There is a persistent assumption in cohousing and other consensus communities that lack of love is the cause of conflict. That conflict arises when we allow ourselves, our ego, our self-centeredness to isolate us from others, from understanding their needs, from caring. If we confront our isolation and commune with our neighbors, we will “feel the “love come out.” Conflict will disappear.
This is the belief that underlies traditional consensus decision-making. Along with it is the belief that the necessary method for resolving conflict is face-to-face discussion. “If we maintain that personal dialogue, that wonderful relationship that only comes with sharing together in person” conflicts will melt, or better yet, never arise. Conflict avoidance and resolution just take time, and honesty, and good listening.
The Love Assumption reminds us that this is also why we live in community. In order to constantly revisit our deepest needs and those of others in order to maintain the love that allows us all to accept our own needs and those of others.
Is this sounding like therapy yet? Religion?
It reminds me of opening night at my daughter’s first high school theater performance. After standing outside the theater door, in the hallway across from the gym, for half an hour waiting to congratulate her on her stellar performance, I told the guards (ninth grade girls) that I had to be allowed in. It was after 11:30 and not one person had come out. I had a four-hour drive to the city that night for a meeting the next morning. “New York” was a magic. I was allowed in to find the entire cast and crew on stage behind the closed curtain, hugging each other. Each person was hugging each other person. One on one, face to face. I located her and broke in to say congratulations and good night. They went back to hugging.
It was a wonderful event and cherished memory, but hugging is not going to get the meals cooked or the garden weeded in a community. How many face-to-face conversations can you have in one week?
One of the reasons Endenburg’s process for decision-making in sociocracy works is that it doesn’t require anyone to love each other. You can love if you want, if you have time, if you can, but you don’t have to. It isn’t required to create a harmonious living, working, or anything community. Harmony is about agreements that allow everyone to live their own lives happily and enthusiastically.
Conflicts are caused and resolved with decisions. I make a decision that it is okay for my dog to poop on the green and you decide it isn’t. How do you resolve the conflict? By making different decisions to which we both consent.
Endenburg experienced consensus decision-making in the traditional way. He attended a boarding school in which all decisions were made by the 400 students and teachers working together. It was an expectation that if everyone loved each other, anything could be worked out. They worked together until it did.
When he graduated and went to University, he was shocked that the students didn’t work together to help each other. When he began to manage the family business, he realized that if the kind of harmony he had experienced at boarding school were to go beyond small communities of very committed people who worked on it for many years, there needed to be another standard besides love.
From his studies of electrical systems and cybernetics, he realized all that was necessary was consent. Any decision made only needed to allow each person to live or work as well as possible. This didn’t require loving each other. Consent only needed to be based on a person’s ability to function within the aims of the community.
To live in harmony, every person affected by a decision needs to consent to it.