Re: Consensus Fallbacks- legitimacy
From: Lynn Nadeau (
Date: Tue, 5 Jan 1999 15:40:33 -0600
Sometimes there is an issue -- which presents itself as a blocking 
objection-- which can be held as legitimate in the sense that the blocker 
is sincere in their emotions and that they do not see their concerns as 
frivolous, but which nonetheless does not impress the group as a 
legitimate reason to interfere with a decision, because it does not seem 
to be connected to the group's values or the real implications of the 
decision involved. 

The example:
An opportunity arose for us to take into our community a family which 
bought property next to ours. Fabulous people, with lots of commitment to 
community and energy to put into committee and work-party tasks, with an 
offer of easements on their land for walking trails--- adding to the 
diversity of our smallish commons--- and ten thousand dollars cash 
contribution, which would give our common house budget a useful boost, 
and negate any impact of increased use of the common house and commons. 
Plus annual assessments like the rest of us. A very clear positive 
opportunity, it seemed. 

One person objected, and very passionately. Why? Because the neighbor 
family did not have young children. Well, most of our families do not 
have young children. And we have sold our lots to anyone who 
self-selected, with no such criteria. And this was not even a lot which 
we could have sold to someone else. We were not narrowing the number of 
remaining lots to sell, which could conceivably be sold to people with 
young children. 

For the objector, the matter was one of intense personal disappointment 
that her child had not ended up with peers in the cohousing project: she 
felt she had mislead her child in promising her playmates in the project. 
Betrayed her child's trust. Very emotional. 

She was so frustrated that she wanted to in effect hold the group hostage 
over the matter. The only result would have been the loss of the various 
assets this family brought to the project. Not any increase in the number 
of children here. 

Many sorts of outreach and mediation failed to mitigate her angry 
blocking stance. The emotional pain was sympathetically listened to and 
empathized with. And the group fell back -- for the first time in 9 years 
--- to a process whereby a vote was called for a month later. When the 
meeting for the vote came, the objector was absent and declined to file a 
proxy vote, when asked. and so there was in fact consensus among the 
quorum present, and we had no need to vote. (We were a bit confused about 
whether we had obligated ourselves to a vote, and recorded one, just in 

Result -- for the community, a new infusion of energy and money and 
skills and human relationships. Not only the middle-aged couple, but 
their charming and sociable elder parents, who enliven every party. Not 
only walking trails, but a building which has become our interim common 
house, for meetings and dinners and discussion circles and parties. And 
one member of the family has worked especially hard to find ways to bring 
in lower-income young families with children, via Habitat or such 

The blocker never talks about it. She has often in the past retreated 
from group participation for a year at a time, relating pleasantly with 
the other individuals in the group, one to one, and attending purely 
social events, but avoiding meetings and internal politics. And she went 
once again into this mode, where she remains. The Recruitment Committee 
keeps working on ways that would increase the chances of children, but 
she does not work with the committee. Her child attends school, takes 
music lessons, and mixes with other children in the surrounding town. 

So, none of us felt good about leaving her emotional concerns unmet, but 
at the same time we did not believe that allowing her to block our 
decision would have really met those needs anyway. It was pretty 
unambiguous to us that this was not a legitimate reason to halt our 

On another subject -- the matter of allowing guns is less clear to me. It 
seems that the reasons one would exclude guns from a community have 
everything to do with the physical safety and emotional security of the 
community members. The writer seemed to have reasonable concerns about 
both her safety and surely about her emotional security. 

An analogous situation might be dangerous dogs. There is a large dog here 
which has twice bitten my young teenager-- not drawing blood but piercing 
clothing. She is terrified of the dog and won't go outdoors if the dog is 
loose. I would think this a legitimate factor to take into account in 
making rules about dogs (certain dogs anyway) being allowed to run loose. 
A personal issue, but like the gun, a sort of matter in which the 
personal is what it is about. Right? 

Lynn Nadeau
RoseWind Cohousing, Port Townsend WA
The tenth anniversary of our first land purchase coming up next month!

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