Sun, 23 Jan 2000 14:26:26 EST
For the record, Quaker Meetings for Business (the forum for making decisions
governing the actions of a particular Meeting, which is like a congregation
or parish) are run by consensus, and they seem to have been functioning
pretty well for over 300 years now.
I participated in a series of such meetings over a period of several years,
at a fairly large (by Quaker standards) Meeting in my area. Over that time,
there was a major decision to be made regarding whether the Meeting would
sanction and perform same-sex ceremonies of commitment. There was a strong
majority in favor of this, but also a very passionate and vocal minority that
opposed it. Through the detailed and respectful discussion that the
consensus format encouraged, these members were able to voice their concerns
and most importantly, have them listened to as though they made a difference,
even though they were a small minority. This resulted in some refinements of
the proposal that satisfied some of those concerns. And some of those with
concerns actually did change their minds about the proposal, I think in part
because the decision-making process was not adversarial and they did not feel
forced to polarize in order to feel that their opinions were recognized.
This was not coercion, it was the effect of real openmindedness and a shared
commitment to doing right by all the individuals involved. In the end, the
decision took two years to make, and cost the membership of one very
respected and long-established member of the group. But the decision that
resulted was one that everyone who participated could, in the end, support
One more note about Meeting for Business: Children are welcome, encouraged,
and empowered to participate in decisions as full members of the Meeting.
And they do. I remember a decision to be made about whether to chop down an
old, dead tree on the Meeting grounds. Several children cherished the tree,
and their objections resulted in a decision to retain a part of the tree and
to include a ceremony to "say goodby" when the tree came down. And once they
realized the dangers it posed, they were able to include themselves in the
decision to take it down. A small thing, but an illustration of the way the
process can work.
I am not saying that this is necessarily the right process for a Sudbury
school, or for any particular group -- only that it can work, and work well.
And that to assume that it is inherently coercive is perhaps more of a
commentary on one's personal experience and perspective than on the merits of
the decision-making method itself.
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