I belong to a cooperative vacation community where we share expenses, a pool, tennis and basketball courts, plentiful frogs, children’s play spaces, a social hall, beautiful woody grounds, and a handful of chores. Paid employees do most of the work.
There are probably around 60 people who are members or relatives of members of the co-op who spend time there. Everyone is on the social committee. I’m also on the grounds committee, where a handful of us work together to weed, paint, and garden. The heads of the committees coordinate and plan the work. Nothing is elaborately groomed; the idea is to stay close to nature. I love having this opportunity to plant and work outside—I live in the city, and my indoor plants are something to behold; I know very little about outdoor gardening. I feel lucky that the more experienced gardeners (everybody) let me play with them. Sometimes, when I come back after a few weeks away and see the plantings have changed, I think, “Who’s been sleeping in my bed?” It’s a lesson in impermanence and flow.
I’ve lived in cooperative communities before, most notably a kibbutz many years ago. It was a very difficult experience, because I didn’t know how to get along with others, much less myself. I was frightened, angry, and periodically felled by feelings of intense longing. I knew something was missing, but I didn’t know what it was. I could step up in an emergency, but I didn’t know how daily life worked. I wondered how people managed to live together.
People at this vacation community seem to know how to do it, mostly. Sure, there are differences, acknowledged, respected, avoided sometimes, and then passed over. Turn the page; it’s best not to hold a grudge. I am often amazed at the respect and discretion this diverse group of people maintain. Of course, members of any small community had better learn how to button their lips sometimes and keep their tempers, but it’s a good skill to develop wherever you live or work. In a family, for instance, people can have many different ideas about the best ways to live one’s life, which is fine—live and let live. Not everyone subscribes to this message, though, so if you think “live and let live” and your cousin wants everyone to live a certain way or else, do your best to be friendly and polite, and limit the time you spend with them and your expectations, too. Say what you think, communicate your needs, and speak in a way that others can hear you. Be kind. Cooperate.
How does one play well with others? Let’s count the ways.
- Mutual respect.
- Limit the gossip.
- Acknowledge that there are many different ways to do things, and they are mostly the right ways.
- Some people think their way is the only way. It isn’t. If you know someone like that, be polite, keep your distance, and limit your expectations of the relationship.
- Don’t hold a grudge.
- Work together on community projects.
- Have fun together.
- If someone needs help, give it if you can.
- If you need help, ask for it.
- Two ears, one mouth—listen more and speak less.
- Don’t complain. Especially don’t whine.
- If you don’t like the way something is done, consult with your peers and fix it if all agree.
- Don’t wait for somebody else to throw out the garbage; do it yourself.
- Obey community rules. If you disagree with some of them, take it up at the next group meeting.
- Attend group meetings. This is the place to find out what’s going on and to communicate your needs and opinions.
- Practice restraint and compassion.
- Be considerate.
- Be generous.
- Don’t make everything a reason to do battle. Try to keep the peace.
- Agree to disagree.
- Don’t take it personally.
- Try not to be petty.
- Try walking in the other person’s sneakers.
- Don’t be critical.
- Remember that a sense of humor can make everybody happy.
- Be kind and honest. Kindness comes first.
- Be silly.
- Say please and thank you.
Maybe this all seems too elementary, but if we can get along in small communities, we can get along in our families, with our friends, at work, with our mates—the rules are pretty much the same everywhere.
I’m pleased that you read this far. Thank you.
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