One of the ideals often found in the Pagan community is that the consensus process avoids much of the “power over” issues related to other forms of decision-making. During a recent Pagan gathering there were examples of the functionality of the process as a system that gives voice to all, honoring individual truths, while allowing for organizational momentum to continue. Unfortunately, there were also examples of the system leading to inertia.
As a system of governance, consensus is both a beauty and a beast.
When individuals of diverse backgrounds come together in a decision process that honors all voices and gives credence to others’ truths there is a sense of respecting the value of individuals. The process leads to new insights and growth in the community. Witnessing the process gives one hope that humanity will one day embrace real respect, listening and understanding.
Within this process essentially the entire group must come to agreement on any proposal. Each individual has the ability to “block” any action of the group. Generally, individuals understand that one only does so if the action being blocked would present a threat to the existence or welfare of the organization, a high standard. In fact, as an individual, I found myself at this meeting being a lone voice in opposition to a proposal. It was an honor to step aside and let the organization move forward with the proposal. Yes I disagreed, but there were no serious consequences in moving forward. Most people in consensus-based organizations would have done the same thing. It is a simple process of putting the ego aside in favor of the wisdom of the whole. It is these types of moments that make me want to wallow in the love and acceptance that so permeates our Pagan community.
It is also true that consensus is contentious. Proposals are often shot down as “unrefined” and can sometimes take a number of years to come to fruition.
There is a tongue in cheek saying that proposals, in their first year, are rejected as “dumb, crazy or unrefined”. The second presentation they are hotly debated as to “pros and cons” and on the third presentation they are embraced with a round of “what a great idea, why did we not do this before”. While this is simplistic, as there are many tweaks made to address objections, it does express one of the inherent frustrations with the process. An additional problem is that individuals can abuse the process and “Block” proposals due to personal, emotional or ego related issues. In fact, at this recent conference an individual did just that and shut down all consideration of a well-liked proposal while only stating personal objections. There were no statements as to why it would “harm” the organization. Such actions represent the worst of what can happen to the consensus process, one individual digging their heals in, holding up an entire national organization.
So Why Use Consensus?
Modeling this collaborative and respectful process provides an example of how individuals can come together and accomplish change without 51% of an organization imposing its’ will on the "other" 49%.
It allows us to envision a world where all have a voice,
A world where money is not an instrument used to obtain power, where the least of us in means has an equal voice with those who are awash in abundance.
These are important concepts that should not be ignored in the pursuit of more effective organizational management models. There are those who believe that the use of consensus should proceed as it is, never to be refined. These individuals have an understandable attachment to the beauty of the process. Yet, if we are willing to open our eyes to the potential for refinement, maybe we can hone the process to streamline it and prevent cases of inertia or abuse.