Red Flags to Guard Against

The following is a by-no-means-exhaustive list of behaviors that should send up a red flag among collective members that the group’s dynamics may need to be reexamined to ensure equal participation (and to stop divas and ego-maniacs in their tracks).

Group Behaviors

1. Meetings are poorly attended and those who do attend appear to be sullen and bored, letting a self-appointed leader set the agenda and do most of the talking. This is a sure sign that people have given up on the possibility of having meaningful input into the group’s direction.

2. Meetings are not held at all, or not for months, because of lack of interest. (Note: Some groups get together on a regular basis to work on projects. These may count as informal meetings if decisions and issues are discussed in the course of the work. That’s okay: it doesn’t signal lack of participation.)

3. Someone or a faction denigrates meetings (boring, take up too much time, people have better things to do, meetings are for people who are only interested in process and not in actually getting things done) so that they are rarely held, hurried, or badly attended. As a result, one small group or individual can make decisions on his/her/their own without having to consult anyone else.

4. People walk on eggs for fear of upsetting the “leader.” People chastise others for having upset the “leader“.

5. Someone or a faction derides the idea of using a facilitator or an agreed-upon process, implying that “our group” is above needing all that.

6. Unsubstantiated rumors and gossip, especially attacking someone for being racist or sexist (hard to defend against) or for unspecific offenses, such as being “uncooperative,” “unreasonable,” or “disruptive” (hard to prove or disprove).

7. A sustained campaign to discredit someone, with accusations such as “thief,” “liar,” and “control freak” being tossed about without substantiation or clearly trumped up (i.e. a person who borrows or loses something is declared a thief and a ban is called for).

8. A petition being circulated for members’ signatures that vilifies someone. People signing such a petition without any first hand knowledge of the accusations--often in an attempt to be helpful: “I don’t want that person to destroy the group!“ (Or to avoid angering the accusers and becoming themselves the subjects of the next petition.)

9. Constant shit-talking about people formerly associated with the group, even in a seemingly humorous vein.

10. Calls for banning cropping up whenever there’s a problem.

Individual Behaviors

1. Acting exasperated that someone would waste the group’s time with trivialities.

2. Crushing dissent by fabricating distracting excuses or creating a smokescreen.

3. Trying to create a feud by consistently slandering someone behind their back or baiting them to their face. (For instance: is there someone who takes every opportunity to always complain about the same person? “He/she is a stalker/a sexual harasser/a sexist/crazy/out to get me, etc.”)

4. Using outright intimidation such as staring down, yelling, histrionics or acting as if one is (barely) suppressing indignant rage.

5. Acting wounded or victimized when one is actually the aggressor.

6. Acting wounded or outraged whenever someone makes a reasonable request, like asking for accountability of an expenditure. (Extra-red flag: Does this person consider herself to be so far above the rules that govern the group that she might actually be appropriating the group’s funds or other resources?)

7. Making oneself indispensable by not allowing anyone to help or have access to the information they would need in order to help.

8. Suggesting (or insisting!) that fundamental principles should be set aside to deal with a crisis (or to appeal to important constituencies, like sources of funding).

9. Having no patience for fundamental principles (implying that they, or ideals in general, are childish).

10. Relishing verbal arguments with those less knowledgeable or more vulnerable just for the glee of crushing them.

11. Demonstrating contempt for other people’s ideas or their right to express them (i.e. by scoffing, ridiculing, or belittling). Not to be confused with honest debate, which engages. Contempt only silences.

12. Controlling situations with fear by flying into a histrionic rage at insignificant provocation (i.e. a group didn’t put away chairs after a meeting, people working on a project didn’t call before stopping by).

13. Controlling situations with fear by predicting dire consequences. People who are worried or perceive an impending crisis are much more likely to succumb to manipulation.

14. Creating and spreading doomsday scenarios while setting oneself up as the lightning rod to deflect them.

15. Paranoia. Ascribing nefarious underlying motives to someone’s apparently innocent or merely uninformed actions. Going on the attack is often the most effective way to avoid having to answer for one’s own behavior (e.g. someone who borrows without asking the right person is a “thief” and should be banned; someone who adopts a dog and moves it into the space obviously thinks the group’s space is his own private home).

16. Creating self-fulfilling prophecies that serve one’s goals. (For example: repeatedly stating that the neighbors are becoming less and less tolerant of loud punk rock shows. )

17. Flaunting one’s knowledge (esp. of anarchism, collectivism, radicalism) to set oneself up as the go-to person for advice on how to proceed.

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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