Tag Archives: objections

Sociocracy’s Achilles Heel

The Achilles Heel of sociocracy is its dependence on the willingness of people to act. How can a sociocracy be any stronger than a democracy or even a monarchy if people are not willing to stand up and say, “I object” and then take action to implement better options?

Trump, Trumpism, and Trumpist

In the winter, I promised to write more about Donald Trump as a democratic leader (already a difficult leap) and how things would differ in a government based on the Sociocratic Circle Method (SCM) of organization. A series of compare-and-contrast analyses that would illustrate the ways in which a sociocratic democracy would prevent or disable a Trumpist government.

The  24/7 television news channels have been and still are a daily deluge of perfect case studies:

  • spiteful decisions made with no regard for advisability or even workability,
  • denial of factual information,
  • disregard for advice,
  • refusal to even consider statistical analyses,
  • repeated proclamations of demonstrably untrue boasts,
  • rushing to implement policies before anyone can study their social or economic impact, and
  • preference for executive orders over a democratic process.

I could have written all day, every day for the last 10 months and not covered a fraction of these actions and decisions. Instead I have a pile of un-finished posts. Some had only a few lines before I was discouraged by my own arguments.

Ultimately, I realized all the examples came down to the same weakness. A weakness that  would be as true of sociocracy as it is of democracy.

The Achilles Heel of Freedom

The Achilles heel of a free society and a free government  is  its dependence on self-organization—the ability of citizens to act with power and make good decisions.

A free government cannot be legislated. It can’t be awarded to a society after it and its allies win a war. Laws only work if someone makes them work. This requires respect for the values of a free society.

A decade ago, one of the arguments for sociocracy  was that it was value free,  “an empty tool.” It could be used with any political philosophy, by any business venture, or in any society no matter its religious tradition. Sociocracy didn’t bring with it a bias toward any ideology. It wasn’t Christian or Marxist or Free Trade. What this value-free argument neglected to notice is that sociocracy stems from deep fundamental values that are not shared by all societies: freedom and equality.* That all people are to be respected as being of equal value and have the freedom to control their own lives. That’s why the great feedback loops that permeate sociocratic organizations ensure that any person can correct the wheel by raising an objection to a decision that doesn’t adhere to these values.

A government is nothing without the governed. Each part in a system has to have a role, or it isn’t a part of the system. Without the support of citizens,  a free government will move toward entropy and ultimately dissolution. In entropy where there is no self-organization; the  lack of a dictator becomes a liability.

Effective Objections and Consent

All the violations of good governance in Trumpism are like veneer on rotting wood. Evaluating the veneer may lead to improvement in the next layer of veneer, but the wood beneath will still be rotting. Rotting wood has no ability to act—to do its job in supporting the feeding of the tree and producing foliage.

The fundamental concern in the most unlikely election of Trump to the presidency is not the values and behavior that Trumpism condones. The most frightening and revealing fact is that so many stepped back from stopping it. Effectively, they consented when they didn’t object. They not only let it happen, they found incredible justifications for doing so. The choice to respect a political party affiliation is not a sound argument.

Why a Sociocracy Wouldn’t  Help

Every compare-and-contrast example I found to illustrate what would be different in a sociocratic government was also an example of why it could be just the same.

A sociocratic governance system is based on self-organization—the expectation of effective leadership and action on the part of all its members. That isn’t encouraged in our present political system. Money dominates as  a factor in getting elected and requires  loyalty to party and donors before ideas.

Would sociocratic elections conducted between colleagues be different? Only if the colleagues are willing to object as well as consent and make logical arguments in support of their decision.

Strong followers produce strong leaders. The meanings of “strong” include intensity, power, and the ability to engage in sound reasoning on the basis of  convincing evidence.

Pointing out fallacies, untruths, and destructive behavior are not corrective objections. They do nothing to challenge or change the system that allows the offenses. Doing one’s best even in the face of daily omnipotent and counter productive actions has the effect of consent.  Action brings hard choices and uncertainty. Lack of action has equally hard choices and more certain consequences.

Trump as President Isn’t a Fault of Democracy

Donald Trump is not a symptom of what is wrong with democracy. For those who believe democracy is synonymous with majority vote, I note that he isn’t the result of a majority vote. He lost the election by millions of votes. He was a puppet who won on a technicality cleverly created by a foreign government using US citizens as conspirators to disrupt the election process. The principals  didn’t take action to stop it. The failure to act is being revealed daily in the investigation into what actually did happen during the 2017 election. Both causes, manipulation and failure to act, were years in the making.

A strong democracy could have avoided Trumpism. It would have taken an equally strong sociocracy to avoid the same result. There is no promise that sociocratic governments would be inherently stronger. In both it depends on who is willing to commit to action — to consent as an actively supportive action, not passive acquiesence; and objections as a corrective actions, not vetoes.

Disruption, Distraction, and Disrespect

Trumpism feeds on disruption, distraction, and disrespect. It’s only purpose is to defeat whatever system is in place. Aside from the self-aggrandizing quest for more money by Trump and his wealthy supporters, many of those advocating for Trumpism in the Midwest and South believe that anything is better than what we have. If we can get rid of the current system, a new system that is fair to us will be allowed to emerge.

Does anything better ever just emerge?

No, it is created with action. Neither democrats nor sociocrats can guarantee that people will act in their own best interests, or even understand what they are.


I allow myself one rant: I am baffled by journalists who are still trying to attribute  Machiavellian intelligence and strategic planning to a pathological narcissist with an instinct for self-preservation who acts entirely on his own obsessive concern with winning by destroying people who “aren’t nice” to him. It is a pointless effort to hope that somewhere in Trumpism there is an intelligent plan, however subversive. It reflects the human need to find order, especially when it doesn’t obviously exist.

*The word equivalence is preferred over equal in sociocratic circles because it is more  likely to be interpreted as “equal but not identical.” The equality in sociocratic organizations is related to equality in one’s sphere of responsibility and decision-making authority. It clearly says that having equivalence as a citizen doesn’t mean I can walk into the White House sit down with the National Defense Council and raise objections. I prefer equal because the word is more familiar and I think people know that it means equal respect under the law and equal consideration in one’s social and economic life. Equal, but not identical. And free to self-determine, free of standardization.


Consensus, Consent, and Objections

Heresy, I know, but I think Holacracy has a good point in using “objections” and not “consent.” Brian says in his Introduction to Holacracy video: “Consent has no place in Holacracy.” We want to hear objections to the proposal.

Restrictions on Consent

One of my criticisms of groups using full-group consensus is that first they commit to one for all, and all for one, then they begin putting restrictions on it. All for one and one for all except when only one person doesn’t consent. Or except when only 10% don’t consent. And that the objection has to be based on group values, which are often non-existent or unclear in respect the policy.
People who consent are never asked for the reasoning behind their consent. What restrictions are placed on consent? What does it mean? Do people explain their reasoning?
The number of restrictions placed on withholding consent proliferate almost as soon as consensus is adopted. Even sociocracy adds  restricts consent to  “paramount and reasoned.” “Reasoned” is logical but “paramount” is in the eye of the beholder. Who ever refused to consent who didn’t think their objection was paramount?

Consent Means No Objections

Holacracy has avoided the ambiguity and contradictions of the words consent and consensus by going straight to the definition that Gerard Endenburg realized would work in a performance-based organization in the first place — “no objections.”
I suggest that it is a historical artifact that the word “consent” exists at all in Endenburg’s implementation. Just as I think it was a historical artifact in Comte’s to think that a panel of sociologists should be, not just advise the government. He was steeped in autocratic his experience of a single ruler or ruling body. In 1850s France, democracy was admired but not all so accepted as practical. It’s cracks were showing even then.
In the 1940s, Boeke clearly meant consensus in the traditional Quaker sense. Everyone had to consent that a proposed action was in the best interests of the whole and all individual interests had to be considered. Even though Endenburg was educated in Boeke’s tradition, he actually stepped outside it in his method by using the logic of the physical sciences, not religion or politics.

The Basis of Objections

Endenburg based his definition of consent on the absence of objections and objections based on a specific criterion — the ability to work (or function) toward the aim if the proposed action took place. Consent is written in Sociocracy (1988) as “consent (no objections).” Since “consent” was the historically accepted word, he naturally used the word “consent.”
And I’m also sure he meant consent in the spirit of being inclusive. In the 1960s and 70s when he was developing his ideas there was a general reaction in the Western World to the exclusiveness and elitism of society. “Objection” was a harder sell with revelations of WWII still emerging. Objections had made no difference. Consent would have been more acceptable.

Understanding Objections & Beheaviments


There is a conversation on the [email protected] list about the meaning of the word bezwaar, the Dutch word that has been translated as objection. The question is whether objection is a good translation and how other translations might affect understanding objections and consent. The translations into other languages and those in different Dutch/English dictionaries suggest something other than objection. In English, objection means no, “This decision can’t go forward.” In other languages it has the meaning of difficulty, problem, trouble, bother, nuisance, encumbrance.

Objections are one of the sticky points in sociocratic decision-making and in full group consensus decision-making. To avoid what seem to be “irrevocable blocks” that are in effect vetoes, people ask:

  • On what basis are objections valid?
  • Who decides, the person or the group?
  • Can the group overturn an objection

Responding to these questions has led to many different qualifications of consent. By limiting objections to certain conditions, the principle of consent in practice is no longer effective.

Meanings Beyond Translations

Even if we end up using objection in English, the understanding of the meanings of bezwaar in various languages is useful in explaining what an objection is. Bezwaar is more nuanced and related to personal abilities to support, honor, respect, and feel good about the decision, not to feel “weighed down” by it, feeling a heaviness. One purpose of requiring consent is to avoid dampening down enthusiasm and energy for achieving the aim of the group.

The classic example of the spark plug “objecting” by ceasing to function is mechanical. It demonstrates a physical inability to function. This is analogous to “I object to buying that new machine because there won’t be enough room for my machine to work efficiently.” It’s a physical reality that is easily measured and accepted or corrected. Most proposals outside of manufacturing, however, are not that clear. They most often require addressing personal feelings, beheaviments.


It’s much more comfortable to have my colleagues consent to a proposal that I disagree with, but still respect as an ethical, reasonable choice than one I’m embarrassed about or think is unintelligent. A choice between options when it is not clear that one or the other is the best decision under the circumstances can be tested and corrected if necessary.

Sometimes the decision involves developing one option until the group thinks it is ready to implement. The decision is when? A standard for these decisions is  satisfying, one that is both satisfying and sufficient. At the point where the solution is sufficient, the group would probably do better to move forward than trying for perfection. But when the deciders are people and not spark plugs, the solution must also be satisfying, not just sufficient.

Beheavied & Lack of Consent

An example from my community is the conflict between watering the lawn and not watering the lawn. Some people wanted the lawn to be green and nice because our children play on it almost daily. It’s a question of aesthetics for some but it is also a desire for the pleasure of touch and feel and fun.

A second group didn’t have strong feelings either way except that they didn’t want the conflict to continue. (“Studies have shown” that on most issues, something like 40% will be in this group.)

A third group, by far the smallest, was deeply embarrassed to have their friends see the obviously watered lawn. It was a waste of resources. It reflected badly not just on them but also on the cohousing movement that claiming to support energy efficiency, solar energy, sustainably harvested wood, etc. It was a professional, philosophical , and personal issue for them. A deep beheaviment.
The third group also did not have children and had no personal investment in children playing on lawns or dirt.

Every one respected the feelings of the third group and many had shared the same feelings in the past. Then they had to face the reality of their own children and 20 others needing a place to play.

Emotional & Technical Solutions

The solution was that the third group, being energy scientists with major physics and math backgrounds, agreed to check the rainfall every week and do the calculations on what amount of extra water was required. This way we could use the smallest amount of water necessary to keep the grass alive with no dirt patches. Minimal water once a week would also cause the grass to grow deeper roots to reach underground water sources, of which ours are abundant. We are built on springs.

This solution came about because each side paid attention to the beheaviment of the other. The scientifically based solution resolved the problem in a way that removed the heavy feelings of all groups. But the scientific solution would not have been found or accepted without recognizing the beheavied feelings. The argument didn’t have to be become an objection before it gets attention.

An understanding of the meaning and origins of words gives a deeper understanding of what they mean and how they came to mean it. This can point the way to better resolutions of  beheaviments.

“Blocks” & Vetos in Consensus Decision-Making

Picture of a Cement BlockI find the word block in consensus decision-making destructive. It is particularly counter-productive when used to refer to all objections, rather than seemingly unresolvable objections.

Objections do feel like blocks when after hours of discussion a person or persons will not consent — I find myself feeling this too. And sometimes when I object, in my gut I really want to block. I don’t want to argue the point, I just want to BLOCK. The problem is that when I use the word block, I create something fixed and hard. A cement block. A blockhead.  To be blocked is to be stopped dead in your tracks. All reasoning stops.

Emotion Substituted for Argument

Most often block is used as an epithet and slathered with emotion. The idea of logical argument is lost.

When I am tempted to accuse someone of using the word block, I am usually describing my feelings, not those of the other person. It’s my label. I created the block, not the person who is objecting. I’ve never heard person with objections say, “I’m blocking so forget it” or “I’m a blocker.” No one wears a T-shirt that says, “2011 World Record. Blocked 12 Decisions.” People who participate in groups that make decisions by consensus normally do want to consent. It’s uncomfortable to have to object, and emotions are unleashed obscuring the ability to argue logically.

“Blocks” Are Really Vetoes

A true block is really a veto. It isn’t subject to discussion and resolution. It can be over-ruled but not resolved.

Vetoes don’t have to be explained and are absolute. They are done. No discussion. Someone who vetoes an action is behaving as an outsider, not as part of the group. They are taking all power for themselves, leaving everyone else powerless. A veto represents power-over thinking, not power-with.

A veto means the decision-making environment is no longer open to making a better decision—one that will allow address everyone’s needs and allow the group to move forward as a group.

Objections Are Logical Arguments

An objection means that a person cannot work enthusiastically and energetically toward the aim of the group if the proposed decision is accepted. An objector is allowed to say, “If you make this decision, it will negatively affect my ability to be fully committed the organization.” The task then becomes finding a reasonable counter-proposal. One that will resolve the objection and still meet the aim of the original proposal.

Or find a way to obtain more information to test the objection—and to test the premise on which others are consenting. Consent also needs to be tested. A sole objector may be the person who has examined the situation more closely than those consenting.

A question that also needs to be asked in consensus decision-making is whether there is a shared aim. If not it is less likely that an objection will be resolved in any meaningful or lasting way. It is more likely to become a veto. If a person is vetoing, then the group must reconsider its aim or the aim of the decision. If the aim is not shared by everyone, consensus is unlikely to be a workable method of decision-making.

Participation in the process of working toward a shared aim distinguishes an objection from a veto.

Objections: Paramount, Principled, or Otherwise

In decision-making, one consents or one objects. Consent is defined as no objections. To object means no consent It’s very simple.

Consent has no modifiers so why should objections? No one asks for paramount or principled consent.

What would paramount consent be? Would we ask, “Are you consenting because this proposed action is the most important thing in the world right now?”

Do we examine the basis on which people are consenting? No, we don’t. But if someone objects and continues to object, we want to create qualifications for objections and tell them they can only object based on these qualifications. Objections get in our way so we try to blunt them. Consent doesn’t so we want to avoid looking at it too closely.

In terms of adopting a proposal, of making a decision, neither consent nor objections can be qualified. But they must be argued.

A proposal usually contains arguments in favor of an action and we assume that those consenting to it are consenting on the basis of those arguments. Many objections have usually been resolved in the proposal forming process. If objections remain, they can only be resolved by addressing the arguments for and against the proposal. The proposal is the subject. Objections can only exist in relation to the proposal and its affect on the individual and the group if it is adopted.

Why should we consent? Why should we object? Why we are consenting is just as vital as why we object. Rounds balance the objections with the consents.

If the group begins focusing on whether an objection is “allowed” or if it is really “paramount” (a word I could never get a grasp of), it has moved away from examining the content of the proposal to the motivations and character of the objector. The focus on the substance, the quality of the proposal and the quality of the argument is lost.

Stick to the proposal and addressing arguments, for as well as against.

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.