Re: Emotion, consensus, and power.
From: Bitner/Stevenson (
Date: Wed, 20 Oct 1999 00:24:04 -0600 (MDT)
> My question is: isn't this really a massive hole in the idea that consensus
> decision making is democratic.  We do not all have equal power, because we
> are equipped with widely varying abilities to sustain dissent.  I'm sure we
> all know this intuitively; I'm trying to surface it and formalize it somewhat
> so it can be examined.
> And I'm warning you now; if you all disagree with me, I'm going to
> unsubscribe :-)
> Stuart.

I don't believe that there is any community where everyone has true
equality, not the way that you mean. Since we are social animals, were are
programmed to have a hierarchical nature. Obviously, since we have such
complex brains, we are much less so than, say, baboons. Egalitarian
communities are the exception rather than the rule, for now, and we are all
in the process, however small scale, of evolving society.

What we can do is try to mitigate the effects of our naturally dominant or
submissive nature by making sure that there are rules or traditions of
making people more comfortable about saying "no" to the group. I hope you
don't have as difficult a time with your community as you did with that
email group!

One of the things that we did when we first moved in was let some people
block consensus without requiring much from them in the way of
justification. Always, the issues got resolved later. My belief is that they
felt so much more comfortable with the power that we as a group had given
them, that they were able to let go of their fears and reach consensus.

We have what I call our "canary in a coal mine" people who are much more
sensitive to the kinds of behavior that might hurt people than those of us
who are more of the steamroller type. Some of us fit into both categories.;)
There is one person in particular whom I find very valuable at meetings,
since she frequently alerts us when we are "steamrollering". Listen to the
sensitive people. Even if you agree with a proposal, don't let the
discussion end if you don't think the process worked or if there is someone
whom you feel has been left out. If everyone in the community takes
responsibility for this, then few are hurt by the process.

Liz Stevenson
Southside Park Cohousing
Sacramento, California

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