Always being afraid of the worst case
From: Rob Sandelin (
Date: Thu, 27 Jan 2000 08:19:34 -0700 (MST)
I was not saying being concerned about food safety was a dysfunction. A
commonly seen problem in groups is overstating fears without any sort of
rational analysis of the likihood/reality of the event actually occuring.
This is commonly seen in the, But we could get sued, line of thinking. A
good example, I watched a group spend 4 meetings trying to make a decision
about a playset. They got hung up over the idea that a neighboring kid could
hurt themselves, become paralysed and sue them.

Of course this COULD happen, the liklihood of it ACTUALY occuring, is very
small, and that is why you have liability insurance. Yet, they could not
move forward until they could convince a person that the statistical
likihood of injury was within reason. This took them a huge effort, and
caused quite a bit of resentment and anger. (oh joy, that's what I got to
work with them about)

The fear of food poisioning and community dinner due to using either
wood/plastic cutting boards is way overstated. Check around with established
groups, you will find food poisioning in the commonhouse to be a non-issue.
Yes, of course you want to pay attention to basic kitchen health issues,
just like you do at home. (natural selection will weed out those that
regularly splash raw meat around uncooked veggies long before you ever meet

Look at your own history, your families history of food poisioning at home.
The food poisioning issues are exceptions, not common. If they were common,
you'd be dead. So if you spend lots of time in your group worrying about it,
then you are not being realistic. So, Yes you should be a spending a
reasonable amount of time on food handling safety, but not spending a whole
meeting debating cutting boards.

There is a personality type which consistently does the worse/extreme case
presentation,and  which really disrupts group work. They are sort of like
Eeyore, in Winnie the Pooh, the "It will never work, we are all going to
die" types. They can drive a group crazy with unrealistic fear mongering and
worst case what if's. This can tie up decision making because you have to
debunk every extreme case fear, which is a huge waste of time and energy,
and can really demoralize a group fast. In the worse cases, people just drop
the issue because they don' want to go through all the work to reassure the
worse case scenarios will not happen. Sometimes this gets manifested as
rumor mongering of incorrect, misinterpreted, or unrealistic information,
and so the group has to spend energy dealing with unfounded issues.

"Hey, did ya hear? The roof trusses we are using aren't guarenteed, they
will probably have to be replaced and it will cost us thousands of dollars
each." The real case is, no roof trusses anywhere are guarenteed, none that
have been installed have ever failed or had to be replaced.

The key to working with this kind of stuff is having dynamic facilitation
which uses observation and intervention.

These "Eeyores" can be useful in groups, and their talents at finding the
faults and down sides can be directed by a facilitator in such a way that it
brings a balance to a group, but does not go over the deep end. Often, by
directly asking them to look for the potential problems, they feel involved
and excited as participants without being a anchor on the whole group. When
looking at the pros and cons, they do well at finding the cons. This is
useful and helpful when balanced.

A couple that are friends of mine are exact opposites, She is the unbridled
optimistic dreamer type, he is the it probably won't work, lets look at this
carefully type. Together they make a good balance. If your spending a lot of
time in meetings assuring worse case scenarios will not happen, you will
want to try to find some balance. Otherwise you will lose people's energy.

Rob Sandelin
Northwest Intentional Communities Association
Building a better society, one neighborhood at a time

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