Re: Experiences in handling difficult issues
From: Philip Dowds (
Date: Thu, 20 Feb 2014 12:47:21 -0800 (PST)
We like to imagine that the consensus process is an irrepressible geyser of 
dynamic exchange, pro-active listening and creative ingenuity — a process 
surely guaranteed to result in an astonishing, unanticipated new solution that 
makes everyone happy.  And some of the time, this really happens.  But just as 
often, after weeks or months of sincere best efforts from everyone, the process 
gets about 80% down the road, and discloses irreconcilable differences.  The 
process does its best, and then gets stuck.

When unanimity is unfindable, despite everyone's best efforts, one must then 
ask, What's best for the community?  The status quo, favored by a few?  Or the 
proposed change, favored by the many?  If the many get their way, leaving a 
minority distressed and alienated, it certainly isn't obvious that the benefits 
of changing things is balanced by the high costs of hard feelings.

But if you are getting stuck often, and people start to fear the process as 
painful and unrewarding, then it is possible that some of your members need 
more practice in living in community.  Consensus is not always, or only, about 
getting your own way, or group creativity.  It's also about broadening your 
tolerance range; learning to let go of things (many of which, in hindsight, 
will eventually seem trivial); and subordinating some part of your personal 
interests to the larger perspective of the group as a whole.  Divergent 
opinions may be common, especially in a diverse community; but hard feelings 
should be very rare.

If you bring in a professional consensus trainer, s/he will help you tune up 
your methods — and also, tune up your participants.

Philip Dowds

"If you want to make enemies, try to change something."  Woodrow Wilson.

PS:  It's frequently hard to draw sharp boundaries between facts and opinions 

> On Feb 20, 2014, at 2:40 PM, Willow Murphy <willowm7 [at]> wrote:
> We'd like some ideas from other communities in how you have handled
> difficult or divisive issues within the consensus process.  We are
> especially concerned about times when some members have strong feelings and
> concerns against a proposal and others have "facts" to support it, which we
> have recently experienced.   This has brought up the tough issue of whether
> we value facts over what are believed to be legitimate concerns, or vice
> versa. Concerns may be devalued, because there aren't as many facts to back
> them up.   The question of caring about our neighbors feelings came up, the
> question of either group "forcing their will" on the other, the importance
> of saving money over health concerns or the reverse, and how to find what
> really IS best for the community as a whole?  In our case, we didn't
> proceed to the third meeting where a vote could have been called for.  The
> proposal was tabled by the proposer, but there is still frustration and
> some hard feelings about how our process with this didn't work well.  We
> use Butler's consensus guidelines.
> Willow
> Sand River Cohousing
> Santa Fe, NM.
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