Consensus Fallbacks
From: Sherri Rosenthal (
Date: Mon, 4 Jan 1999 19:03:11 -0600
Mark Bishop wrote:
"Undermining the ability to block consensus in turn undermines the
consensus process.  Is it consensus for the group to decide to vote around
the person blocking a consensus that is counter to the agreed principals of
the group?"

I think this is a very important question. I am very uncomfortable with the
process suggested as a work-around for blocked consensus of having a vote
to decide "the legitimacy" of the position of the person blocking
consensus. I don't think this gets away from stigmatizing the person
blocking consensus.

Here's an example from my own experience. In my own case, I stated an
intention to block what might otherwise have been group consensus to do
away with a protective covenant which said operable firearms may not be
kept or fired at Eno Commons. This created a lot of anger among some of the
people who wanted the covenant changed. If I was forced to formally block
consensus, and if a vote had been taken at that time as to whether my
reasons were "legitimate," I think there may well have been a majority who
would have voted, "illegitimate." The reasons I stated included group
values--such as that everyone who joined to that point had done so with the
covenant in place, and that I had relied in part on the covenant in
deciding to live at Eno Commons. But part of the reason for blocking was
also purely personal: that given things that had happened in the past with
a member of the group who was pushing for the covenant to be changed, and
given my own past history, I wouldn't feel safe. 

Many of the writings here have presumed that purely personal reasons for
blocking consensus are "illegitimate." I don't think that is necessarity
true. I find the  notion of categorizing "legitimate" vs. "illegitimate"
reasons for blocking consensus to be very problematic. 

I understand and appreciate that there can be dysfunctional people who call
attention to themselves by blocking group decisions. If this is a chronic
thing with certain members, there should be a way of dealing with it rather
than torquing around the entire consensus process. (Rob, Stuart,and other
process mavens: ideas?) When someone is blocking consensus who is not known
for such chronic group dysfunction, I think it should always be seen as
"legitimate," meaning, the person and the group need to engage in dialogue
to make sure that everyone is being understood, and to create an inclusive
solution, if that is possible.

Finally, in less mature cohousing groups, prior to and early after move-in,
there is a strong urge to bond, a powerful desire for group cohesion and
bonding. This desire for closeness and good feeling can cause members to
stifle conflict and "telling it like it is." For many people who long for
the emotional comfort of group membership, it's much easier to let concerns
slide by than it is to risk the discomforts of blocking what appears to be
consensus.  I think that particularly when groups are not yet more mature,
there may well be only one person who will brave the storm and block

It is very uncomfortable to block consensus. By creating a vote on whether
the reason for blocking is "legitimate", we overload a process that already
has tremendous disincentives. I think this may defeat the purpose of having
the power to block consensus be part of the process.

Best wishes for a consensual new year,

Sherri Zann Rosenthal
Developer and member, Eno Commons Cohousing
Durham, NC

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