All-but-one consensus
From: Martin Tracy (
Date: Fri, 29 Apr 94 10:11 CDT
The issue of consensus came up at the recent meeting of the Claremont
Cohousing group.  I made a few statements based on my experiences in
community rather than cohousing, and would like to run them by you all as
a reality check.

Some background.  Scott Peck (author of The Road Less Traveled and People
of the Lie), believes that there are truly evil people.  To hear him
speak, about one out of twenty people will passively or actively
deliberately work to defeat the needs and the agenda of the other
nineteen.  This has also been my experience.  In a group workshop of about
100 people, there always seem to be about a half dozen people who just
don't get it, and probably never will.  On a committee of twenty that I
worked with for three years, there was one member who consistently voted
against consensus on every issue, while writing poisonous letters on the
side.  He was with us for a very long year.

Applying the usual engineering safety factor of doubling, it seems to me
that any group of ten or more people who would like to operate by
consensus should have some kind of safety valve to guard against a member
who is having a bad hair day/year/life.  A cohousing group may have
neither the will nor the way to force a truly disruptive member to leave
the group.  At that point, it seems to me that a group that operates by
consensus is stuck and, like a hung jury, may have to start over.

Since the Claremont group had about ten adults at the meeting, I suggested
using consensus-but-one as a fallback.  Since they wish to grow to be much
larger, this would imply that they eventually use a 90% majority rule.

Granted their are other ways to get around "stuck" decisions: prayer,
postponement, mediation, etc.  But then there has to be a rule about who
decides when an issue is stuck.  Anyone else run into this "one out of
twenty" phenomenom?

By the way, I heard that Winslow cohousing has a member who chooses not to
participate in any way in the common meals or other community activities.
He lives there simply because he likes how close it is to the ferry.
Anyone know if this is true?  

Martin Tracy -- mtracy [at]

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