Cooperative Ownership as Stewardship – going deeper …
This is an edited version of the video on this page.
Part of what I find intriguing about this pattern is it sort of blends at least two different ideas together, one of which is ownership and one of which is stewardship. This taps into the underlying idea behind the whole international cooperative movement.
I live in a cooperative house. I have shopped at cooperative grocery stores, these businesses called co-ops. The idea is that the people who own it are the people who live in it or the people who work there or the people who shop there or whatever: The people who are involved in it own it in a legal sense. There is not profit that is separate from the people who were involved. Some co-ops, if they make a profit, send a check to their members at the end of the year saying “This is your share of what we made”, etc. There are all sorts of different cooperative structures, but the idea is “We own it!”
And underlying that is an assumption – sometimes explicit, sometimes not – that goes with all ownership, that if you own something, on the one hand, you get to do with it what you want, and on the other hand, there’s a sense of responsibility for caring for it, which is stewardship.
And one of the interesting challenges with this whole frame of reference I got recently reading about Native American consciousness. In their ways of experiencing life, the idea of ownership is by and large alien to them, except in a very personal sense. You can own your moccasins and you can own your bow, whatever. But in terms of owning land and owning anything that’s natural, the very thought is weird.
And you don’t own the tribe, and the tribe doesn’t own itself. Their response to such ideas might be “What are you talking about? This is a web of relationships!” So even as I’m pushing ownership, I’m also understanding that there is an alienating dimension to the idea “ownership”, itself, especially as we in the West tend to extend the concept. Instead of being in relationship and interacting and being responsible because you’re in a relationship, you’re being responsible because you own it. The relationship is one of ownership.
I realize this is sort of like the difference between having an employee and having a slave, in that you own the slave. We all know that that’s something that’s not in any way desirable. And if you totally control a person that you employ, that comes close to slavery. There’s a whole spectrum there.
If people collectively own the business they work for, then that’s a whole different relationship. They are in relationship with each other. They’re in relationship with the purpose of the organization, etc. So the idea of cooperative ownership is that we are in relationship – we are in relationship with each other here in whatever the enterprise is; we are in relationship with our customers, our suppliers, whatever. There’s a sense that relationship is what this ownership is all about.
Now this blends over into care for the earth, which is part of why the earth is pictured along with this pattern description. There’s a sense that the spirit of what we’re doing blends over into our relationship with the human and natural world. The co-op I live in is sort of an eco-co-op. It tries – to various degrees, depending on who moves in and who moves out, whatever – to garden, to buy organic food, to try to have low energy use in our house, etc.
So the co-op movement tends to be more ecologically and socially responsible than most other forms of ownership and business. So I’m trying to implant both of those principles in here as companions – not only ownership but the idea of stewardship – stewardship for whatever our enterprise is, stewardship of each other, stewardship of the larger world we’re in… We’re trying to use the fact that our society requires ownership to steward, relate to, further the health and well-being of each other, our enterprise, our community, our world… That’s the spirit of this.