Idealism vs. Idyll-ism
By Joshua Youngblood, Board President
During our meeting last week, Vice President Jim Terrell brought up a very interesting article that appeared in UTNE magazine recently. Please forgive me to responding to it at length here, but I think the arguments it presents, and the cooperative thinking it challenges are important for us to consider.
In it, Eric Utne takes his local co-op, Linden Hills, to task for “accepting the misguided maxim that growth is always good.” It is regrettable that such a prominent editor of a magazine widely sold and read by members of the progressive community and co-ops around the country would publically lambast the management and Board of a cooperative for essentially making measured decisions to ensure the health of the business. But the article expresses concerns raised by co-op members around the country, including here in Tallahassee—concerns we have had to respond to in the past and will surely have to respond to in the future.
The UTNE article: www.utne.com/Politics/When-Growth-Isnt-Good.aspx
For me, the article crystallizes the difference between idealism and what we could call idyll-ism. We are owners of a cooperative and members of the cooperative community because want our consumer choices to reflect shared ideals. (Utne writes of the “open, public decisions” and “collective wisdom” needed to prevent decisions being made that are not in the interests of the community—has he ever been to a Board meeting, I wonder?) That does not mean we should be committed to a romantic notion of how those ideals should be most perfectly expressed. Nor, as we so often see, should we be intractably committed to a moment in time from our past experiences with a co-op that we think was the co-op at its best. That outlook is unrealistic, of course, because it doesn’t accept that economies and communities change and that co-ops have to work to stay viable as businesses. But it is also selfish and self-centered; refusing to acknowledge that co-ops serve other people’s needs as well and have to accommodate the needs of the changing institution while maintaining its ideals.
A co-op is not a museum or a private playhouse. New Leaf Market will grow, and must grow to meet the needs of our community. We have to be ready and able to facilitate that change as best as we can. We as a Board and a co-op will have to make some big decisions in the near future. But I am confident that we, and the General Manager we have entrusted with our co-op, will make those decisions in order to better serve our changing community as well as our ideals.