Depression And Anger At The Co-Op

Co-Ops and Collectives are two very different types of organizations. In the U.S. the two terms are often used interchangeably. Either term usually refers to a natural foods store run by “hippies” ( another term used incorrectly ) or people into politics to the left of the term “liberal”.

A “collective” is an organization without owners, without bosses, without formal positions, where everyone rotates responsibilities and where all non-trivial ( and often trivial ) decisions are made by a collective vote.

I love long walks.

The other evening I took a long walk up to the “co-op” in my town where I ran into my next door neighbor. I shared a walk home with him after he offered to show me a scenic short cut that I did not know about.

He was telling me how much he appreciated the “co-op” being there. I agreed, though I have my problems with the place, like many people. One of them, is a few perpetually depressed and/or angry cashiers. My neighbor heartily agreed on that point, as almost anyone who is familiar with that store has.

My Fabio length hair has long been cut off, but I worked for a number of years in a student run “collective” while I was in college. It was one of the most enriching experiences of my life. It was the best of times and it was the worst of times. I decided to share my “expert”, veteran opinion about depressed and angry co-op workers.

I told my neighbor that they tend to be very intelligent people, but that for all the tye-dye and high sounding words they are stuck in jobs that are “beneath them”. Intelligent people past a certain age need a sense of accomplishment about their jobs, they need their jobs to be challenging and they need to feel respected. Being a cashier or a clerk is honorable, honest and essential work. However, being a cashier or a clerk is not likely to provide those 3 things to a highly intelligent, often politically well read person past their twenties. Even at a co-op.

Like many of the aforementioned people, the idea of working in a collective without any bosses really appealed to me. I thought it would be incredibly stress free. I thought it would be a haven.

When I left my collective I was shocked to discover my stress levels plummeting way down, in an ordinary job and with a boss.

I discovered that having no bosses often meant having a number of people trying to be your boss. The absence of a formal, central authority also meant fewer barriers between you and your coworkers. That was both good and bad. People could get away with things that would get them fired in any other job, on the spot. One of them was inflicting their negative moods on those around them.

At my post-collective “regular” job, people were still human beings with their own problems, but they kept much more of their problems from becoming other people’s problems. Bosses were not any big deal other. Show up on time, do your job, do it well, go home and most of the time people will not have a problem with you. No need to go home and ruminate on the interactions you had that day.

Almost everyone I have known who has worked in a “co-op” has had this pleasantly astonishing observation after leaving and finding a “regular job”. Working in a collective is an incredibly enriching experience. Those who choose to stay in them past their student years or their twenties have a number of reasons for doing so. One of the reasons that is not good, that contributes to perpetually depressed, angry workers is the myth that they have a haven from the world of “regular jobs”.

“Regular jobs” have stress too. There really are no havens. At least beyond those that you create for yourself by trying to adjust the best way you can to reality. However, having some combination of a well defined skill, a respected education, an interesting job or respect make it all go down much more easily.

Pass the hummus, man…. 🙂

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