Re: blocking consensus
From: Tree Bressen (
Date: Fri, 1 Feb 2002 21:45:02 -0700 (MST)
Dear Kay & folks,

>I've been told repeatedly that the only justification for blocking consensus
>is that you think the proposal will harm the community, and not because you
>dislike it personally.
>If a proposal makes requirements of you that you find objectionable, but
>seems unlikely to cause harm to the community, and the community doesn't
>want to be talked out of it -- what are your options?  Aside from selling
>your house, or saying "I won't! And you can't make me."
>How far can one stretch the definition of "harm"?  I don't think having
>unhappy or angry members, even only one or two, can be regarded as *good*
>for a community.

When i teach consensus courses, i definitely emphasize the concept of
blocking as being about the group, not about the individual.  It's an
important point because blocking is a key part of consensus process and is
often misunderstood.  I frequently encounter organizations that attempt to
use consensus and experience abuses of blocking power, although i am
delighted that such abuses seem to be relatively rare in cohousing groups.

As Sara mentioned, standing aside is an option.  And in the formalized
consensus process, it is indeed the appropriate place to locate yourself if
the group has reached a decision point and you are not in alignment with
the proposal.  However, standing aside does not exempt one from being
covered by the policy.  An exemption would require the group to actually
make a different agreement, such as, "We agree that everyone except Jane
Doe will get their sidewalks salted by the Snowplow Committee when it
snows."  (However, in order to be realistic, it's important that a group
not go forward with a decision in the face of a stand aside from the key
implementor of a proposal.  That is, if in the above example Jane Doe was
the head of the Snowplow Committee and wanted to stand aside, i'd say the
group needs to work with it more.)

So you asked for other options.  In the groups that i've lived in, if
someone felt extremely negative about a proposal that was sufficient cause
for the group to do more work on the item.  Basically, when we live
together we care about each other's needs being met enough to put the
energy in to find solutions everyone can live with.  (There are exceptions
to this--sometimes it really is appropriate for someone to move on--but
that's rare.)  What are the other possibilities in this situation?  What
are the underlying needs that people are trying to meet with the proposal?
Can you suggest alternative ways to address those needs?  Can you get
together with a few of the main people who are supporting the proposal you
find objectionable and see what y'all can work out together?

It's easy for groups to get stuck once they get focused on a particular
solution.  So sometimes it can be very helpful to take one step back, list
the criteria or needs or questions the group is attempting to address, and
then brainstorm or discuss options on how to address that list.  Humyn
creativity, once engaged, is an amazing force.  For most issues that come
up there are lots of options on what to do, and with enough patience it
should be possible to find something that everyone can live with without
the resentment you are concerned about.

I hope some of this is helpful.  Best of luck,



Tree Bressen
1680 Walnut St.
Eugene, OR 97403
(541) 484-1156
tree [at]
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