Re: Objection Versus Extortion
From: R Philip Dowds (
Date: Thu, 20 Oct 2011 17:22:17 -0700 (PDT)
To clarify my abstracted example:  A and B are stand-ins for all the line items 
of a fifty-line annual budget.  The entire community is happy with all fifty 
lines.  And the budget is all one proposal.

But one member (well, OK, two) is unhappy that the budget does not also include 
a fifty-first line, and seems willing to block the whole schlabonza until s/he 
gets what s/he wants.  I call this extortion.

I will keep the list posted.

R Philip Dowds AIA
Cornerstone Cohousing
175 Harvey Street, Unit 5
Cambridge, MA 02140

On Oct 19, 2011, at 7:05 PM, Mary Ann Clark wrote:

> Not knowing the issues and all the circumstances, it appears to me that you 
> have too many proposals on the table. In my community each proposal (A, B, C, 
> D, E, et all) would need to be proposed and considered individually. 
> If someone (or several someones) opposed a proposal we have a pretty detailed 
> procedure in which they have to state their objection in terms of our shared 
> values and the best interests of the community. If the objection can pass 
> that threshold and the issue can't be resolved in the moment, it is the 
> responsibility of the blocker(s) to bring forward a counter-proposal to deal 
> with the issue at the next general meeting (blocker can't hold the issue 
> captive by his/her inaction). It may take a couple additional meetings, but 
> eventually the community can accept (by consensus) 1) some new proposal 
> incorporating the solutions from the original proposal modified to deal with 
> the issues brought forward by the blocker, 2) the counter-proposal presented 
> by the blocker, 3) the original proposal. Proposals are considered in that 
> order. In a worst case scenario, after all other options are exhausted, we 
> have the option to go to a vote. (We've had to work through this process a 
> couple times, but have never had to vote.)
> It is the responsibility of the blocker to both convince the community that 
> he/she has a legitimate concern and formulate a way to deal with the issue. 
> One issue shouldn't be held hostage to other issues and if someone wants to 
> exercise his/her right to block, he/she must be willing to present 
> alternative. Similarly, "I'm unhappy because my previous proposal wasn't 
> considered/accepted" isn't considered a legitimate block, i.e., doesn't pass 
> the shared values/best interest of the community threshold.
> In the case you present, the three issues (furniture, utility bills and 
> assessments) are somewhat independent. Payment of the utility bill shouldn't 
> be a consensus issue at all. If there's a problem with the utilities, perhaps 
> a committee/task team needs to look into that problem (we're running the 
> heat/AC too much, we have a water leak, etc.)  but whether or not the bill is 
> paid shouldn't even be a question.
> Perhaps the furniture might be connected with the assessment budget. If so, 
> it may need to be considered in light of all the other demands on the 
> assessment income. In our community, the budget is based on the wants/needs 
> of the standing committees. If one committee's wants are out of line, that 
> can be negotiated either in the general meeting or between meetings. 
> (Committee often revise their budget requests after seeing the whole budget 
> laid out.) We have a strong ethic of not raising dues, so every year about 
> this time we start the push and pull of creating a budget for next year. We 
> might have to decide between buying chairs or investing in some other project 
> but an individual's "wants" can't overcome the community's "needs."
> I'm interested in hearing how this has worked in your community,
> Mary Ann
> Manzanita Village where lovely fall weather has returned to remind us why we 
> live here and not elsewhere
> On Oct 19, 2011, at 2:48 AM, R Philip Dowds wrote:
>> Begging to clarify:
>> In this instance, E is (somewhat) related: like C and D, it's all about 
>> allocating and approving budget expenditures.  Following a well-attended 
>> General Meeting where E was discussed in detail, and with regarded with 
>> skepticism — a meeting at which, I might add, Person X did not show up — 
>> Group Two explicitly (re)considered E at an announced open meeting — where 
>> person X was unseen — and decided not to include it in its finalized 
>> proposal.  But C and D are valid, important and acceptable without any E; 
>> you don't need E to make C and D work.
>> To make things more clear:  Maybe I want the community to replace some 
>> dining room furniture, and Group Two did not agree to present this to 
>> General Meeting as part of its proposal recommendations.  Should I block 
>> paying the utility bill and the entire 2012 assessment program until people 
>> agree to get me new chairs?  Should Group Two have worked harder to talk me 
>> out of chairs, or to accept stools as less expensive substitute, before the 
>> meeting?  But here ...
>> You raise an interesting related question:  Who owns the block?  Our 
>> community mood is that if a proposal falls short of consensus, it is the 
>> proposers who failed the process, not the blocker.  Even when blocker makes 
>> no time to show up at the pre-meetings, nor to advocate his/her case to, and 
>> explore alternatives with, the proposers.  The proposers always have the 
>> prime duty to reach out harder, and find and negotiate with all potential 
>> blockers until the proposal can sail through the meeting without a hitch.  
>> If some members are sleepwalking through history, but show up out of nowhere 
>> to exercise their rights, well, that's the price of a true consensus process.
>> I'm not fully on board with this model of consensus.  In my world view, 
>> proposers have duties, but the right to block the hard work of others is 
>> earned, not automatic.  The block I described was not really an objection, 
>> it was hostage-taking.  So for now, I'll stick with my characterization of 
>> extortion.
>> Anybody else out there ever seen anything like this?  How did you deal with 
>> it?  How would you deal with it?
>> RPD
>> On Oct 18, 2011, at 9:44 PM, Sharon Villines wrote:
>>> On 18 Oct 2011, at 9:09 PM, R Philip Dowds wrote:
>>>> I would argue that if Person X has no gripe with C and D, s/he should 
>>>> up-thumb it.  This would be intellectually and ethically honest, and 
>>>> permits the community to proceed with something everyone finds valuable.  
>>>> And then if Person X still feels strongly about getting E as well, the 
>>>> s/he should form Group Three, and develop his/her own proposal for same.
>>>> Comments?  Thanks.
>>> What is the aim of the decision? What is it supposed to accomplish? Is 
>>> there an agreement about this? How do each of the proposals address the aim?
>>> The focus appears to be on politics and gotcha and who has to do what, 
>>> instead of on the purpose of the decision and what a quality solution would 
>>> include.
>>> Not enough up front work. Not enough attention to content and quality of 
>>> the proposed solutions.
>>> Sharon
>>> ----
>>> Sharon Villines, Washington DC
>>> "Behavior is determined by the prevailing form of decision making." Gerard 
>>> Endenburg
>>> _________________________________________________________________
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> --
> Knowledge is knowing a tomato is a fruit; Wisdom is not putting it in a fruit 
> salad.
> Mary Ann Clark                                                  drmaryann49 
> [at]
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