The Particular Vulnerability of Collectives

The consensus process is based on the assumption that all members of the collective are making a good faith effort to work cooperatively, honestly, and in support of one another to achieve the mutually agreed-upon ends of the group. This expectation of good will can leave a collective particularly vulnerable, however, to manipulation by individuals who may seek to use their participation in the group to steer it in a direction that better suits them or as a means to further their own sense of importance or control.

We are familiar with the coercive tactics of pushy salesmen: gaining our trust by empathizing with our concerns and assuring us that they are on our side, promising to help us by providing us--at great sacrifice to themselves, they tell us--with something we want and need. When we fail to appreciate their sincere and hard-won efforts on our behalf they act deeply hurt and betrayed.

Most of us are wary of salesmen and may not fall for their pitches. But when we are dealing with a fellow collective member, someone who is committed to the same cause and who embraces our shared belief in equality and fairness, we are not likely to suspect him or her of ulterior motives. Moreover, if one were to express reservations about the motivations of a fellow collective member, one might be accused of undermining the mutual trust that is essential to the collective process.

Unfortunately, we have seen ugly power plays and underhanded manipulation of the group's loyalties happen again and again in egalitarian collectives.

Exhibiting stress, anxiety or grave worry is a common way for manipulators to exert influence, since most of us are conditioned to want to help someone in distress, and we may be so eager to do so that we will overlook other priorities just to ease the discomfort as quickly as possible. By appearing fretful at the possibility that something might not get done or put upon by having to do so much himself, a de-facto leader can galvanize people to act without attention to previously agreed-upon parameters. Similarly, acting hurt, shocked, or giving the appearance that one is seething with righteous indignation in the face of a concern that has been raised is a quick way to silence inconvenient dissent.

The group's most common reaction to a faction or individual who seeks to sway the collective's will is not, as one would hope, calling the authoritarian manipulators to task, but gratitude that someone is taking on the difficult work of running the group and its activities. These members become complicit in the power-grabbing tactics of the self-appointed leader(s). Oftentimes, collective members actually offer these self-appointed elites their loyal support and become openly distrustful or disdainful of those who question the actions or authority of the leadership. At this point, the group is not only no longer operating collectively or by consensus, it has effectively become a private club.

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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