Re: Consensus: late blocks
From: Fred H Olson (
Date: Sat, 31 Jan 2004 12:24:32 -0700 (MST)
PattyMara Gourley <pattymara [at]>
is the author of the message below. 
It was posted by Fred the Cohousing-L list manager <fholson [at]> 
--------------------  FORWARDED MESSAGE FOLLOWS --------------------

At Tierra Nueva, our Resident Guidelines describe the consensus "voting"
with thumbs:
Thumbs Up = Yes, I support the proposal.
Thumbs Sideways = I have questions or concerns/I need more information or
have a suggestion.
Thumbs Down = No, I have a sense that this action does not serve the best
interests of the group as a whole, but I will work with the presenter of
the proposal to find an alternative. 
A thumbs down (block) is rare...we tend to use our thumbs sideways much
much more often.  The thumbs down, when used, requires a willingness to
continue the collaborative process to find an agreement that will serve
the community's greater needs.  Theoretically, everyone present has a
"piece of the truth" when it comes to making group decisions.  Not
"liking" a decision is different than "I have a semse that this will not
serve the best interests of the whole".  Usually the underlying needs
(which are usually hidden to everyone including the blocker) can be
explored to see what is really going on with the person.  Once the
underlying needs are expressed,  a pathway opens to continued discussion.
  Also, if the proposal is made with the caveat "For a three (or six)
month trial" it will often encourage the group to give it a try, even
those of us with misgivings.
I also feel that the phrase the "good of the whole" holds its own glib
tyranny, and can be misused.  When asked to explore the underlying needs
below one's feelings of discomfort or anxiety about a proposal, the next
step is for everyone present to get "bigger" and to somehow tune into the
larger group soul and ask:  will this proposal damage our core values? 
or tarnish our vision?  or throw our vision off course?  These are big
questions, and they take time, and silence, and a willingness to step
into bigger shoes.  It takes practice.   And courage to keep the heart
connections open.  
When Bree says:  "We are so scared of each other; telling someone that
something felt bad to you is a risk in vulnerability"  I smile and nod. 
We have been so conditioned to be afraid of conflict.  These fears are
old patterns that keep bubbling up, and we just get to practice over and
over and over a new way of maintaining heart connections in the midst of
The clear boundaries that Bree described when presenting a proposal at
prior meetings before the actual vote is taken, giving everyone time to
learn and think about the content, helps affirm the atmosphere of
respect,  particularly for those who need time to let things simmer abit
on the back burner before taking action.  And asking those who are voting
to be those who were present at the prior meetings, or somehow involved
in the collaborative journey, makes good sense. 
Nearly two years ago Mac Thomson from Heartwood Cohousing posted this on
the listserve:  "Consensus is a microcosm of life in cohousing.  It's
about really listening to and being sensitive to the concerns of others. 
It's about achieving common ground.  And ultimately, it's about building
long term, healthy relationships."  I love that quote...saved it and put
it into our latest Resident Guidelines as a reminder.  Thanks, Mac! 
After living here for five and a half years, I'm so pleased that most of
our decisions these days don't hold the anxiety or urgency that they used
to, back in the days of development and construction, when BIG money
issues had to be decided.   Currently one of our most pressing decisions
is what color of corel dishes do we choose to replace our original set of
colorful, but heavy dishes?  And, how about if we smash up the old
chipped clunkers and make a big gorgeous mosaic on the earthbag/adobe
entry wall that we are finally getting around to build?
Patty Mara Gourley, Tierra Nueva, central CA coast 

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