I live in a cohousing community and work with many others as a facilitator, trainer, and consultant. The most common issue for which communities hire me has to do with work – or more accurately, how to get members who aren’t doing their agreed-upon share of the work to get with the program.

What is alternately fascinating and vexing to me is that while these groups spend endless hours coming to consensus on complicated policies and guidelines about every possible aspect of community life, they are extremely reluctant to build in consequences for noncompliance with those policies.

Now, anyone who has been a parent, teacher, manager, or animal trainer knows the value of clear consequences, positive or negative. (I am a big fan of Karen Pryor‘s work in this regard.) So what is this all about in our cohousing culture?!?

In a fascinating TED talk, Jonathan Haidt discusses the five components of morality: harm/care; fairness/reciprocity; loyalty to the group; respect for authority; purity. Liberals tend to score higher on the first two; conservatives on the third and fourth. (They differ in purity – conservatives focus on sexual behavior while liberals focus on food and environment.) I maintain that cohousers are high on group loyalty yet low on respect for authority.

He also mentions research indicating that while people will behave in a sharing, altruistic way (for the benefit of the commons) for a certain amount of time, eventually they will stop doing so if there is no punishment for selfish behavior.

Think about driving. Most of us follow most of the rules most of the time. (Given how much time we spend in our cars, it is quite remarkable how few crashes there are!) Most of us break some of the rules some of the time. We don’t need or expect enforcement or consequences every time we break a rule; but we do know that a ticket is possible and we do get them occasionally.

When discussing consequences for noncompliance with cohousing agreements, over and over I heard the phrase “I don’t want us to be policing each other.” It is as though our only mental model for holding each other accountable is Cop vs. Criminal.

What might be some more useful models for us to contemplate?