A system of cooperative endeavors—both formal and temporary—enhance community (#), constitute a way to localize life (#), while giving individuality (#) a more solid and flexible footing. It is also pleasurable(#), since it brings together the many ideas of people on how to have a good life.
People live in groups. These groups frequently need to accomplish something together. But there is a widespread belief that cooperation is a form of communism.
People in the west are known for their rugged individualism. They are loath to pay for government programs, even if this is to the wider public benefit. And yet, there are instances where even the most isolated ranching family needs the help of others nearby. It is impossible to shear sheep, for example, with just one person, or even a few. Hence, neighboring sheep ranchers assist one another during the shearing season, as well as at other times. Much of our social system already depends on cooperation and complementary action, but when that value is discussed, it raises red flags. This attitude comes from overstrong individualism.
With rising costs, it is more and more difficult to make ends meet with just one job. It is also difficult to eat either healthily, given all the processing of foods, or locally, given that the average food item in a supermarket travels more than a thousand miles to get to your table. For 150 years there has been an economic system and principle of cooperation, in which the company providing the service is neither a privately owned firm nor a publicly traded corporation, whose profits go to shareholders who have no stake in the company or the community of its operation. Instead, the company is a cooperative. Billings has one of its own, a cooperatively owned supermarket. Montana has three food cooperatives, and Wyoming one. This economic arrangement keeps more money in the community and ensures that consumers have a greater say in what goes on in the business. In the case of consumer coops like this, cooperation is effected through money.
There are also worker cooperatives, the most famous system being centered in Mondragon, in the Basque region of Spain (http://www.mcc.es/). Argentina is increasingly dotted with worker-owned and managed firms. The US has vanishingly few cooperative worker enterprises (see, however, the encouraging list at http://www.usworker.coop/front), perhaps because of a fear of communism left over from Cold War ideological battles. And yet such efforts to co-operate, to work together, are the heart of communities. Few people have enough arms and enough bodies to put on a sporting event all by themselves, few people are wealthy enough to sponsor a festival all alone. In fact, cooperation is at the heart of public life: for example, in order to share elevators, we must be cooperative, adjusting our personal-space envelope in order to make room for all who want to ride.
Furthermore, individuals are what they are partly by more or less skillfully and consciously assembling their identity from the culture around them. Individual health is interrelated with community well-being. A community is healthier when its members have a braided life, being involved with one another, celebrating and mourning together, building up their neighborhood around them together.
None of this takes form, however, without a culture’s cooperative nature being disclosed and made obvious, or without necessary meso-economic supports being put in place, as demonstrated by the Mondragon cooperative system. Coops in a sea of free-market capitalist corporations have a very hard go of it. It can go a long way toward creating a cooperative system or culture to organize a cooperative bank to finance new coops, and to have a vibrant neighborhood council structure in larger cities. Cooperation, after all, is only a value to the extent that it has an economic and political form.
Ensure that there is funding for co-operatively owned and managed enterprises, and that these enterprises double as centers of cooperation more generally—clearinghouses for neighborhood collaborations, training centers in cooperative undertakings, resource warehouses, and so on. Also take the chance to form future ventures cooperatively. Join consumer coops.
Cooperation is also a value that should be taught at a very young age. Most kids develop this value in elementary school. Here is a teaching guide on cooperation for elementary students.
HOW TO BE A COOPERATIVE PERSON
- LISTEN carefully to others and be sure you understand what they are saying.
- SHARE when you have something that others would like to have.
- TAKE TURNS when there is something that nobody wants to do, or when more than one person wants to do the same thing.
- COMPROMISE when you have a serious conflict.
- DO YOUR PART the very best that you possibly can. This will inspire others to do the same.
- SHOW APPRECIATION to people for what they contribute.
- ENCOURAGE PEOPLE to do their best.
- MAKE PEOPLE FEEL NEEDED. Working together is a lot more fun that way.
- DON'T ISOLATE OR EXCLUDE ANYONE. Everybody has something valuable to offer, and nobody likes being left out."
This is an example of simple guidelines for teaching cooperation. Education in cooperation begins early.
In order to carry out cooperative efforts, elaborate on the virtues of participation (#). Teach cooperation in the education (#) of young people, but also make it a possibility at the crucial junctures of changes in career (#). Share skills (#, #) widely, so that efforts can be woven together more easily. Share resources (#) through free boxes, freecycling, and community salvage yards.
Relative rank (1st Quartile).