Skepticism is Healthy

Being skeptical is not the same as being distrustful or suspicious, both of which can undermine a collectiveís honest interactions, as well as play tricks with oneís own judgment. It simply means not jumping to conclusions, neither positive nor negative, before having investigated an issue.

Coming to a hasty, negative opinion of another person, as many of us know, is often ugly and can turn out to be grossly unfair. Furthermore, since most of us donít like to admit it when weíre wrong, the bad reputation can actually persist even after the facts have proven the condemnation to be unwarranted. But a thoughtless positive judgment can be damaging too. We might give somebodyís words too much importance, because she gives the impression of being exceptionally knowledgeable or effective, for instance, and unwittingly follow unwise advice or even turn over control of the group (always a bad idea).

Some of the most despicable injustices that happen in collectives are perpetrated by those of us who were only trying to help. A fellow collective member comes up to you, clearly upset and outraged, and tells you about someone whoís been making his or her life hell. As a good friend, your reaction is probably to sympathize, listen, and ask what you can do. You may even take it upon yourself to alert others of the problem. Thus, the wheels of a rumor or--worse--a baseless character assassination, have just been set in motion. By you.

We are not suggesting that you be stingy with your sympathy and emotional support, only that you keep in mind that every story has two sides, and that itís usually not prudent to act until the matter has been explored a little more thoroughly. In many cases, whenever two sides of a story are clearly divergent and emotions are running high, itís best to begin a formal grievance or conflict resolution proceeding.

Itís not uncommon for members who feel they have been aggrieved in some way to circulate a petition, asking other members to sign off on some kind of sanction against the presumed transgressor, whether itís a temporary ban or a demand they seek counseling. In our experience, people are generally all too happy, in an effort to be supportive and mindful of the best interests of the group, to sign their names to an accusation about which they have absolutely no first-hand knowledge, sometimes even excoriating a person they have never met. Needless to say, this is not a sign of healthy group dynamics. Even if the persons doing the signing are well meaning, they are abdicating their responsibilities to the collective by acting without having done their homework. And those circulating the petition may feel they have been genuinely wronged, but they are circumventing group process when they bypass due process and an open forum for the airing of complaints. Unfortunately, we have also seen instances in which getting rid of someone is an intentional, calculated act, where the group is manipulated into believing it is acting in the collective best interest by participating in an undemocratic ostracism.

Ironically, a converse kind of phenomenon is also not uncommon, where a member who has had to tolerate victimization and abuse by someone in the group seeks help from the collective and is roundly ignored. Personal power politics tend to come into play in these cases: an unpopular or not highly regarded person who complains about someone who is seen as a leader or a more valued member may find himself alone and a target for ridicule. The proper way for the group to proceed in either circumstance (whether they believe the accused or the accuser) is to investigate the situation, call for formal procedures, such as previously agreed-on conflict resolution protocols, and allow all parties to air their concerns. Regardless of who you believe to be right or wrong--whether itís the defendant or the complainant--making hasty judgments never serves the interests of fairness. Neither does calling for sanctions (such as ad hoc banning, the popular favorite) which are excessive or not necessary for resolving a given circumstance.

It may not be possible to know exactly what the truth is in a particular situation, but one can come to an educated judgment based on ascertainable facts and the probable likelihood of certain events having taken place rather than others, for instance by considering the motivation that someone might have to dissemble or stretch the truth.

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?]







Links &