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Consensus Decision-Making

Why not voting?

Majority rule tends to ignore the importance of those who are in the minority, and of their values.

How it works

When, for example, we have a new member to consider, if even just one of us does not want to admit her, we will not. We will be interested in the dissenter's reasons, and respect them. In turn, she has the responsibility to consider how important her reasons are, whether she can in good conscience consent to the new member, by "stepping aside" from her preferences.

Tolerating differences of opinion

Consensus, as I understand it, is about learning to tolerate differences of opinion, so that people can work together even with their differences. Making a commitment to consensus is not making a commitment to agree, but rather

  • As a dissenter to step aside or consent, when that serves your larger values.
  • When in the majority, to stand behind dissenters who feel called not to step aside.
  • On both sides, when there is dissent, to look for creative solutions that will respect both sets of values.

This applies to the process we use for decision-making — not to our thoughts and feelings. We are not interested in agreeing on everything. Most threads show a large diversity of approaches and opinions, and we are interested in challenging our habitual thinking by hearing differences.

When we use it

The decisions so far that the group has needed to make together, have included...

  • Whether to invite people to join. (Previously I was making this decision by myself, but I asked the group to do it with me, because I don't like the power differential from having that authority, and also in order to have the benefit of everyone's thinking.)
  • What it should say on SkyDancer about the group — especially the vision statement, and what we should ask prospective members in screening them.
  • How to focus the discussion.
  • How big to grow (and whether to split daughter groups off from the first group).

The bottom line

It is a more demanding process than voting — but, we think, a more compassionate and mindful one; more respectful of differences. We ask prospective members to think about whether they can commit to engaging in both sides of it.

See also

Last updated 10 March 2001