My cohousing is both bricks and mortar and a friendship network. My cohousing is a community of people and the people are the cohousing. We, cohousers have very strong views about our cohousing: a beautiful creative place full of diverse lovely people; until we are confronted with prospective members. There is an edge to this new member business. For me a new member may be a worthy citizen, with all the right set of values, good ethical attitude and sound ecological principles. They may be the best cooks in the community and brilliant at dealing with blocked drains. But without a sense of humour, the right sense of humour, my sense of humour, can they be part of our community if they don’t laugh at my friends’ jokes?
Our cohousing’s constitution is unambiguous, we are diverse and we welcome diversity. We are not being politically correct, we are being ourselves. It is so obvious that we do not even think about it. None of us would like to be in a community rejecting others. It is not about toleration, it is about being matter-of-factly inclusive. Fine. Once said, declared, written, voted, and inscribed in our constitution we can concentrate on other more-pressing problem such as car pools or where to put the dustbins. Or is it that simple, is it so obvious that no discussion is necessary?
But, you might say, diversity is not easy; you have to work at it.
What do we do if somebody is vegan, another eats only halal meat and a third is allergic to nuts? Three good reasons to have special meals: ethical, religious and medical and all of them incompatible. Can the community afford to prepare 4 different meals? Should we decide to become all halal meat eaters, vegan (easy, do not eat meat halal or otherwise), without nuts (difficult, I love nuts) or should we ask the minorities to bring their own food?
If we restrict ourselves to a halal, vegan nut-free diet the cohousers may start becoming rebellious. The majority may organise subversive barbecues, hiding themselves to eat ham sandwiches in a corner of the communal dining room, or secretly inviting fellow rebels to a gigantic sausage and mash party while the minority sulk and raise hell at board meetings. Somehow, thanks to consensus decision making and solid mediation, we would find solutions. Christmas and Eid may be joyfully carnivorous, and the cohousers may learn that there are at least 5 different kinds of lentils and 15 ways to cook each of them. Be it religion, sexual orientation, skin colour or even football team affiliation, embracing diversity is not difficult if we are open to change and concessions. Diversity brings the spice necessary to make our life that little bit more special and interesting.
But what about those who hold extreme views or make nasty jokes? Views and jokes that make me uneasy, may be due to my own prejudices (I refuse to believe that the Elders of Zion are raising killer rats on the moon) because the concept is new to me (rhino horns cure cancer) or most often because those views go against my most deeply rooted values (I believe that all humans are fundamentally equal). If we proclaim ourselves diverse surely we must be open to the eventuality that we may have to live with people whose behaviour and attitudes disturb us and we must be ready to include them in the life of the cohousing as friends; no?
The theory is that nobody with such controversial ways of thinking would want to share in our community. As a group, we are at ease with diversity, intellectually and emotionally, as long as it is a courteous diversity respectful of everybody’s sense of humour. But I wonder if that is diverse enough?
On Twitter as @evetibber