One of the aims of developing cohousing communities is diversity — in age, gender, ethnicity, marital status, household composition, sexual orientation, etc. You name it, we want it. Recruitment focuses getting more but groups feel they have failed if those who come forward are not different from themselves. Both forming and built communities are proud to say, “We have 2 of these and 1 of those and 3 more of these are considering joining.” They cite their diversity statistics in order to convince city councils to approve their zoning requests.
Diversity of Another Sort in Washington, DC
A few months after move-in, all our diversity quotas met or met to the extent we could meet them, I realized we had met a diversity standard that none of us had considered that would probably be impossible to meet outside of Washington DC. Doris had called together a cookout, one of our first, by announcing fried chicken in the piazza on Sunday at 1:00. Everyone else who was around brought this and that and a bunch of us were soon settled around a big round table discussing the events of the weekend. In DC, that often means demonstrations. This one, a very big one, would be at the World Bank.
Always at the center of any protest, Herb was prepared to leave early in the morning to meet protesters from out-of-town at the end of the Metro line to escort them to the protest site. He started talking about other things he would be doing. Anna was delighted because the demonstrations meant she had the day off since she worked at the World Bank and had been ordered for her safety not to come to work. She thanked her new neighbors for her good fortune.
Carol said, “Please. Don’t thank me. I have three proposals that I’m waiting to hear back on. I need to know if we have money to go back to Africa or not, and things in India are not so great if I can’t put more into the next phase than we put into the last one. I doubt if any of those offices took all their grant applications home with them on Friday.” Doris said that she would be off work that day too, but on duty with the Guard. Doris said, “It’s no vacation for me. I have to report for duty at 4:00 am and I have no idea when I will be home.
Everyone laughed and the conversation resumed discussing the last World Bank demonstration and the casualties that had resulted. The promise was more National Guard presence and more planning. Herb asked Doris what they had planned this time and where she would be positioned. Doris said, “I won’t know until I report for duty because that — ”
Silence. Everyone looked up.
Doris continued in a studied tone, “That would be confidential.”
Herb apologized, and we changed the subject. A perfectly innocent question on Herb’s part, serious interest in an event we were all watching but no intention of playing sleuth with his neighbor.
While the diversity points for that conversation would have been about a 10 on the basis of age, race, marital status, parental status, and a few more things I can’t remember, the ones that no one had probably even considered before that conversation were military status, activism, and opponents and beneficiaries of World Bank monies. When I told this story on the Cohousing-L email discussion list, one person contacted me privately to ask how we even live together. “Do you really eat at the same table?”
I receive similar questions when I report that we have an Army General who appears in camouflage fatigues and another resident who “works for Army Intelligence assigned to the Joint Chiefs of Staff” who comes home in his green beret.
In all honesty, just like our other diversity points, they are just like everyone else. The differences are in personality, not age, skin color, background, occupation, or sexual orientation.