RE: All-but-one consensus
From: Rob Sandelin (
Date: Fri, 29 Apr 94 12:28 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.

>...Remainder of posting dealt with Scott Pecks evil people hypothesis 
and Martins >experience with consensus blockers.

My reality differs.  I too have found people who seem to block 
consensus in order just be troublesome and to derail the progress.  
This is probably one of the commonest situation I have found when I 
have been asked to help mediate a group dispute.

In every single instance of this, (I can think of 8 mediations off-hand 
over the last 3 years) the blocking (evil in Scott Pecks terms) 
individual had a real issue which either had been ignored, or unheard, 
which was the root of the discontent. The issue under contention was 
not the real issue or problem, it was something else, usually a 
communication problem or a power hierarchy type of problem.

Although my mediation work is confidential, let me give a generic case 
example of how this works.   Jon has a secret crush on Joanie, and she 
isn't interested in him. He indirectly makes his feelings known and she 
very carefully lets him know she is not interested.  They are both 
adults right? everything is ok now right? A couple weeks later at a 
dinner conversation she gently mocks him in front of some other women 
friends and he is humiliated and quietly furious, although he hides his 
anger, makes a quick come-back retort and leaves, on the surface 
without any real problem.  Three months later, some of the women who 
were at dinner that night are part of a proposal.  Jons unresolved 
anger comes out and he blocks their proposal, seems intractable and 
even more than a little rude about it.
Joanie has left the group and no one but Jon remembers the mocking 
incident but here it is again, blowing out the group process.  He may 
not even realize the source of his anger with these women but he feels 
a strong dislike of them and anything they propose he is going to be 
stubbornly against. Is he "evil" as Scott Peck would label him? hardly.

If this all seems like Pysch 101 stuff  you're right.  Group dynamics 
is a hugely complex and interesting subject, which cohousing groups in 
general seem blissly ignorant of.   It is too bad that pop pyscologists 
like Peck can get away with reducing enormously complex human 
relationships to simple labels.  He does the same thing with his 
descriptions of community as well. (I could rant for hours about Peck . 
He seems to generate either guruish love or scorn and derision from people)

I find many groups (including my own) often use consensus badly.  False 
consensus is often rampant, where people do not speak their truth 
because they feel the group does not want to hear it.  I have written 
an article describing the warning signs and solutions to  false 
consensus for the Summer issue of the Northwest Intentional Communities 
Association newsletter.  Its too long to post but if you have interest 
send me a SASE and I'll mail a copy.

In my opinion, based on my own experience with consensus, in a  well 
run consensus process blocking should hardly ever occur.  Blocking is 
never used except in the best interests of the group.  In my 
observations, blocking is too often used to promote the interests of an 
individual.  This is not consensus and in an environment where all 
participants are not committed to  acting in the best interests of the 
group, consensus is not possible.  One of the first questions I ask in 
mediation for groups is for them to define their commitment to the 
group vs. their personal self interest.

Also consensus is often inappropriately applied to decisions which it 
should not.  For example decisions in which their is not a true best 
solution for the group is not a good decision to use for consensus.  
Which is the best true solution, blue tile or green tile? There is no 
such thing as best solution here (assuming both colors work with the 
rest of the design choices), it is just a matter of personal 
preference.  These kinds of personal preference, micro design decisions 
are perhaps better made by a vote or by the architect.  If you tried to 
use consensus for this tile color decision you would waste a whole lot 
of time and will probably end up deadlocked, in which case most groups 
let the architect decide.

For a descrition of a effective group decision model I reccomend 
reading Collaborative Decision Making.  Joel David Welty. Pp 51-52 in 
Communities:Journal of Cooperative Living. No. 80/81 Spring/Summer 1993

Rob Sandelin
Sharingwood Cohousing
22020 East Lost Lake Rd.
Snohomish, WA  98290

As to the Winslow question, (Someone living in the community but not 
being part of the community)   here is the reply of someone who lives there:

Well, it's a bit more complicated than that. For one thing, he is dead.
He was an older man, who had leukemia. He was working full time and
trying to fight the inevitable by going to dances, health clubs, etc.
He wanted to connect with the community, but I don't think he knew
how, even when we reached out to him. He just stayed too busy to
participate, although he occasionally went hiking with the kids.

It was a very sad situation, actually. It taught me a lesson: if you
want support during the difficult times in life, you need to stay put,
serve others, make relationships, get involved in the messiness and
joys of community life. Some people are more skilled at group participation\010
than others--and I do think it is a skill. One of these days, I want to
write an article about "How to Join a Group," and for the group "How to
Welcome a Newcomer to Your Group." Not so much a how to, rather, but
a resurrection of two arts: humility/service and hospitality, respectively.

a-bertaw [at]

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