Posts Tagged ‘consensus’

2 Powerful Lessons About Keeping a Group Together

My son and I were soaked to the bone from the Cub Scout hike, but still had a great time!

My son and I are getting ready to go home after our first Cub Scout hike together. Despite the nearly-constant rain on the hike we had a great time and we learned about leadership in the process.

Last month I had the privilege of going with my son a Cub Scout hike. On the hike, the Den Leader taught the boys two important lessons about how to keep a group together on a hike. I’d like to tell you about those lessons and how they tie in with some of my own thinking about decision making by consensus.

The First Lesson

The hike began with us walking down a stony path to a clearing. When we got to the clearing the Den Leader stopped the group and waited for everyone to catch up.

Then the Den Leader asked the group who was the slowest hiker. It seemed to me an awkward question–I mean, who wants to be known as the slow kid?

But the purpose of asking, the leader explained, was because “we don’t leave anyone behind.” Therefore the slowest hiker was called upon to lead the group, to set the pace.

I loved this so much because here all of suddenly the slowest hiker got a confidence boost by being in a leadership role!

The Second Lesson

Right after the lead hiker was chosen, the Den Leader instructed the lead hiker on a dialog to begin the hike. He was to ask the group, “Is anyone not ready?”

Of course this is very different than we’re used to. We usually ask it like “Are you ready?” or “Is everyone ready?”

It seems like the same question just asked a different way. But that different way of asking the question is actually much better at finding what you need to know!

Since it was already established that “we don’t leave anyone behind,” it is important to know if someone in the group is not ready to go forward. So the quickest way to find out is to ask directly if anyone is not ready!

The Den Leader explained that when you ask something like, “Is everyone ready?” instead, then the voices of those who are ready all-too-easily drown out the voices of the few who are not. This puts those who are not ready in jeopardy of being left behind.

Connections with Consensus Model

These two lessons–about having the slowest hiker be first and about checking on whoever is not ready–remind me a lot of what I have studied about the process of making decisions by consensus. I have mentioned my work with that on behalf of my Deaconess community in a previous post.

One of the essential aspects of my Deaconess community’s practice in decision making by consensus is the idea that we honor the input from everyone in the group–and especially those who are most vulnerable.

In consensus-based decision making, we’re not trying to carry on at all costs. We don’t want to leave anyone behind!

Just as in the Cub Scout hike the slow hiker was invited to lead, so in the consensus model the one who is most vulnerable is invited to teach the group a different perspective. New proposals can then be crafted that take this new perspective into account.

Another principle we are trying to put into practice in my Deaconess community’s use of the consensus model is the idea of asking questions the different way. When the group seems close to adopting a new proposal we are learning to ask, “Are there any concerns about this proposal?”

The momentum of the majority of the group toward a decision makes it easy to want to ask, “Do we have agreement?” But just like on the Cub Scout hike, the “yes” answers too easily drown out the voices of those who are “not ready” to move forward.

Taking the time to check for remaining concerns may sometimes be a mere formality when, in fact, everyone is actually ready. But in the times when someone is truly not ready to move on a decision, that is vital information for the group so that noone gets drowned out and left behind.

I love that my son is getting these lessons in scouts. I want him to be attuned to the vulnerable, to those at risk of being left behind. And these powerful lessons are valuable for us grown-ups too!

Note to regular readers: If you’re watching the “How Christian Community Helps Us Face Challenges” posts, you can expect a new one next week.

5 Reasons Being on the Fence is Hard


Have you ever been accused of being on the fence on a tough issue? People don’t realize how many of us there are because we’re not the ones making headlines. They also don’t realize being on the fence isn’t easy. Here are five reasons why being on the fence is harder than people think.

1. People Think We’re Just Sitting Here, Not Caring

The people on the extremes of an issue advocate legislation, push the envelope, and get noticed. Since we’re not in the public square making our position clear, they think we’re just sitting here on our fence, not caring about the issue at hand.

They imagine us here, blissfully unaware of the heated debate all around us. They think, because we haven’t chosen one side or the other, we simply don’t care. While that may be true for inconsequential matters, we do care about the big stuff. Its just that the way we care doesn’t look like the way an activist cares.

2. People Don’t Understand the Fence as a Position

People assume just because we haven’t chosen “either/or” we don’t have an opinion. They say we’re undecided. They don’t seem to appreciate that we chose the fence for a reason.

What they don’t realize is that we’re as passionate about the issue as they are. Our decision to take middle ground is often just as intentional as their choice to take a side. We’re not undecided, we have simply chosen a highly nuanced position somewhere in the middle.

3. Sometimes We Agree with Both Sides

Our nuance often comes from the reality that we can see merit on both sides of the issue. We think both camps have valid points and we take a position that embraces the best of both.

It’s hard to talk about the issue with people who want us to pick a side when we agree with them and their opponents. When we nod in agreement on their concerns and also nod with their opposition, they think we’re being disloyal.

4. Other Times We Disagree with Both Sides

On some issues our nuance comes from the conviction that both extremes are just wrong. We hear all the arguments on both sides and neither one seems a suitable option. We don’t pick one or the other because there just isn’t a good choice between them.

We take our perch on the fence because we find balance there, avoiding the muck on both sides. The trouble then is, we’re easy targets on that fence because we’re everyone’s opposition.

5. Some Fences Just Plain Hurt

Oh sure, some fences are sturdy and comfortable, but other fences are rickety or barbed. Being on the fence can be pleasant, but sometimes being on the fence itself is dangerous.

When the moderate position has its own dangers and difficulties, it can be tempting to just choose a side. Sometimes being on the fence hurts like barbed wire but we do it because we’re convinced that’s where we’re supposed to be.

What the Fence Could Be

Maybe if more people understood why being on the fence is so hard, they’d give us a break. Maybe if we could somehow articulate why we take the middle ground, they’d see that we care. And maybe if we could better communicate our nuanced view they might even help us bend back some barbs and join us on the fence.

Do you wish more people would take a nuanced view of controversial topics? Or are you on the fence about that?
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