Conflicting Consensus
Is Everyone OK With This?


Here in Southern California, it’s the consensus that global warming is a reality.  Although, it could be said that we disagree with ourselves on that point, because it’s also the consensus that we want to keep our cars and our consumer lifestyle.  But there again, we disagree, because it’s the consensus that we need to act immediately to cut the world’s carbon dioxide emissions.  But alas, it’s also the consensus that we need to move slowly in matters concerning individual rights.

Global catastrophe aside, it’s the consensus that consensus building is a decision making process which equalizes power within a group of people — regardless if anyone knows what they’re doing.  Think of consensus as a glass of warm comforting milk — homogenized milk.  Instead of voting on something — with the result that the majority gets its way — consensus building has the goal of a solution that everyone is “OK” with.  As of yet, there is no consensus on what “OK” means.   However, it’s the consensus that we can now insert the phrase “build common ground.”  And so I will.  We need to build common ground because it’s the consensus that building common ground is what we need to do.

Majority rule is the antithesis of consensus. Since it involves winners and losers, it’s the consensus that majority rule creates conflict.  It’s also the consensus that conflict is unpleasant.  Another agreed upon negative aspect of majority rule is that the majority of the majority can be ignorant.  As a result, the majority can not only vote for things that go against the majority’s best interest, but it can also be biased against the minority.  Take slavery for example.  In colonial America, if slaves had been included in a consensus group, you can bet that slavery would have been better for it.

But that was then.  If you want to get ahead in today’s business world, consensus building is a phrase you might want to drop into a conversation with your employer.  It makes you sound reasonable and non-threatening.  It makes anyone who disagrees with you sound like a manipulator, even if you’re the one doing the manipulating.  And you are.

But consensus builders don’t completely ignore those who disagree.   In consensus building, it’s the consensus that those who disagree need a voice too, otherwise those who agree wouldn’t know how much they disagree.  And that means everyone has a voice — even the people who don’t know what they’re talking about.  This gives everyone the opportunity to spend countless hours changing the consensus position from a groundbreaking solution into something less demanding but more gratifying in the short term. In order to achieve consensus far-reaching proposals for new and dramatically different solutions need to be marginalized.  Consensus, you see, represents the status quo. No matter how substandard the consensus solution is, everyone will have participated and the consensus is that they will be happier.

Happy people like consensus.  Do you want to be happy? 


Consensus then, is the approved way to keep your job and get things done.

As we all know, the consensus is that people want change as long as it doesn’t change anything that anyone might not think needs changing.  This allows change only with things that need changing as long as everyone agrees on what needs changing. 

Are we in agreement?

Good.  Because consensus building starts with the idea that in the end we will agree.  If we don’t agree, we will have failed.   And no one wants to fail.  That’s why consensus works.

With consensus building, highly-charged schismatic debates are not likely to happen.  With consensus building, people like Martin Luther and Karl Marx would have been given ample time to express their opinions, but so would everyone else.  And that’s good for everyone, because people with impassioned convictions can be distracting and conflicting.  In consensus building, people have the freedom to compromise and be happy without all the bother and distraction of conflict.  And consensus building is good for helping the unemployed, too.  A consensus group is usually overseen by a mediator or a facilitator.  This creates jobs for people who may or may not have a good educational foundation  — like therapists. 

Consensus building then is a lengthy co-operative, mediated process aimed at camouflaging — with a non-threatening solution  — the extent of conflict within society.   It may not always result in the best solution, but it makes us all feel good and increases our self-esteem.

Obviously, there are some things for which consensus building isn’t ideal.  Off the wall things, like organized sports and firefighting come to mind — and any sort of emergency.

Here in Southern California, it’s the consensus that we are experiencing extremes in our climate — rising temperatures may make life unbearable and flood waters could be rising.  The time to act could be now or maybe not. 

As your mediator, I’d like to remind you that, in order to reach consensus, it doesn’t matter who or what caused the extremes of heat and cold and rain and winds that we’re now experiencing.  No one here wants to play the blame game.  The question before us today is — as far as global warming goes — whether or not to add more fuel to the fire.

Any comments?  Do we have consensus?

— Nathan Callahan

First Broadcast December 24, 2011

© / Nathan Callahan / all rights reserved


Broadcasting Fridays at 8:50 am from KUCI 88.9 fm Orange County, California