There’s Hope

It is our belief and hope that virtually all problems in collectives can be overcome by applying compassion, tolerance, and patience, and by being thorough and even-handed in our thinking.

Recognize that some people are a big pain in the ass, but that doesn’t mean that they are agent provocateurs. And even if they are, the best way to deal with disruptors in either case is probably to give them a certain amount of leeway to be themselves, to let them carry on instead of demanding that they cease. Provocation can be defused simply by not engaging it.

If the level of annoyance is such that it cannot simply be tolerated, then talk it over with the person: let him know what behaviors of his are causing problems for you and help him find ways to change them. Actions that we may see as negative usually arise from a need on the part of the person engaging in them: whether it’s the need to be listened to, to get to the bottom of issues, etc. Our job is to help find a way for the person to still be able to have his need met if he agrees to drop the offending behavior. The only way to do that is to talk to him. People who are being a nuisance don’t see themselves that way. They have a reason for what they’re doing. Try to learn their perspective. Some people act in bad faith. Learn their perspective too, so you can expose it for what it is.

If we care, genuinely, about mutuality and inclusion, if we believe this to be one of the basic reasons why we want to work for a better, more just world, then we need to ask ourselves a simple question: if this person whom we cannot stand were a member of our family, would we turn her out into the street? Or would we put our hearts ahead of our frayed nerves and learn to deal with her annoying character traits? Likewise, if a member of our family spoke frankly and unkindly to us (“Look, you’re driving me nuts: could you please just shut up?”), would we demand that the whole family intervene to sanction her?

Because most of us tend to throw caution or our sense of fairness to the wind whenever someone has made us very angry, we recommend having clear and concrete protocols in place that can be called upon whenever conflicts, differences in approach, or hurt feelings crop up. Rules, however, though they can help us keep our priorities in order, cannot take the place of basic human qualities: compassion, patience, tolerance, and the desire to seek out the truth. Without our humanity as our foremost guiding principle, no set of guidelines can come to our rescue. We need to always keep referring back to what’s important when striving to make decisions on how to proceed, especially in a difficult or trying situation. What’s important is not the work of the group nor effecting political change: it’s the fact that we care about and value one another, as we do all people. That’s why we’re in the struggle for social justice, after all.

Some groups may have no patience for tending to the weak and the whiny. They may feel that those who do not contribute or are slowing or bringing the rest of the collective down need to move on and get out of the way. Any group can choose that path, of course. But if they do, they have a responsibility to do so honestly and openly. Such an enterprise can no longer call itself consensus-based nor egalitarian. The premise of consensus and equality rests firmly on the belief that everyone in the group is valued and necessary to maintain the integrity of the whole. It presupposes a shared effort and mutuality which cannot be undermined by picking and choosing who is valuable and who is not.

Despotism by the collective, which rests on groupthink, whereby everybody has to agree, no one can dissent, and those who dissent or who simply are not well liked are outta here, does not equal consensus.

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]
[What’s a Lone Person to Do?]







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