I write the following because we are in a time in our country that has become divisive. My hope is that while we may no longer be able to do consensus as a nation we can practice a spirituality that may one day open the door to building consensus. Consensus is an impossible thing to do with people who do not know the process. There are people who will always have a knee jerk response of no or that cannot be done. They are the nay sayers. In consensus unless you have a strong conviction that something is wrong you are to allow people to move on if everyone else pretty much is for it. But there are those people for whom everything is of utmost importance so they have to disagree and refuse to stand aside. There are also those people who say it is okay and agree to let it go forward but they are working to sabotage the effort all the while it is being implemented. Nothing for them is ever decided because they do not agree but they did not want to be the recalcitrant vote.
Consensus is a spiritual discipline. Ask a Quaker. Here are just a few of the philosophies you have to develop if you want to do consensus:
*You have to see each person’s opinion as valuable. For many this is difficult. A well-educated person often has trouble listening to someone who is not educated especially on a subject that you may be an expert. But consensus demands everyone who wishes to speak on a subject be heard.
*This leads to another discipline. You have to change your concept of time. Spending time with community is a good use of time. Nothing has to be decided tonight. People, especially people in power, insist that decisions must be made now. In actuality very few decisions of a community have to be made rashly or in a hurry.
This is not to say that consensus has to take hours, days, months to make a decision. In fact if people are abiding by the consensus decisions can be made efficiently. But these are spiritual habits that are hard to nurture.
Take the idea you have to see your own opinion as possibly flawed. This involves a degree of humility most have not developed. We have as far as we can tell studied all the issues and have come to a logical conclusion but even though I have spent a lot of time dealing with this issue I must be open to being wrong. Yet if you do not hold this out as a possibility how can you truly be listening to others?
This flows into another discipline: you have to view things not as an us vs. them situation or zero sum solution but all of you as one group. If you view others as part of your team then you will be willing to listen to them. You want to hear and try to understand things from those in your community with whom you disagree. This not only brings you closer to others it can also have the side effect of making your own arguments better.
In consensus you need to have discernment of what matters to you at your core. Too often our egos make us think everything should be approved by us. Not everything needs to be run by us. And we do not have to have an opinion on everything. We need to leave room for others to disagree and express their own selves.
Consensus is to a large extent about letting go. If it is not a matter of conscience you should be able to let others do what they think is necessary. You have to let go when the choice did not go as you hoped. They call this stepping aside. Churches have split over the color of carpet in the sanctuary or even less important things. This is probably not a matter of conscience but of taste. Sometimes things such as taste must be put aside for the unity of community.
Then finally there is what is called in common nomenclature the gracious loser. This is the person who does not pout when things do not go their way. This is the person who does not attempt to sabotage when things do not go their way. This is the person who says and means I will support you in the ways that I can. This is the person who can let go when necessary.
You are able to do this because you trust the people with whom you are in community. You do this because you respect the people with whom you are in community. You do this because you see worth in the people with whom you are in community. You do this because you have developed a philosophy of life that is consensual.