Consensus [Was new article on blocking]
From: Sharon Villines (
Date: Wed, 21 Jan 2004 08:52:11 -0700 (MST)
A group's ability to make decisions is a measure of its power, its strength, its ability to get things done. The reason you want to use consensus is that it produces the best decisions -- ones that are well thought out and that address all the concerns and needs of the people who have to live by them.

The value of consensus is that you build it by addressing the various voices, needs, etc of your group. It is built one person at a time in order to (1) make strong decisions and (2) have a more powerful group.

When consensus is used from the beginning of group formation, those who find themselves on the wrong side of issues do not become members of that group and a group that is not growing understands that it must broaden its options if it wants to be more inclusive. Once a group is formed, consensus prevents the creation of dissatisfied minorities that ultimately destroy groups.

The problem with strawpolls and "blocking" is that they muddy up the concept and process of getting to consensus.

"Blocking" consensus is an oxymoron. If there are still objections to a decision, there is no consensus to block! The whole idea is an accident waiting to happen.

Strawpolls and temperature checks are continued tyranny of the majority. Even if they are not binding, the thought process behind them is to focus on the majority and record the fact that MOST of agree to this proposal. Only you, or a few of you, disagree and NOW we know who you are. This can be done very subtly and very caringly but is still a deterrent to many people who may have very good ideas and very strong feelings but they will not buck the majority. Some of them will go forward and consciously or unconsciously sabotage the process.

"The good of the community" is also a euphemism for "the good of the majority". A community only exists as a defined number of individuals. The is no group or community without some basic agreement by individuals to belong to that group. The individual group members can decide to go along with the majority or the group can decide by consensus that on certain decisions, a majority vote is sufficient, but individuals make that decision, not the "group."

In coming to consensus, the focus has to be on the objections. Are there remaining objections? Many people may still have concerns but that is different than objecting to a decision. You can move forward with concerns while being aware that there are still doubts or unresolved issues.

In Sociocracy objections must be (1) paramount and (2) argued. Both these terms come from systems theory so they need some explanation.

"Paramount" (as I understand it, still learning here), means that the decision is outside your tolerance. If you were a tree, it would break you or bend you in an intolerable way. You could not continue to function in some way that is important to your membership in the group, your role as a worker, etc.

"Argued" means that your objection has to be stated in terms that can be addressed. This comes from mathematics where 2+2=4 is an argument -- it is the expression of a true condition. It means that to object, you have to come to meetings or talk to someone or write a letter explaining your objections. To object, you have to object in a way that your objections can be addressed.

Objections are valued because it is necessary to the group to have everyone's support and participation. An objection contains more information than an agreement. Many people who "agree" actually never read the proposal!!!! How much good is their agreement when the tree falls on your head because the group decided by majority vote that trees should never be cut down?

In absence of a paramount and argued objection, the decision is made.

One of the major problems with consensus decisions is that people try to make decisions without defining aims -- what is the point of this decision? The decision is resting in a rock bed of unacknowledged disagreements that no one wants to address -- they just want consensus. The same way we all want groups without taking the time to work out the kinks -- define our common aim. We just want to get built and moved in so we skip the small pebbles that grow to boulders and build fences. Deal with those later!

Sharon Villines
Takoma Village Cohousing, Washington DC

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