Decisions and Power

Consent & Responsibility

In dynamic governance there is no option to stand aside — the only options are consent or object. If you don’t have tangible objections, ones that can be teased out and addressed, then you consent. It maybe a passive consent, “I don’t see any reason not to do this”, or an active consent, “I really think this is a good idea.” Both are consent.

We have members who insist on having a stand aside option, in my opinion, because they don’t want the responsibility of making a decision. They always want more time, more information, more reassurance. The status quo doesn’t require them to take responsibility. It just is what it is.

We have a lot of people who don’t want to make decisions so they don’t come to meetings. They are happy to have others make the decisions and they will abide by them.

But the stand asides are different. They want to actively be on record as not taking responsibility for this decision. Even if you have come in late and don’t know anything about the issue, you can consent to allow the group to move forward. Standing aside doesn’t stop the decision, so why do it?

In consensus decision-making each person is responsible for the decisions they allow to go forward. Accepting that responsibility is hard. What if I’m wrong? How can I consent to a budget if I have no concept of budgeting and can’t imagine being responsible for spending $200,000 a year on facilities maintenance?

Because consent can be given for a million reasons. This is why I like to know why other people are consenting. My decision is based on theirs as well as on my own. If Joe is consenting to a proposal to do xxx because he believes xxx is a good idea or if he is consenting because he knows xxx is a bad idea but “people have to learn,” I need to know that because my decision is informed by his. I consent as an individual, but consensus represents the consent of many.

I consent if I know nothing but trust that those making the proposal do know something or have consulted experts. I recently consented to a proposal that I have no faith in at all but those making the proposal are acting in good faith and have consulted the dubious, in my view, but only experts that exist on the subject. The damage, if any, to the facilities will be minimal if they are wrong. If the solution is too labor intensive, it will die a slow death anyway. People know my logic and have decided to move forward.

When we decided to accept the gift of a fountain when for our cohousing community, I objected because I had lived in a condominium with a fountain. It was constant maintenance and caused conflict for residents because of the noise and the expense of repairing it. Even with a full staff, it was often left on all night to the irritation of those who couldn’t sleep. I relayed my experience, laid out my questions, and assured myself that everyone had considered them and was aware of potential problems. All the problems have occurred, but I understand what was important to people — the romantic idea of a fountain and what they regarded as a work of art in the piazza. This was something most had never imagined they would have. That alone was worth the aggravation, and for some people, still is, even though it is usually turned off.

It’s a lot easier to allow others to make decisions so you can complain, but when you consent you are taking responsibility. That is a new experience for many. One way to handle it is to accept that decisions are based on the best knowledge available at the time, and can be changed. Measure results, and improve the decision. You are doing the best you can do. And so is everyone else.