Bridging social and cultural divides one community at a time

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Documenting the Women’s March in Cheyenne, Wyoming was a big eye opener for me.

What’s been on my mind lately is how intentional communities can help bridge socio-economic divides. Over the years, I have learned that my influence is pretty much confined to communities and organizations that are closest to me.

What spurred me?

Rather than sitting back and arm-chair-quarterbacking, I prefer to be a part of the action. I was 15 when my activist efficacy began to develop. Being from Wyoming, my early influences were Republican. I’m still atoning for my first vote being for Richard Nixon in 1972, but I digress.

Back in January, I wanted to make last minute plans to check out the Washington DC Women’s March that followed Inauguration Day 2017. I facebooked east coast friends and colleagues, but their basements and couches were spoken for by others making the trek.

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Around 2,000 participated in the Cheyenne, Wyoming Women’s March.

I had friends and neighbors who attended the main DC event and other marches around the country and resigned to sitting this one out. Meanwhile, a friend and colleague who, at the time, directed a Laramie, Wyoming-based activist organization asked me to document Women’s Marchers heading to nearby Cheyenne – my hometown. I make documentary movies, mostly about social change topics.

I hopped on the charter bus packed with mostly women, their allies and a bunch of signs and placards. We rumbled over Sherman Hill to Cheyenne where we unloaded and trekked up Capitol Avenue to the Wyoming Supreme Court Building lawn along with a 2,000 others.

Not a big crowd compared to metropolitan urban area standards, but for a city of 60,000 it was a gigantic turnout. Besides that, it was familiar being in my hometown.

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I joined a bus load of Wyoming women and their allies walking in the Women’s March in January 2017.

It was surprising to see and visit with friends who turned out – some long lost from childhood, some not so much – mostly colleagues. We shared insights about social oppression, which is the last thing I expected to be talking about with high school classmates.

Noting that social change efforts are happening in a conservative place like Wyoming, it was then I decided to use what little influence I have to bridge socio-economic divides.

I live in a cohousing community – dubbed by some of my neighbors as a grand social experiment. After living here for a few years and volunteering for the National Cohousing Association, I’m convinced that intentional communities – including cohousing – are one way to help bridge cultural and socio-economic divides one community at a time.

The aura around various aspects of social and economic “privilege” is subtle, having experienced it most of my life. Breaking into a cohousing community hasn’t been easy, particularly since I didn’t know much about it in the first place.

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My grandfather living in Wyoming was detained in California after Executive Order 9066 was signed.

Being a Japanese-American Baby Boomer, I grew up under the post World War II anti-Asian sentiment. My grandfather and uncle were detained in California shortly after FDR signed Executive Order 9066. My aunt was able to get them released back to the middle-of-nowhere Wyoming.

Later, while in college in Boston, my aunt wasn’t allowed into Canada due to sedition laws.  While I may speak proper English with an American accent and am a third-generation Yankees fan, I continue to find myself as the brunt of privilege, which is a separate story.

My partner in crime, Diana, and I moved here from a nearby market-rate two-story townhouse  a few years after the cohousing community had formed, was developed and occupied. A home in the community became available when the owner died. It was ground floor, no stairs and wheelchair accessible, which turned out to be important when I was in rehab recovering from a debilitating illness. Turned out, cohousing was a better fit than I imagined.

The founding group self selected themselves and were in the swing of things by the time we joined the community, which was good and bad. It was good in that we didn’t have to be involved with the organizational nuts-and-bolts decs-and-docs furniture-selection phase. It was bad in that the community was in a rhythm and not very open to new voices and ideas.

Since I’m usually one to jump right in and roll up my sleeves, it was pretty clear that my newbie role was to sit back and watch. Even today, I only participate at the minimum level and waiting on the sidelines until it’s my turn. That’s starting to happen with some of the founding shakers and movers backing off for one reason or another making way for newer neighbors like me.

A house is a house, but the community part is an entirely different component compared to the traditional subdivision structure where neighbors can choose to stick to themselves, paint their garage any color they want and otherwise bowl alone.

Complicating the social culture is that of market rate vs. affordable housing owners. The city housing authority provided free/cheap land to developers in exchange for 40% affordable homes. We were able to qualify for the local government affordable housing program and soon learned what it’s like to be “one of them.”

Collaborating with 3 dozen strangers over the years set in their ways is hard work. It’s a trick juggling regular life and community life and figuring out the balance. Having bought and sold two market rate homes we soon found that living in a house that is governed by a different set of rules was a big eye-opener.

Affordable homeowners are restricted by a set of rules in exchange for the low purchase prices. Some examples, appreciation values are limited compared to market rate-units, as are sales prices.

Being part of an affordable housing program, coupled with stereotypes about people who reside in affordable housing creates oppressive language – “charity cases,” “think different”, “lower class,” “no pride,” “don’t fit in,” ad nauseum. Those are long-engrained attitudes that are difficult to reverse even for the most progressive and socially aware.

For background, a cohousing community consists of individuals and families that choose to work with a developer to build a cohesive neighborhood consisting of privately owned homes and shared common spaces. Everyone lives independently, but share in some of the chores of maintaining their community.

How can cohousing bridge the cultural and socio-economic divide?

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Marches and speeches are the start, social change begins when individuals act.

The current political climate doesn’t help things. Whether liberal or conservative, the national mood amplifies how individuals deal with their own perceptions about differences among people with regards to protected classes of race, gender identity, sexual orientation, ability and subjective measures like social and economic class perceptions.

The political climate makes it okay to unmask deep held oppressive beliefs and at the same time, forces others to step out of their boxes and learn how to be allies for people they may or may not know.

Unless communities and their members are intentional about unpacking their self-perceptions of privilege, “on the job” training can cause hard feelings. In my experience over the years, facilitating and being facilitated about diversity issues oppressors don’t like to be called on their sh*t by the oppressed.

I’ve learned to choose my fights, but it’s hard to let comments and passive aggressive behavior slide. Cultural competency is a long, ongoing process and it takes some stumbling and falling, losing friends and making new ones.

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At a recent conference, diversity on the screen and behind the camera was one of the topics discussed

I’ve been presenting at a lot of different meetings lately. I just returned from an arts conference and a project outreaching to Native American youth, before that on an audio/video expo panel discussion that evolved into conversation with the audience about diversity, before that cultural competency workshops at a Tennessee affordable housing conference and the national cohousing conference.

The topic is certainly of interest to people, but these presentations were very high level “add-ons” to the content, with polite discussions. I was approached by attendees who agreed that they intellectually understand the importance of being more inclusive, but didn’t know how to change themselves and subsequently their organizations. They were eager to learn.

Feedback like that is encouraging, and I’m hoping folks got up out of their seats went home and began conversations in their groups, communities and organizations about what they can do to help close social and cultural divides.

What if each of us changes the way we look at the world and how we accept people who are different from ourselves?

The simple answer is to infuse cultural competency into the day-to-day tasks of the community. Cohousing communities are operated and maintained by the residents who join teams to manage the common house, maintain the common open space and the finances.

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The National Cohousing Association has national and regional conferences at which topics of diversity are standard on the meeting agenda

cohousing vision statement has some mention of “valuing diversity.” When I talk with forming communities, I ask them to have frank and honest discussions about what influenced their views about diversity and some ways the vision can be implemented. Governance based on shared responsibility, rotated leadership, and adopted community norms about accountability are big departures from majority rule and top-down decision making.

There’s an entire industry that has cropped up around consensus decision-making, cultural competency and meeting facilitation.

That’s easier said than done, but if carried out efficiently, inclusivity happens without a “program,” diversity training or more meetings.

In my experience, settling into any neighborhood is stressful enough. What if you’re asked to jump right into discussing personal issues and views around the American Dream, money, race, class, gender identity and sexual preference? That adds an even more complex layer to neighborliness. I’d say mostly on the governance level when talking about home owner association fees, decisions about when individual “rights” end and the community “good” begins.

The best things about cohousing are the neighbors and the worst things about cohousing are the neighbors.

Don’t get me wrong. There are lots of positive things about living in a community – plenty of really great neighborly support if a ride is needed to the store, or help needed to move furniture, care giving for sick neighbors. Friendships are formed, informal barbecues happen spontaneously and formal community events are planned around holidays.

I’m also lay-developing an intentional community in Cheyenne, where those discussions will take place and will be key to forming a resilient group of neighbors. Alas, those discussions have made it as far as the facebook page and haven’t popped up on the radar screen ahead of water, curb, gutter and street construction issues.

I’ve taught cultural competency and diversity workshops over the past 15 years. Most recently, I’ve adapted the curricula for intentional community audiences. At least from the feedback I’ve received, participants gained a better understanding that while the bricks and mortar of cohousing are buildings where residents live, the members who form a community are the most important aspect. The intentional community mantle can overlay any housing configuration.

While my cohousing living experience hasn’t been perfect – maybe none of them are – the intentionality brings neighbors together to work through tough issues – even though some may be on the petty side, they might as well be matters of life and death.

The upshot? If there’s a community configuration that enables conversation among divergent opinions, intentionality is a good thing, but individual effort must be put into understanding the perspectives of others and changing personal courses of action.

Social change through cohousing is a steep uphill climb constrained by American social/cultural norms.

The American Dream, bigger being better. We are driven to pull ourselves up by our bootstraps, make a lot of money and make it to the top. Community founding members should have frank discussions among themselves about why cultural norms create roadblocks for the advancement of caring and interactive communities beyond what is familiar.

Cohousing communities, by definition, bring diverse people together. The only group to fully self-select who will be in the community, are the founding members. People may intellectually “value diversity”, but diversity doesn’t always play out, considering the typical cohouser is white, educated, high income and high-perceived social class and a woman.

Forming community members should discuss what they would be willing to give up – attitudinally and/or financially – to include diverse members. In one of my training sessions, I met a couple people from a forming community that is having this discussion and they decided to take some of the capital gains from their personal home sales to buy down houses to make them more affordable.

Reaching out to people different from oneself is a challenge and cultural brokers may need to be engaged. In my workshops, for example, attendees practice ways they can look at their personal histories and make changes so as to become more inclusive as opposed to only believing inclusivity is a good idea.

Personal introspection doesn’t end once the houses are constructed and residents unpack their boxes. Over time, the community evolves and residents need to keep unpacking their personal histories and values as families move, people pass away and new neighbors arrive.

While fair housing laws preclude discrimination, communities can provide information about the community, expectations of membership in the Homeowners Association (HOA).

Professional and lay cohousing developers can choose to make personal transformations. There are markets other than those of the “typical” cohouser, particularly in gentrifying and abandoned neighborhoods. Culturally competent developers expand their markets by finding easier outreach paths into diverse communities.

As a cultural broker myself, I know that the approach gets results and opens doors without the appearance of “tokenism.”

What are some next steps?

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Hang out with people who are outside your usual circles.

Step out of your comfort zones to start.

Who do you sit next to in church? Sit next to a stranger.

Who do you call to go out for coffee? Ask someone you’ve wanted to get to know better.

Do you stand up as an ally? Take a risk when you hear offensive comments in the grocery store line.

Social justice marches and political elections may be personal inciting incidents that bring people together.

Whether or not you choose to take on the difficult task of becoming more culturally competent, it’s when individuals collaborate and alter their behaviors that bridges are built to close social and cultural divides – one community at a time.

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How affordable cohousing can unite a divided America

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The National Cohousing Conference is happening in Nashville May 19-21. Sign up for my intensive workshop and the conference by clicking on the logo above.

I’m presenting a seminar at the National Cohousing Conference May 19th in Nashville. I’ve been struggling with the content.

It was initially going to be a redux of the “diverse personalities” retreat I led in Arcosanti in the fall, but after being a part of the Women’s March on January 21st, it came together for me as a workshop melding cultural competency, diversity and community activism around intentional communities and affordable housing development.

The workshop I’m presenting is a little jargony, “How Cohousing Can Bridge Socio-Economic Divides through Personal Change and Understanding the Untapped Affordable Housing Market“. It’s scheduled for Friday May 19th from 830am to 4pm and the cost is nominal $25.

VA: Protesters gather at Dulles airport over immigration action

Watch a short video about the intensive workshop about how cohousing can bridge social and cultural divides.

There’s been quite a bit of chatter among the TV talking heads, regular conservatives and liberals ranting internally on social media about the travel ban, Jeff Sessions, Betsy DeVos, Rex Tillerson, Neil Gorsuch, alternative/actual facts and fake/real news.

America has always been a country divided. It’s just that the canyons are more apparent now.

Are changing the way each of looks at the world and how we can better accept people different from ourselves we going to everyone together?

I’d say, people are generally uncomfortable about discussing personal issues and views around the American Dream, money, race, class, gender identity, sexual preference. But those discussions are key to forming strong and cohesive communities – intentional or not.

My hope is that my workshop attendees understand that while the bricks and mortar of cohousing are the buildings where residents live, the people who form a community are the most important aspect.

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Cohousing members chip in their time and effort to keep the community operating 24-7-365.

I live in cohousing and while, at least in my experience, it’s far from perfect, the intentionality brings neighbors together to work through tough issues – even though they may, in some cases, be on the petty side, they might as well be matters of life and death.

The upshot is, if there’s a community configuration that is suited to forcing conversations among divergent opinions it’s cohousing.

We’ll discuss why American social/dultural norms restrain the cohousing movement and then provide potential solutions for this problem.

My workshops are always hands-on and include a balance of simulation games, interactive exercises, video clips, discussion. We’ll work through the following:

  • The American Dream we learn about is bigger being better, we are driven to pull ourselves up by our bootstraps, make a lot of money and be on top. We’ll talk about why cultural norms create roadblocks for the advancement of caring and interactive communities beyond what is familiar.
  • Cohousing communities, by definition, bring diverse people together. But the typical cohouser is, white, educated, high income, high perceived social class. We’ll learn and practice some ways that individuals can look at their personal histories and make changes so as to become more inclusive as opposed to just believing it’s a good idea and how to outreach to diverse communities.
  • There are institutional barriers such as city councils and planning boards enforcing dated rules and regulations. We’ll learn techniques that can help cohousing advocates create and maintain high-quality conversations and relationships personally, in community, and with city and county planners.
  • American culture of rugged individualism precludes cohousing from entering the mainstream as it has in other countries. We’ll look at the untapped numbers of people who are not the typical cohousing demographic and learn ways to approach that market.

The cohousing movement can become a catalyst for positive change including development of low income and diverse cohousing communities and bridging the gap between the left and right, the haves and have nots in the U.S. today.

Remember to bring a smartphone, tablet or laptop computer for a couple of the exercises. Sign up today for the national cohousing conference. There’s a little something for everyone.

Musings about the cohousing ‘Dealing with Diverse Personalities Retreat’

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Arcosanti is an urban laboratory near Mayer, AZ. The Dealing with Diverse Personalities retreat was held there with 40 participants from around the country in attendance.

“Forget Arcosanti, we’ll always have Mayer …’

Movie line maloprops from “Forget Paris” and “Casablanca” struck me when I started writing these musings.

Good memories.

Besides, I have to make some sort of movie reference since it was my  “Dealing with Diverse Personalities” retreat presentation theme at Arcosanti in Arizona which wrapped in early October and sponsored by Cohousing USA.

If you’re reading this and didn’t attend the retreat, you’ll likely note a bunch of “inside baseball” references and I don’t expect you to understand them, but maybe that bit of mystery will entice you to a similar workshop at your community.

It was a lot of fun for me. I get personal satisfaction as a facilitator when participants learn something – at least I hope something stuck with each of them! I try to appeal to all learning styles with visual, audio and hands-on approaches.

We had 40 people from around the country attend who I hope learned a little bit more about themselves and why self-awareness is important while interacting with others.

I hope all who were there are still at least a little jazzed up with the experience. A lot of stuff was crammed into a short  weekend. I’ll send out periodic notes to our retreat group to keep the creative juices flowing and keep everyone connected, even if it’s virtually by way of email.

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CoHoUSA is presented a retreat September 30 – October 2 called “Dealing with Diverse Personalities inn Community” at Arcosanti in Arizona.

Arcosanti is an interesting urban community laboratory – not easily forgotten – established in 1970 just outside of Mayer, AZ – which is a bit hidden away just past Cordiss Junction.

The unique venue proved an apt setting for the retreat about dealing with diverse personalities in communities.

The cafeteria food was okay, but mostly because I didn’t have to cook it. I like eating at places where none of the meal serviceware matches.

Sharing food with others is always a great chance to know people better – like whether they use their salad fork through the entire meal, if they like ice in their water or not, etc. – as well as a little about their lives.

A cross section of folks attended who currently live in community, are starting a community or just interested in community. Building a cohousing neighborhood is a daunting task and getting compatible people to live together in the same place is the most fulfilling, but maybe the most difficult part of the process. There were plenty of war stories told and questions asked about cohousing.

If you’d like to see my notes from the two sessions I facilitated, you can download them from this flip book. My presentation style is a combination of lecture and interactivity. I generally don’t like power point presentations, but I think they are necessary to provide details about content as takeaways. The activities are intended to be hands-on applications of the information provided.

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The vaulted area of Arcosanti is one of the unique areas of the community which was a great gathering spot for the retreat.

The upshot of the retreat was to take a different look at diverse personalities and seal-realize that we all are diverse in our own ways, with moments of being difficult, conciliatory, positive and everything in between.

Getting to know potential residents at the superficial level is part of the process, like if they are readers, or knitters, or hikers.

But what about the nitty gritty? Is getting to  know if a person is a chronic over achiever/slacker, or a control freak important/complacent or introvert/extrovert important?

I say, “yes.

Knowing “who” a person is turns out to be more important than whether or not they like to go to the movies.

Remember, your group will be managers of the day-to-day business of the community.

We covered some techniques as to get a handle on the nitty gritty.
The other higher level component is for communities which consist of members of all types of personalities to agree upon norms and expectations to create an atmosphere of accountability, rather than setting up a typical “victim vs perpetrator” norm.

It is up to each of us, as individuals, to take responsibility for our actions. It’s then up to the community to determine the level at which its members agree to intentionally learn about one another, particularly about past experiences and histories.

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Jeff Zucker is the resident Arcosanti architect and gave a tour of the place. Those spires are cypress trees.

I sensed that there was some push-back from this approach since it moved participants out of their comfort zones.

There were some who wanted more “practice” dealing with interpersonal conflicts between and among people who have personality traits that tend to rub people the wrong way.

The main drawback to “practicing” is, all scenarios are different, they occur at the moment, there are different people situations.

Practicing one set of variables will ALWAYS differ from what actually happens. My approach is for neighbors to better understand themselves and how they can monitor their reactions to prevent conflicts from happening in the first place.

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Cohousing USA President Jeff Zucker who lives in nearby Manzanita Village cohousing welcomes retreat goers at the Friday night mixer.

Nonetheless, the best way to practice is through interactive simulations. To get us all up and moving, my colleagues Mike and Jeff administered a self-evaluation form that classified us into various animal types, which was an interesting exercise and gave some insight into specific personality types.

Following that, a problem solving game was played with the upshot being that we all possess iterations of each of the personality types. Sometimes we play different roles in a group decision making setting.

I’ll likely be teaching a redux of the Arcosanti workshop, but entitled “Understanding Diverse Personalities” at the Cohousing Association National Conference in May 2017.

The Arcosanti content was received well, but I’ll tweak  the presentation for the May workshop. It will be new and approved particularly as it pertains to developers – so stay tuned.

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Does Arcosanti ring a bell?

I like smaller events like the Arcosanti retreat. I got to know some of my cohousing colleagues better and kindled some new friendships. I’ll likely return to Arcosanti, particularly since I forgot a piece of equipment there.

What will I remember?

I’ll remember scraping the under carriage of my VW in the dark of night. I have fond memories of the Cowboy Saloon in Mayer.

Whatever your experiences, I hope they are good ones, but keep in mind – “What happens in Vegas, Stays in Vegas!”

Keep affordable housing from being an elephant in the room

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Silver Sage Village in Boulder, Colorado consists of 10 market rate and six affordable homes.

The “Dealing with Diverse Personalities” retreat is coming up at the end of September – there’s still time time to sign up. The retreat is not for the faint of heart.

Like dealing with issues of housing affordability, it’s not an easy topic to discuss since it requires people to step out of their comfort zones.

Most affordable housing discussions are about density and development scale, parking, traffic, grants, public / private partnerships – the “stuff” of affordability.

Once built, however, affordable housing and the diversity that goes along with it can be sources of personal conflict which happen at the national, local and neighborhood levels. As a refresher, I’ve written about diversity and cultural competency as a prelude to the Arcosanti retreat and folds right into discussions about affordable housing.

There’s been quite a bit of discussion about affordability in cohousing. Here are a few of my observations about it which I originally wrote for the EcoEducation Village Institute.

In my past lives I was a city planner, then developed Habitat for Humanity affordable housing and served a term on the Boulder Planing Board. I currently live in an affordable cohousing home.

Silver Sage Village has 16 homes of which ten are market rate and six were built as part of the city of Boulder’s permanently affordable housing program.

Wild Sage cohousing across the street partnered with Habitat for Humanity as well as the city affordable program. Here are a few of my random thoughts and suggestions:

privilegeDiversity and cultural competency cross cut when it comes to affordable cohousing.

I suggest you have a serious and frank discussion among yourselves about why you personally – as opposed to philosophically – want affordable housing in your neighborhood.

Get strong commitments about all being willing to pay more money out of pocket to level the field for those who cannot otherwise afford to live there.

It’s obvious that partnering with others, rather than tackling affordable housing on your own is necessary. Even if you do find ways to subsidize building costs those don’t lower monthly Home Owner’s Association fees.

coho suburb aerial– I suggest you build the homes so they are all affordable to people / families of similar means. At Silver Sage, over the years, a perceived caste system arose. Dealing with a more socio-economically diverse community is a challenge for people, particularly since stereotyping may be involved.

The Silver Sage Village affordable homes are 800sqft and worth $150000 and limited in annual appreciation. The market rate homes are between 1100 and 2300sqft and valued at $500000 and $800000 and rising.

For the affordable home owners with limited appreciation, it’s a challenge to keep HOA fees equitable. Affordable homes are the same as market rate homes in the sense that the equity is earned differently. Rather than having to tie up large amounts of cash into a home, affordable homes are lesser expensive, in exchange for earning the equity in small annual chunks.

Becoming more culturally competent is a step toward breaking down the notions of privilege or lack, thereof.

– I suggest building all similar sized homes so the homeowner fees are more equally distributed. At Silver Sage fees range from $450+ to $650+/month which includes gas heat and water and build enough homes to spread around the fees. I think the sweet spot is around 32.

the-not-so-big-house– I suggest you design the homes ala “The not so big house” by Sarah Susanka to encourage residents to use the common house.

At Silver Sage the common house is used more by the affordable homeowners because our living spaces are smaller.

The common house here is used a majority of the time by by non-residents who rent it for studio and office space and outside events like meetings and classes. The market rate homes are designed like large homes in the suburbs and plopped into cohousing with large living rooms and big kitchens.

These are a few of my ideas and suggestions when considering whether or not you want to have affordable homes in your neighborhood / community. It’s not as easy decision to make, when you take into account the potential demographics of those who live in affordable housing.

Everyone each have different life experiences, current lifestyles, and it is imperative that all community members recognize these differences and learn how to embrace them in the contexts of their own lives.

If you  intellectually think affordable housing is a good idea, but not sure why it’s so hard for you to accept it emotionally, take a chance and step out of your comfort zones, sign up for the “Dealing for Diverse Personalities” retreat September 30 – October 2nd in Arcosanti, AZ.

Part III – Diverse Personalities: Let’s get personal with cultural competency

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Click on the image of Dorothy and Glinda and watch the clip about how Dorothy always had the way to get back home.

Remember the climax of the “Wizard of Oz” when Dorothy gets herself back to Kansas?

Good Witch of the North Glinda lets Dorothy in on the secret that she’s always had the way to return home.

What do Dorothy and the interactive Dealing with Diverse Personalities retreat have in common?

Previously, I wrote about risk factors and how they may contribute to conflicts among diverse personalities and how protective factors can buffer against risks.

One strong protective factor is cultural competency.

We all are capable to become more culturally competent by evaluating ourselves and learning, sometimes through hard knocks, that we inherently have the ability to be more accepting of others  and their personalities and to better understand our own personality quirks which may cause difficulties for

Like Dorothy having to decide which Yellow Brick Road fork to take, evading flying monkeys, liquidating the Wicked Witch of the West, it takes work for each of us to realize that we possess the inherent abilities to understand ourselves and others. Sometimes we need a little help from our own Lion, Tin Man and Scarecrow.

What is cultural competency and why is it different from learning about diversity?

—If you do a google search, there are many iterations and definitions. For my purposes, cultural competency is a developmental process that evolves over an extended period of time. At any given moment, depending on past histories and experiences, individuals, groups and communities possess various levels of cultural awareness, knowledge and skills necessary to deal with other people – all of us are different.

It’s a very personal journey and at the Dealing with Diverse Personalities retreat, we’ll start the voyage by remembering our histories, developmental influences and how those experiences affect how we perceive and understand others.

Diversity, on the other hand, is descriptive of various groups. Learning aspects of diversity is daunting since there are so many ethnicities, nationalities, religions, languages, that the list is nearly endless. It’s not practical to try and learn them all.

On top of those is the endless list of personality types – extroverts / introverts; over achievers / passive; yes people / no people.

Because of our limited knowledge of diverse characteristics, judgements lead to unintentional stereotyping. Stereotyping is making decisions based on inaccurate or incomplete information.

Cultural competence is self-guided work that will begin or continue at the Dealing with Diverse Personalities retreat. Participants will realize that it is possible to shed behaviors, recognize privilege, understand the need to make personal sacrifices for the good of the whole. The process can be difficult, you may lose friends, but make better ones, and it takes time.

We appeal to all learning styles – auditory, visual and hands-on. Roll up your sleeves and join us. If you’re already on the journey, want to start a new voyage, are interested in helping your organization or community avoid conflicts among diverse personalities which may include yourself, then sign up for the Dealing with Diverse Personalities retreat September 30 – October 2nd.

“There’s no place like home.”

Part II – Diverse personalities: Risk vs Protective Factors

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Find out more about the Dealing with Diverse Personalities retreat September 30 – October 2

I’m facilitating a retreat later this fall about dealing with diverse personalities in Arcosanti, AZ. I’ve been asked by a few people about what the “strength-based” approach I’ll be using is about.

Risk and protective factors are a little jargony and wonky, but important concepts when dealing with disruptive and violent behavior in an organization, community – any group, really.

I formerly worked in the positive youth development and domestic violence prevention fields. Parts of my jobs involved training in strength-based cultural competency, which is how the retreat will be presented.

First I’ll talk a little bit about the differences between the two approaches in the context of disruptive behavior.

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Protective factors are buffers against risks that contribute to disruptive behavior and violence.

Risk Factors are numerous. They increase a person’s possibility of committing disruptive or violent acts. It is possible to be disruptive or commit violent acts with or without any of the risk factors listed below – the list of possible risk factors is nearly endless. However, the more risk factors a person is exposed, the possibility of committing disruptive or violent acts increases. Here’s a list of possible risk factors:

Personal risk factors

  • History of tantrums or angry outbursts
  • Resorts to name calling or cursing
  • Bullying others
  • History of being bullied
  • A pattern of violent threats when angry
  • Use and abuse of alcohol or drugs
  • Mood swings
  • Blames others for personal problems
  • Desire for power and control
  • Recent experience of humiliation, loss, or rejection
  • Poor peer relations, is on the fringe of the community

Community risk factors

  • Community disorganization
  • Lack of community norms that set boundaries on behavior
  • Destruction of property within the community

The response to dealing with risk factors is known as secondary prevention (How do we prevent a person from being disruptive a second time) which features “victim blaming.” That’s a consequence of the law enforcement containment approach.

It’s prevalent in schools (administrative confrontation, send a note home to parents, sessions with counselors, expulsion).

In conventional systems of discipline, offenders from school bullies to domestic violence perpetrators are managed or contained by several agencies, groups or individuals and are very labor and time intensive systems.

This “out of sight, out of mind” method, finger-points and isolates, but does not solve the ultimate problem, which may be deeper and enabled by community risk factors.

All of us have had the top-down, more authoritarian model pounded into us from the age of five.

Those habits are hard to shake.

What can we do to prevent disruptive behavior or violence from happening at all?

Protective factors provide primary prevention and buffers the risks which may be associated with disruptive or violent behavior. Protective factors haven’t been studied as extensively as risk factors because they are difficult to measure.

Protective factors are not the opposite of risk factors, but rather shield a person from the effects of risk factors.

In the context of community, it takes a village to create an atmosphere and culture that nurtures protective factors in positive directions rather than negative ones.

The strength-based protective factor approach is one that is more easily implemented.

Why?

Rather than trying to ameliorate, in a reactionary way, individual risks which may or may not cause a particular disruptive behavior a few protective factors can be developed that that buffer against many risk factors.

  • Community establishes boundaries, expectations and norms that emphasizes the whole and not the individual.
  • Community establishes “restorative justice” consequences
  • Community participates in activities that support its “higher purpose.”

What’s “restorative justice”?

In the outside world criminal justice system, it brings together victims, other stakeholders, the affected community to transform. Most community settings don’t have punishments in the strict sense and “enforcing” on disruptive or violent people is difficult, if not impossible. You can’t expel them, make them stay after school, lock them up, or whatever.

In the context of community, there likely is a looming or approved decision that takes from the whole to benefit a few that creates angst. I’ll call the process finding “transformational solutions” (which is a bit wonky).

Any consequence leveled in a community likely involves many disruptive event contributors who must take ownership of their roles as opposed to blaming others. Since disruptions are dynamic and different there are many role combination and curcumstances possible.

  • Target (who likely is directly involved)
  • Incident inciter (who may or may not be directly involved in the disruption)
  • Retaliator(s) (community member(s) who feel harmed by the inciting incident)
  • Bystanders (members who may have witnessed the disruptive behavior)
  • Intervener (bystander who actively tries to calm down the disruption)

The retreat will address how all community members can dig into their pasts and begin to unpack previously learned behaviors and how to better respond to distuptions as we find ourselves in various roles.

What is “higher purpose”?

My cohousing neighbor uses the analogy about community culture, “What if we were all accountants?”All being accountants is a common characteristic, but not a higher purpose. If all the accountants as a community decided to provide money management for senior citizens or help low income people fill out their income tax returns, that would be a higher purpose.

No matter what age, participation in “religion” or organized higher purpose is the most effective protective factor that buffers against risks. Another is having a strong alky who is not a family member.

lack of boundaries memeAs for myself, the reason I’m committed to this process is I’ve recently been involved with a huge conflict within my cohousing community that’s been festering going on three years with no end in sight.

Dealing with diverse personalities is the “elephant in the room” that gets shoved in the closet, only to emerge later in another room.

The retreat leads participants through a process that enables each to know themselves better and how they can better understand others through getting to know them better.

The retreat and three sessions will be very interactive, hands-on and also be quite entertaining with a big dance performance at Arcosanti and plenty of time to network, meet new people and get to know existing acquaintances better.

NEXT – “PART III – DIVERSE PERSONALITIES: CULTURAL COMPETENCY”

My next story will address how cultural competency as a protective factor works hand in glove with developing other protective factors in community as primary prevention against disruptive behavior and escalating violence.

 

Part I – Diverse Personalities: Do you proactively de-escalate disruptive people in your life?

arcosanti wide

CoHoUSA is presenting a retreat September 30 – October 2 called “Dealing with Diverse Personalities in Community” at Arcosanti. Click on the image to learn more about  and register for the $175.00 retreat.

Arcosanti, Arizona is an experimental community between Flagstaff and Phoenix built by a bunch of volunteers to demonstrate sustainable alternatives to urban sprawl and also the home to a bronze bell foundry.

September 30 to October 3 Arcosanti will be the location for another experiment of sorts as the venue for the “Dealing with Diverse Personalities in Community” retreat facilitated by Jeff Zucker and myself.

“De-escalation”has been in the news lately.

Our retreat will concentrate on how individuals within communities of any ilk can learn some skills about exploring the roots of their own diverse personalities, how to become aware of others’ diverse personality traits and how to de-escalate when personalities clash.

Regardless of your community – be it in your workplace, neighborhood, place of worship – all members have personalities and quirks that are annoying or pleasant with endless traits in between.

chickendifficultAt some point in our lives, we’ve likely been annoyed by someone or been the one annoying someone else.

I live in a cohousing community which, I’m finding, is an endless source of personality war stories. I spend a very small part of my time in cohousing mode, but last week, there was a huge blow up over a festering issue.

The unsuspecting target wandered by and offered salutations only to be greeted by one retaliator who had multi-faceted tension building up in him about the ‘inciting incident’ before letting loose with a vulgar verbal barrage. A second retaliator exchanged a few words and walked away.

There were a number of bystanders, a couple intervened from a far, but that didn’t slow him down. Another in the conversation tried to establish a boundary to no avail and left.

While sympathetic to the retaliator’s perspective on the issue, I didn’t gang up on the target, but rather, intervened and sent the target on his way which ended the incident. I later went up and talked to him about what happened, and what I viewed as elements of the perfect storm that triggered it.

This was an eye opener for me. I had heard about community skirmishes, but this is the first time I’d been in the middle of one.  The timing and circumstances that brought a particular group of otherwise good people together in one spot, caused this violent outburst and what might have prevented it would be a good case study.

I can see how a routine traffic stop can escalate into gunfire between cop and citizen.

The skirmish ended, but the issues and hard feelings continue to be proverbial elephants in the room, ignored until the next perfect storm brews.

It’s impossible to predict when personality flareups will happen and the Arcosanti retreat will provide participants with three workshops purveyed by hands-on activities, visual and audio presentations about how to be better prepared for community social emergencies. Each participant will also develop an action plan to take with them.

Not only will it be information packed, but the weekend is guaranteed to provide a good time for all!