Relinquishing Control of Projects and People

The egalitarian group affords its members little opportunity to control other members or the group itself. Because there are no leaders, no one is in a position to force another person to act or refrain from acting in a given situation; only the collective as a whole can intervene to limit unprincipled behavior. Since the entire collective has to become involved in order to restrict someoneís autonomy, such a measure should be undertaken only if the behavior in question is extreme. (We have seen many instances in which small gaffes are trumped up into serious charges as a way of exercising control, but thatís another topic.) In many collectives, we are likely to encounter some people who have annoying quirks, others who are chatterboxes, and others who just don't think before proposing stupid ideas. But these are not the egregious kinds of behavior that require official control; galling as they may seem at times, they must be allowed to exist.

When collective members try to force a desired outcome according to personal desires, taste, or style, they are basically violating the principles of maximum autonomy and free choice. This tendency will almost always lead to arguments and ruffled feelings. (The corollary to this is that group members have a profound responsibility not to make themselves a nuisance to others.) A truly egalitarian collective will likely not be smooth or harmonious (though it may be loving and collegial), but highly heterogeneous, rife with rough spots and bumps.

In an egalitarian group, not everybody has to agree or like each other or approve of the work that is being done; they merely have to consent to it. This means that unless something is really important or central to the values of the organization, the wisest course is often just to let things be. That can be hard to accept when we have been accustomed to value results over all other considerations.

Almost all people who come to the movement for social justice were brought up and have been functioning in conventional society, which presupposes supremacy of one person over another according to status or perceived superior ability. Whether we mean to or not, we bring these biases and expectations with us when we agree to join groups that operate according to equality and collectivism.

Those of us who are accustomed to emerging as natural leaders (for instance, those who've been successful in academia) may have an unacknowledged belief that others will readily recognize our wisdom and defer to it as a matter of course. We may assume that, egalitarian goals notwithstanding, the opinions of people who have distinguished themselves in some way will naturally carry more weight. Or we may become concerned that the outcome of the group's work will not be of the high caliber that we, ourselves, feel capable of achieving. Others among us may readily accede to individuals who seem knowledgeable and capable of taking on challenging problems, and may even frown on those who don't allow themselves to be molded, further alienating individuals who challenge the leadership.

Many conflicts arise out of the desire to control other people's behavior and to control the output of the group's activities. Whenever an attempt is made to manage or direct another member of the group, no matter how well meaning (to preserve harmony, end disruption, make time to tend to the work of the group, ensure high quality, etc.), that person will inevitably feel resentful, and possibly very hurt or angry. If he or she reacts, conflict begins. Many conflicts that drag down collectives for months, often resulting in indelible feuds, could have been prevented if the collective's members were more willing to tolerate the coexistence of different opinions, approaches or strategies, objecting only when a fundamental principle was at stake.

The end result of a project that has been produced collectively is an uneven patchwork of viewpoints and ability levels. Making room for everybody to contribute, even when ability is not equal, is a strength, not a weakness; so is letting the process show. We are accustomed to valuing a slick, polished presentation, but if we let the seams show, this will empower others with information about how something was put together. If we accept a heterogeneous, bumpy outcome as a given, before the work even begins, we will avoid a lot of head-butting further down the road.

Because groups based on consensus and equality presuppose mutual trust and a shared sense of mission, many of us may expect solidarity, harmony, and kindness to permeate such groups. To the contrary, adhering to egalitarian, anti-authoritarian principles means applying minimal interference to one another, or letting people be who they are--including the annoying, the trying, and the obnoxious--and accepting the outcomes as well.

Please send your comments and suggestions to:

"Is This What Consensus Looks Like?"

"Is This the Just Society We Want to Model?


[Why This Booklet?]
[Introduction to Consensus]
[The Particular Vulnera-
bility of Collectives
[Power Sharing]
[Red Flags to Guard Against]
[Ploys To Subvert Consensus]
[The Problem With Politeness]
[The Need For Kindness]
[Creating Pariahs]
[Respect for Differences]
[Personal vs. Group Issues]
[Micro-Managing Behaviors]
[Skepticism is Healthy]
[There's Hope]

[A Model for Justice?]
[The Dearth of Due Process]
[What About Free Speech?]

[Codifying the Collective Process]
[Relinquishing Control of Projects and People]
[Staying True to the Mission]
[Whatís a Lone Person to Do?]







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