Re: Rentals in Cohousing--decisionmaking
From: Robert Hartman (
Date: Wed, 17 Nov 93 14:25 CST
> From: ralynch [at] (Richard Lynch)
> Subject: Re: Rentals in Cohousing--decisionmaking

I'd like to comment on the very interesting discussion about how to
deal with conflicting interests between renters and owners.  Jim
Ratliff proposed the idea of a formal division based on decision
content.  Richard Lynch makes an interesting case against a-priori
formalisms of that type.

I had a number of really bad experiences in consensus-based
organizations when I was in college that left a bad taste in my mouth.
Consensus is not a panacea.  It can lead to bad will and bad decisions
when people have hidden agendas or problems with self-acceptance.

Covert and overt politicking can expand to fill all of the available
time and energy when the rules and the agendas aren't clear.  People
can get scapegoated and ostracised when they are misunderstood, when
they stand up to the group, or when they feel threatened for any
reason.  Back in the days before the concepts of emotional boundaries
and projection were widely understood, an informal group process was
not always a safe or sane place in which to make important decisions.
So I've tended to favor rules and criteria over group process.

However, my mind is beginning to change as a result of some recent good
experiences with group process.  But I must add the caution that these
have occurred in the context of a graduate program in psychology with
people who are clearly well-intended and have done significant work on
themselves.  Even so, many of our large group (~30 people) meetings are
a complete morass.  But every once in a while we get the hang of things
and when that happens it's magical.

I think that there are prerequisites for a reasonable shot at a
successful consensus process.  First, each person must be capable of
recognizing when he or she is taking things too personally.  Another
way of saying this is that people must be able to call themselves on
their own self-deceptions.  Because if they can't, the group will end
up processing that material with them.  This is fine when the group has
or is willing to make the time.  But even then, there are times in a
person's life where no matter how much effort a group puts in, she or
he just isn't ready to "get it."  And if that's the case, the group
will feel stymied and may take it out on that person.

Another prerequisite is that people must be honest forthcoming about
their agendas.  They must make a commitment to bring their issues to
the group as a whole.  Side-band communication should be limited to
reality checks.  "Did I really hear what I thought I heard?"  ... "Yes
you did."  People need to verify their perceptions to achieve clarity.
But once a concern is validated, it must be brought to the group.

For instance, in the case of a conflict between renters and owners,
each person who has an interest must state his or her position fully.
The group cannot make a sound decision unless it has all of the
pertinent information, and that includes knowing about the hopes and
aspirations of the people involved.

People must make a number of commitments to preserve the safety of
the space.  They must agree to honor each other's emotional
boundaries and own their own projections, speak only for themselves,
listen for their position to be stated before speaking, and make the
effort to speak up when they really need to.  Most importantly,
people must take personal responsibility for working through their
own emotional issues that working in any group brings out.  It helps
if the group can make a commitment to support that work, but that
may not always be feasible.  However, the group must make a
commitment to honor each individual as a full human being, and
provide whatever support it can.

Within a framework of emotional safety, I believe that consensus
process can live up to its promise.  But without those prerequisites,
I'll take a ballot any day.  Because without that, consensus process is
either a sham or a misguided experiment, and if I'm going to get
screwed with anyway, at least I can vote the bums out.


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