Re: Moving back from concensus?
From: R Philip Dowds (
Date: Sun, 13 Dec 2020 13:41:04 -0800 (PST)
Sharon —

I’ve actually never found the expression can or can’t “live with it” to be very 
helpful.  If I’m in plenary among my friends and neighbors, and I object, and 
my objection means I “can’t live with it” … what am I saying?  That I’ll die if 
you make this decision?  That I’ll hate you forever and become the community 
hermit?  That I’ll move away?  None of those, of course, bear any relation to 
my objection, or to the feelings behind the objection.

Since we adopted our consensus reform in 2013, we’ve had very little in the way 
of super-majority voting.  But I was party to a couple of these votes, and in 
at least one case, the only no voter.  I was entirely alone.  And “can’t live 
with it” was completely irrelevant.  What I was saying was …
     “I’m sorry, but I really think you’re making a mistake, and here’s why.  I 
think we can do better, and here’s how.  I cannot, in good conscience, endorse 
the majority preference in a matter of this significance.  And I won’t.”

And after all that … I was still a member in good standing of my community, and 
still an active contributor.  And I certainly understood that the decision 
applied to me, and I expected fo comply with both letter and spirit.  And for 
me personally, I was much more comfortable in adhering to my own integrity, 
instead of pretending to “like” something I really didn’t “like”.  And after 
the vote, life goes on.  Consensus is great, but voting can be liberating.

Philip Dowds
Cornerstone Village Cohousing
Cambridge, MA 02140

mobile: 617.460.4549
email:   rphilipdowds [at]

> On Dec 13, 2020, at 2:40 PM, Sharon Villines via Cohousing-L <cohousing-l 
> [at]> wrote:
>> On Dec 13, 2020, at 12:53 PM, Max Tite <maxtite [at]> wrote:
>> Some years ago, Monterey moved from consensus to modified consensus where
>> two are required to block a proposal rather than one.
> My standard response: Consensus is consensus. Everyone has to be able to live 
> with the decision. Excepting two makes it a super majority vote and has all 
> the characteristics, good and bad, of the majority rules. Even worse it 
> isolates two people together instead of a larger minority. 
> I know people do call it consensus ( 90%, 95%, whatever) but when you 
> consider the reasons consensus is better, you see that anything short of it 
> is not consensus. It looses it’s meaning. 
> I am in favor of having a super majority backup for lots of reasons. If 
> people know you can go to majority vote they work harder to amend the 
> proposal into something they can support rather than being outvoted. And 
> sometimes decisions just have to be made faster than it is possible to 
> educate everyone about the issue. And sometimes a person in the group will 
> have nefarious reasons for objecting. Or object and refuse to discuss it.
> Sociocracy doesn’t recognize stand asides and my community doesn’t consider 
> itself to using sociocracy, but we have retained stand asides. One reason is 
> that we have a member who will not consent to anything they have not studied 
> themselves and made an independent decision. In sociocracy this would still 
> be a consent because it isn’t an objection. And other times you don’t want to 
> consent or be recorded as consenting but you have no good reason to object. 
> The reasons for stand asides are included in the minutes.
>> Or from those who have moved from consensus to sociocracy?
> I reversed your questions because I thought this one would have the longer 
> answer. But….
> Consensus and sociocracy are not the same class of things. It’s like equating 
> oranges with the orange tree. Consensus is a decision making method that 
> sociocracy uses when appropriate, but sociocracy is a complete organizing and 
> governance system, the orange tree. Groups that use consensus decision-making 
> as a full group usually cobble together other organizing methods from 
> Parliamentary Procedure, aka Robert’s Rules. Consensus becomes the orange 
> with no matching tree.
> The distinction sociocracy likes to make, however, between “consent” and 
> “consensus” is a false one in terms of the history and origins of consensus. 
> When everyone consents you have consensus. It doesn’t mean everyone agrees. 
> It doesn’t mean unanimous. Problems with using consensus are usually from the 
> improper use of consensus. Consensus requires:
> 1. A common aim.
> 2. The ability to discuss the decision with everyone making it.
> 3. The ability to discuss for the length of time required to reach a decision.
> 4. The agreement to make the decision with everyone in the group. 
> The main sociocracy teacher, Gerard Endenburg, believes that 
> consent/consensus decision-making won't work in cohousing because we cannot 
> choose who we will make decisions with, and can can’t exclude anyone from the 
> decision-making group.
> Not everyone agrees with this my explanation of consent/consensus but I have 
> the research! 
> What some people teach as consensus is closer to solidarity. In some 
> situations, solidarity is important. When planning illegal activities or 
> resistance, you want full commitment, not just “I can live with it.” 
> Solidarity is required in situations where you might not live at all.
> One helpful reason to use “consent” in teaching sociocracy is to distinguish 
> it from the mysticism of consensus when it is used to mean making a decision 
> "in the best interests of the community." The best interests of the community 
> will always be in the eyes of the beholder. It is what the majority says it 
> is. Consent is an individual decision based on one’s own evaluation of the 
> proposal. The result of a consent/ consensus decision is a decision that is 
> good for now, it doesn’t have to feel like heaven even if sometimes it does.
> Sociocracy exercises scientific method — research/plan, test, evaluate — and 
> repeat to be sure the decision is working. It requires reasons for doing or 
> not doing. You don’t say yes because everyone else does. One of the best ways 
> to resolve objections is to revise the proposal — adopt if for a shorter 
> period of time as a test. Narrow the range of things it affects. Then you can 
> test it and see if it does what you believed it to do. 
> Sociocracy also has a structure that enables delegating decisions to 
> circles/teams/committees _and still_ maintaining consensus between circles 
> and in the whole organization. And again, delegation is tested and evaluated. 
> It isn’t just a rule that everyone has to live with because “we decided.”
> All policy decisions have time limits — a review date for evaluation. Is it 
> still working? But anytime new information becomes available, the decision 
> can be revisited. The test is whether something is achieving the goals set 
> for it, not that it was a consensus decision that we have made and will not 
> discuss again until the due date. 
> What works is the criterion. The scientific method is the best way to 
> determine that. 
> And my other bugaboo, is the word and concept of a ‘block.” It conveys the 
> wrong image and sets up an objection as an immovable object. An objection 
> must be something that can be worked out. It has to have reasons, arguments. 
> Even if the person says it just doesn’t feel right, the reasons why can 
> usually be teased out with the help of the group. It’s a logical problem, a 
> solvable one, not a “block” with no forward movement. 
> Forward movement is always the goal. It is the best way to get more 
> information about what works.
> Consensus is as much a culture as a decision-making method. It understands 
> that you not only need everyone on board to function harmoniously but you 
> also need the knowledge each person brings to the decision. The majority can 
> be just as wrong as one person.
> Sharon
> ——— 
> Sharon Villines
> affordablecohousing [at]
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