When is a stand aside not a stand aside?
Acorn had a long and difficult membership meeting on Sunday. All manner of assumptions were tested and after 30 years of practicing consensus i found myself learning some important new things.
We had several tricky membership decisions and membership is one of the hardest in community because it is basically binary. You are either accepting the person or you are rejecting them. In some cases we ask people to visit again, because the community did not get to know them much (perhaps they are quiet) or because there was something else extraordinary going on (perhaps a building caught on fire). We did decided to restart our visitor program, with some more structure. In the aftermath of the arson, we decided to create a mental health team (MHT). Twin Oaks has an MHT, which was founded after a member took their own life almost 20 years ago.
But the thing which really took me back was when we did not come to consensus despite there being no blocks to the process. We did a non-binding go-around about how people felt about this visitor becoming a provisional member. Some concerns were expressed but there were no strong objections or blocks, several people stood aside. The facilitator took this as the group not being in consensus.
When we investigated the several stand asides, some of them were because the people were leaving the community and felt it was inappropriate for them to have their opinions bind the group, especially considering the group is somewhat divided. At least one stand aside was a protest of the 5 hour long meeting we had not yet completed. But at least a couple had strong concerns about this member joining and felt like they could not give their full consent. In this case a stand aside became at least temporarily a block. We tabled the decision for the upcoming meeting. And i have been mulling this over in my head searching for a better way to approach it next time.
We need to dissect the stand aside status which has gotten terribly muddied, for these two interpretations of it (defer to the group versus concerns not strong enough to block) obfuscate the process, rather than enlighten and inform it. So what i am proposing is that people who want to drop out of or not influence the process, but still wanted to be recognized instead of saying they stand aside should say they “defer”.
We also need to set a threshold for too many stand asides to be in full consensus. One number which was proposed for this limit was 10% or in our case 3 people. So in answer to the question posed in the title of this blog post. A stand aside is not a stand aside when 1) it is really deferring to the group and perhaps 2) when it is 1/3 of a block.
This long and difficult meeting was not bad in my thinking. i feel like we did an admirable job of balancing the long term needs of the group with those of the candidates. i thought Thomas did a fine job facilitating in territory where there was not yet a clear map out. i felt like despite emotions being high, the group held together and listened to our many divergent views and often found common ground. We need to get our communication and process agreements a little tighter and we can return to this vexing decision and hopefully make a decision we are all at least at peace with, if not all happy about.
[Edited by Judy Youngquest]