Decisions and Power

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.