When is a Kitchen Not a Kitchen?

In the last post, I touched on the idea, not one of my own by the way, that the skills that help you survive on the street are not the same skills that will allow you to reintegrate with polite society, such as it is, or even here at Everyone Village, our own take on polite society, more or less. 

The lessons listed in my last post were pretty simple ones, they just weren’t things I had the luxury to attempt before I came here.

To my mind, you could sum them up with two ideas:

Community is the process of not getting exactly what you want, but getting pretty much what you want.

And:

Let street mentality go by turning down your swagger.

Community is a powerful word. And Starting Over powerful term.

Powerful ideas for anyone, not just my compatriots and me, and they naturally direct the mind towards ideals.  

What is my idea of community? 

What does it mean to start over?

These ideas naturally lead the mind to idealism. Thoughts of what is best, what is perfect.

And ideals, idealism are dangerous territory, representing as they do deep needs, deep impulses, possibly formed in childhood based on what was there, or in many cases, what wasn’t. 

Deeply personal thoughts emerge, thoughts that are different for every one of us everyones here.

And it is so tempting, when putting forth an ideal from deep within, to expect it to be universal, to be shared by anyone with a heart or a brain. 

And of course, it is always dangerous to dream, because dreaming leads to possible conflict, as two or more people, putting forth often fragile and vaguely formed ideas of how things should be, find themselves not entirely in agreement.

That is why I think I am onto something with that definition of community above.  

It could be restated like this:

Trouble is coming.

Don’t expect smooth sailing, expect conflict. 

Conflict doesn’t mean community isn’t working, conflict is community, working.

It is in the working out of our differences that we are in fact doing community. It is great when everything goes just right, a wonderful feeling, but it should not be treated as the normal state of things.

And it is how we respond to differences that makes the difference between a successful community and chaos.

Example:

Very few would disagree with the idea that sharing is a part of community.  

So far so good.  

One person’s idea of sharing might mean that, when they cook, they cook a little extra, and offer it to anyone who is around, or that sometimes they use their EBT card to buy something for everyone, like some coffee, or some sugar, or butter. 

And with great hopefulness, they do exactly that.

On the other hand. . . 

Another person’s idea of sharing means taking whatever they want, whenever they want it, without thinking of the fact that we have limited resources. Is there a donated bag of chips? Cool. I love chips. I don’t even think of taking just some of the chips. I take the chips.

This person might also believe that they have a right to get mad at anyone who questions their actions. So working things out gets complicated.

And sometimes it is hard to judge this person, because maybe they are in such a state of neediness, that they might not be able to do anything else for a while until they realize that they don’t have to hoard or grab in this community. This isn’t the streets, there will be more sandwiches, more socks.

Or they might just be a selfish person who doesn’t give a rat’s ass about anyone else and they don’t belong in a cooperative kind of place. But how do you know which person is which? 

Not easy to know.

The second person is in a state of mind in which they have already taken themselves out of the game in the sense that they are so needy or greedy that they literally have no introspection. 

When they talk about sharing, they are looking at it from the point of what they expect from other people. It isn’t even in their minds to think about what THEY need to do to share. So they get really angry when their actions are questioned. For them, this is an unthinkable thought.

I actually experienced a bag of chips event once, although it was with a person who wasn’t in the second category at all, and it was resolved peacefully. So someone donated a bag of chips and the villager was going to take the whole thing. I asked him if he was taking the chips and he said yes, and I said, remember, those were donated to all of us, and it might be good to just take some.  

“Whatttt???” he said in that voice people use when an unreasonable person is bringing up nonsense.

No one likes to have their actions questioned. But here’s the thing. I dropped it and later I saw that he had taken only some of the chips.  

And that was community.  

Reminding someone to think of others without shaming or rubbing their nose in it on my side, and on his side, having the basic humanity to be willing to change his behavior to benefit others.

He didn’t get exactly what he wanted, and neither did I because I hate calling people out, but we both got pretty much what we wanted.

The other rule, letting street mentality go by turning down your swagger, came into play as well.  

I didn’t say, “What the f**k, those are for everybody!!”  

And he didn’t say “Mind your own business old man!!”

I didn’t ask as if I was always right, always sharing-and-caring, because there is I am clearly not. No point in pretending.

(I drink way more coffee than I make, and I have never bought a can of coffee for everyone. I have other strengths. This is a weakness. I am working on it. Or I will be anyway.)

And here is a funny, funny thing.  

It might seem obvious that the people who do more taking than giving back are a bigger problem than those who do more giving, but they aren’t. 

They seriously aren’t.

There is so much more to giving than material giving.  

Let’s just say, hypothetically of course, that there are couple of people here who have worked in restaurants, are excellent cooks, take good care of their equipment, and have higher standards of cleanliness than your average bear. 

And let’s say that they share freely what they cook, annd will buy supplies for everyone, and also have left some of their pans, knives, etc. in the common area for all to use.

They have a beautiful vision of what the common cooking space could be, a truly beautiful idea.

Well.

You know how hard it is for three roommates to agree on how soon after a meal dishes should be done, right?  And at the moment, we have over 50, not living here. Not friends who rented a place together, but 50 strangers tossed together. And you expect what in the kitchen area?

(I am in the ‘by the end of the night’ camp. How can you enjoy your meal knowing you have to jump up at the end of it and wash up? I am well aware that this attitude is intolerable to many, possibly even readers of this blog.)

So their dream is a beautiful dream, the dream of a well-stocked, clean, orderly common kitchen where we cook and share and learn from each other.  

A dream that is dashed within days of its inception.

So what should they do?  

What is the solution? 

In their minds, their idea is community, and others just have to follow their lead and thus, community is achieved.

Enter the dangers of idealism.  

Sometimes, an idea is so important to a person that they cannot regroup, cannot rethink, they can only double down on their idea with increasingly strident tones, and sometimes, even tears. They simply cannot accept that others do not share their admittedly beautiful vision.

And this is where we get into the idea that community is not just about shared physical resources. It is also about respect, and keeping a civil tongue in your head.

It is about letting the street mentality go and turning down your swagger. On the streets you can cuss someone out in an extremely satisfying manner and get on with your day. In a community you wake up and the person still lives next to you and still shares the same common area.

So which is more important?  

Some would say, and I know a few, that a clean kitchen is so important that it doesn’t matter whose feelings you hurt. Keeping the shared physical space free from pathogens is the ultimate priority.

And others might say that no matter how strongly you feel about something, treating others with respect is the most important thing of all. 

And it isn’t easy, especially when you see the same person, over and over, day after day, ignoring what is important to you. It can reach the point where you feel so disrespected, that you begin to anticipate the things you don’t like, and even accuse people who aren’t doing them, of doing them, because that has been your experience over and over.

Well who is right?  

Both and neither?  

It must be a case-by-case thing, and who has the wisdom and discernment all the time to judge correctly?  

Not me.

The point here is that it is very possible for the idealists, the ones with a great vision for the community, to, over time, become actually worse than the people who don’t give a rip. You would rather just wash someone else’s dishes than hear the same harangue all over again. 

(And say, for example, you mentioned this sentiment to one of the idealists, that some people are always going to be washing more dishes than others, you might find yourself compared, with great emotion, to Germans in WWII who looked the other way. For doing dishes.)

At least the selfish people do a lot of their mischief when no one is looking and they don’t stand around all night making angry speeches. Fine, take the butter. It is better than hearing about people who take the butter, better by a long shot.)

(Well shoot. I am about 2000 words in and, yet again, things are not going as planned and I am down a very specific rabbit hole. I started out writing an introduction to a blog post on things I’ve learned at Everyone Village, and I am instead deep in the Kitchen-Wars of Everyone Village.

Never mind. I think so far this is a good post. Generally these blog posts have accentuated the positive, because overall this is a great place to live.

This post is airing a little (hypotheticalish) dirty laundry concerning Battlefield-Kitchen. Which is okay too. I never pretended we didn’t have problems here, I think, so it might be a good time to dissect them too. Next post will contain the seven habits of highly effective hoboes, and this post, won’t.)

And thus, my patient readers, do people who start out right, actually become wrong, with their constant haranguing, loud sighs, litanies of wrongs, imprecations, and near threats. They become like one issue voters in elections, digging in and making a clean kitchen the one gold standard and the enduring symbol of ‘what is wrong around here.’

Now what, to a sensible person who sees the big picture, would be good advice for the folks on Team-Clean-Kitchen?

There are many possibilities, but since I am a longtime know-it-all in good standing with all dues paid, I am going to give my opinion.

It might be good to advise them only to donate as many resources to the common good as they can without being resentful if their generosity isn’t returned. Don’t keep buying sugar for everyone if no one else does and it is making you mad. In fact, if donating anything at all without reciprocity makes you mad, then don’t donate anything.

Same thing with leaving out skillets and cutlery for the common good. Your rage is understandable. There are some people here who appear to hate the concept of nonstick so much that they have left deep gouges in more than one Teflon saucepan. This cannot be a cleaning error, a using a brillo pad on the wrong pan kind of thing. Some of these pans have gouges that look like they were made by Freddie Kruger.

So, regroup. Recalibrate. If people aren’t taking care of common utensils, only leave out things you don’t really care about. Keep your best stuff in your shelter and don’t share it. Use it, wash it, and take it back with you. This seems sensible to me. (We aren’t allowed to cook in our shelters.)

I know it is frustrating when someone steals the wire mesh rack that allows the air fryer to be an air fryer, or that when it is returned, no one ever cleans it. There is no real solution to people not cleaning shared cooking equipment other than to buy your own and not share it, which would be much better than the constant unhappiness that you feel and need to share whenever you are around.

Or just clean what you are going to use, and clean up after yourself but no more. This seems like a solution, and didn’t take a genius to figure out. And these things have been suggested to Team-Clean-Kitchen from many sources.

It seems like there are solutions to ending the endless self righteous tirades that dominate the common area and cause even the dogs to become introverts.

Only it never happens. So important are their ideas to these folk that they never vary, never waver, and end up being like someone who puts a kick me sign on themselves and walks around wondering like they are being kicked.

Why do they continue to cook for other people? Why do they continue to buy supplies for everyone, or put cooking equipment out for everyone to use if they know what is going to happen? And why do we have to continually hear about how unhappy they are with the situation? Are they really trying to achieve anything, or are they actually happy being unhappy?

Mysteries all.

Turns out this community-building presents some problems that on the surface have no solution. And here we thought we were going to design society differently, do society right in our own little space. And yet it is almost like the problems that plague societies everywhere seem to be cropping up here as well.

Bringing the outside in.

Which might be enough of a lesson on its own.

Till Next Time,

Mr. I.B.

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