex.  If it only happens when it's easy, it isn't really looking after each other.  So far as I'm concerned the Twin Pines is a snapshot of what it looks like when a community functions with its head and heart in balance.

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