It Always Starts with Questions
“You live with how many people?”
“What about dirty dishes?”
“Do you guys fight a lot?”
“Is it like a big college dorm?”
These are all questions I hear when I tell them where I live. Answered in order I would say this: yes I live with 37 other people, we clean up our own messes and sometimes we are bad at it and sometimes good at it, we do fight but respectfully so they are more like discussions than fights (there will always be disagreements), and finally, No It Is Not Like A Dorm. Why?
Because we actually care and love each other.
That seems crazy. The L-word is a protected term. It’s used in grand gestures, wedding proposals and vows, and plays about reckless teenage love. It is both the greatest and most terrible delusion that humans have. It’s both inspiration and curse, it’s poetic and flowery, but also simple and forthright. It is a Big Deal.
Why Say It?
Why not? When you have so many people, on so many different walks of life, it’s tough to find common ground. But we do. We have “family dinner” twice a week, cook for each other, have bi-weekly house meetings, make sure that we are all doing okay, and are empathetic when others are anything but okay. If that’s not love in some form, I don’t know what it. But most of all, love is a choice.
Yes there’s the big emotion of falling in romantic love, but that only lasts so long. The maintenance of relationships, caring for others, and working to do those things even when it’s hard is an active and difficult choice. But we live “in community”, recognize its hardships and move forward. The active choice is difficult, but it’s hard not to do it when you enter with an agreement to be honest and authentic. Sharing food helps too.
Monkeys See, Monkeys Do
Doing is a difficult thing. It is hard to just do. Especially when you have doubts (or an anxiety disorder like I do). It sure isn’t helpful when people tell you to “just do it”. It seems insensitive. There is one thing that makes doing easier though, seeing others do it and doing it with them.
Caring for others is significantly easier when you see others care for others, and you are cared for in turn. A prayer which is attributed to the Christian saint, Francis of Assisi (whom the current Pope takes his name from) puts it quite well:
[G]rant that I may not so much seek
To be consoled as to console,
To be understood as to understand,
To be loved as to love;
For it is in giving that we receive;
It is in pardoning that we are pardoned[.]
The act of giving love and kindness is just as advantageous to the giver as the recipient. It’s easier to do the more you do it. It’s easier to do the more people around you do it. By feeling safe and loved you are more free to make others feel that same way.
Monkey see, monkey do. Monkey feels better and is happier. Monkey is free to make others feel the same way.
There are always personality conflicts, high emotions, misplaced toothbrushes and someone eating personal foods (we share our food costs, but I buy my own ice cream for example). Apologizing helps, but ultimately I’ve learned to be more mindful and hopefully avoid conflict in a constructive way. Intentionality is key, and we try to remind each other as often as possible to be kind.
We have a vetting process here. Applicants are interviewed and considered. Interviewers talk to other house members about their interactions and the Recruiting team makes the final vote. This means that we don’t have people moving in who aren’t in line with our values of cooperation, fairness, and love.
When I first moved in, I had crazy bad food poisoning, and people immediately asked if I needed anything. They checked in on me. They had barely known me more than a few hours. Everyone here is like that. If someone is new, we introduce ourselves and jump right into conversation. The people that move in are enthusiastic about moving into a place like this. Which means they are just as happy to join in with cooking, cleaning, going to the park, and all that jazz. Sometimes actual jazz is played on the many instruments we have laying around the house.
We follow the Four-Way Test when we are thinking about what to say and do.
- Is it the true?
- Is it fair to all concerned?
- Will it build goodwill and better friendships?
- Will it be beneficial to all concerned?
If the answer is no to any of these, then if probably isn’t helpful. Though I will say that the third one is pretty hard. You can’t be good friends with everyone, but at least you can have goodwill.
The act of building is where I feel this the most. I love to be handy around a house. My dad and I do projects around the house when I’m in town, and we’ve been doing that since I was a kid. There is nothing quite like building shelves with other people, getting sweaty and getting to look on your work at the end of the day. The physical, tangible thing is something to be proud of. We did this together, look at what we did. There’s the metaphorical building too, where we spend time in the common areas of the house, talking and leaning on each other, not caring about being on a cramped couch. Sharing personal experience and encouraging each other to be better. We have a Slack channel devoted to gratitude for others, a challenge channel for keeping each other accountable as we try to better ourselves, a channel purely to share links we find interesting.
We are all heavily invested in being better together.
And that makes all the difference. It’s hard to be better when all you have is you. But why make it hard? Why not do it with friends?