Re: Consent or Consensus
From: Rob Sandelin (
Date: Wed, 5 Jul 2006 12:57:29 -0700 (PDT)
Although this might a voice in the wilderness, I teach and believe that
consent is asking the group for permisison to go ahead.  it does not mean, I
agree. When I consent it means, I give group permission at this time to move
ahead with this decision. Should new learning or information arise which
changes important aspects, we will reconsider this decision. 

In the world of cohousing there are sort of two stages of deciison making.
The early stage of formation and development  there are decisions that must
be made which really can not be changed, or certainly not easily changed.
Construction details are seldom changed later.  Having this experience,
where you are making a bunch of unchangable decisions leads to lots of
scrutiny and even some fear of making a mistake.  What I have seen happen is
that this same level of fear and scrutiny then gets applied to living
together decisions which are easily modified and changeable.  A pet policy
can be changed at any time,  a decision about what kinds of vegetables to
plant in the garden can be pretty easily changed.  The shingles you choose
for your roof will not be easy or cheap to change should you not like them. 

It is a psycologocial barrier for some people until they come to understand
that decisions CAN be modified later.

When folks who are afraid to make a decision can not give permission to move
ahead, sometimes putting a time frame and a reconsideration window on a
decision can help ease their fears so they can give permission. If it's
implicit that the group will review this decision in 6 months then it can
ease fears of making mistakes or not including something which might come

I used to coach groups with the idea that you are living in a giant
experiment so go ahead and try things out. Experiment, fail, try it again
differently, experience it several ways.  Don't be afraid to make mistakes,
embrace them, learn from them.  Be bold, encourage invention, give each
other opportunities. Don't expect to get it perfect on the first try, expect
to modify and change your approaches over time so don't get hung up on
little details or what if's.  Try it out, modify, try it out again. Ask for
new ideas.   In 15 years the Sharingwood meal process has changed dozens of
times, and we are currently reworking it again, trying out a new idea each

Community is not a destination where everything is figured out and done,
community is a ever on going road trip of process and relationship, with
short stops of stability along the way and lots of people driving various
directions. You may never have permanent meeting process, dinner process,
interationship process because along the way new people will join until they
replace everyone who created those processes and they will want to invent
their own to suit their needs. 

A story I heard once at a communities gathering.  A person left a vegan
community for three years, returned for a visit and was shocked to see the
group offering hamburgers at a meal.  The groups values around food had
morphed, the individuals had not.  Communities are dynamic, changing places.
Hold on to your hat, the ride can be bumpy, but like a rollercoaster, it can
also be very exciting. 

Rob Sandelin
Sharingwood Cohousing, Snohomish WA
Naturalist, Writer
The Environmental Science School
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