“…community is the optimal condition for human fulfillment.” – Sidney Pobihushchy
I’ve been thinking a lot about family and community lately as my own family has grown in the past six months to include our twin boys, Bennett and Emery. Time spent with grandparents and others has gone from social to essential. My experiences as a new father and the long hours late at night have allowed me to ponder the community relationships, the interpersonal dynamics, and the structures put purposefully in place that shape strong family bonds.
In my family, the principals of respect for all, independent thought, support for each other’s interests and ambitions, the value of education and hard work, high standards for achievement, and the rules of proper personal conduct were not just taught, but lived. And while at times I found myself in conflict with certain facets, the parenting doctrine was fair and well-reasoned, and its application consistent. Perhaps most important however, we always had room for calm and open discourse about any discord.
The outpouring of support Geneva and I have received from this community since the babies arrived has been humbling, and while it may take three times longer to pick up a few quick items at the Co-op, it’s mostly because we end up in happy conversations with so many fellow shoppers. I have also heard from others that lately the Co-op feels like such a warm and friendly epicenter of community, full of smiling staff and happy customers, and I think it’s more than the fact that spring is in the air. A lot of hard work has gone into shaping our cooperative into the place that it is, and to me, it truly feels like a big family.
As I have reflected further on the similarities between family and co-op, it strikes me that the International Co-operative Alliance’s ten cooperative values are surprisingly similar to the values many strive to model within families.
Like children, we look for education and guidance from those more experienced in the practice of the cooperative ethical values of honesty, openness, social responsibility, and caring for others.
Like parents, we are all called to uphold and enable the cooperative values of self-help, self-responsibility, democracy, equality, equity, and solidarity.
Of course, like family, in a cooperative we do not get to choose who joins our ranks as shareholders. It must be expected that we will disagree, and so it is imperative that we continue the open discourse and mutual respect that has kept our co-op family close across decades, despite or perhaps in celebration of, our differences. We know that it is when this practice has broken down that we have struggled as a community.
In its current iteration, our board spends a lot of time listening so that we may better understand; and when need be, discuss discord we hear. We table for shareholder comments, collect feedback, and conduct a rigorous and continuous program of compliance monitoring. While we do not, and in most cases cannot, take direct action in response to specific concerns raised, the accumulated sentiments inform our strategy for how to foster the most impactful engagement with as many of you as possible, and how best to interpret and embody the values of cooperation to which we have subscribed.
In many cases, we find clear direction in the Policies and Bylaws on how we must and must not conduct ourselves, and well-crafted guiding principles in our Ends policies. However, we are not so arrogant as to think that these guiding documents are infallible or immune to changing times, or that they will have anticipated the unknowable circumstances we have yet to face. In fact, we know that our predecessors took great pains to keep certain things open-ended, left to interpretation in a given scenario. Accordingly, we constantly and continually question the meaning of our guiding documents, suggest changes to more clearly apply the original intent, or tweak language to reflect our accumulated learnings and the current environment.
In recent months we have heard questions raised by patrons, staff, and directors about the role of employees on the board, and the role of the board in monitoring the Third End. We have delved deep into the origins and implications surrounding our Third End, “A workplace community where cooperative values are modeled.” What does this mean in the context of our store and our community today? How can we best measure our performance in pursuing this End, and how can we monitor our progress? We know where the End came from and why it was added, and we have just begun our journey of discovery, discovery and interpretation.
Through our efforts, I hope that our cooperative doctrine, as it were, remains just in its conception and application. If we can feel confident to share our frustrations at what is not working without fear of retribution, openly and respectfully disagree, listen and be heard, and give each other the tools to build a better organization together, then we are truly are a cooperative.
In my first year on the board we celebrated achievements from the financial to the personal; we mourned losses of co-workers and friends; we heard grievances from shareholders, staff, and fellow board members and took action; we made difficult decisions; we clarified bylaws; we sought counsel and learned from the experiences of others within the movement; and we shared ice cream on a beautiful day. From where I sit, looking through the lens of the ten cooperative values, ours is a picture of a healthy and resilient co-op, and our family is truly strong.
By Skye Morse