Yesterday I visited my ex-Calgary friend, Christina, at Creekside Commons Cohousing in Courtenay, BC (100 km or 60 miles north of Nanaimo).
We were saying how much we loved being involved in cohousing and comparing notes on what it was about it that enchanted us.
We both agreed that our fellow cohos were nutty as fruit cakes (and we allowed as we might be just a little off the wall ourselves).
Christina said she thought cohousing was much more like an extended family than a community. She said that, in all the other groups to which she belonged (her professional association, hobby circles, etc.), there was a self-selection process that ensured that people were pretty similar. But in cohousing peoople were much more varied, and we had to figure out how to live with them, warts and all.
Now that I think back on what she said, she was onto something, but I think there's more to it than that. I don't think it's that people in cohousing are more varied than they are in Christina's professional association or hobby groups. In fact, buying into a cohousing community is a self-selecting process too. Cohousing doesn't appeal to everyone. The very act of joining a cohousing community parachutes you into a group with which you share some broad values.
I think what it is about cohousing is that more aspects of your lives intersect.
If you're involved during the planning stages, you have to make some tough decisions. Financial constraints often force you to choose amongst priorities. You have to decide which socially supportive and environmentally-friendly design elements are non-negotiable and which you are willing to drop.
Once we at Pacific Gardens Cohousing Community are living in our strata complex, we'll be cooking and eating communal meals in our common house a couple of times a week. Some of us will be doing organic gardening together. Others of us will run a car sharing club. And on and on.
What I think Christina was trying to say, and almost put her finger on it, is that the cohousing lifestyle is as encompassing as extended family life is.
Extended families who are united by blood and marriage enjoy varying degrees of success when it comes to love and tolerance towards each other. In Christina's and my experience, cohos are extraordinarly committed to the ideal of community and towards the individual members of their communities.
They may have deep disagreements at times, but they'll go to the ends of the earth to understand where someone else is coming from and to find a creative solution that caters to individual idiosyncracies.
I probably could draw up a list of 300 reasons why I joined a cohousing community and why I love it. But, if I was forced to give you only one reason for joining, I would say it was to engage in peace making. In the past I had participated in political activities that promoted peace and opposed war. But I started to feel like a fake, because I wasn't that good at getting on with the people immediately around me. I was haunted by Gandhi's words, "Be the change you want to see."
Waking up in the morning, knowing that, before I've even lifted my head off my pillow, my life already is more congruent with my values, makes a world of difference.