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Maya Korzybska - What We Do and How We Do It!

What does consensus mean?. From Michael Irwin, November 30, 2010. Time 18:54

You wrote:

"...most members do not realize that the WSA is set up as the ultimate democratic organization, where we aim for consensus (100% acceptance) as opposed to the simple 51% majority vote that might happen in other set-ups." "Of course, there are occasions when a proposal is the idea of only one country or a handful of members, and doesn’t get majority support. Consequently it is put aside. This is, however, how the democratic process works, and it needs to be respected by all."

In the above quotes you use the word 'democratic'. In one case you say 'ultimate democratic' and in the second you say 'democratic process'. I think we would agree that that moving a resolution up the chain of layers from group through to Congress is following a form of representative democracy where members lose their individual voice in favour of representatives for the collective that the individual belongs to. Hence there are 'group delegates' at a national congress. Similarly national organizations as members of the WSA are represented by delegations at world congresses and between congresses by an additional representative step through zone reps at the WSC.

Given our agreement that we are talking about a representative form of democracy, I have to ask you what the characteristics are of 'ultimate democracy' and 'democratic process' when those delegates actually make decisions.

You mention 'consensus' as a characteristic of 'ultimate' democratic decision making. What does consensus mean and how is it achieved? What are the other mechanics of decision making and what are the processes in those mechanisms?


From maya Korzybska, December 4, 2010. Time 7:40

Dear Michael,

As far as I understand it for example, democracy is based on people voting for a president or prime minister and then ultimately supposedly trusting that that person is leading the country in accordance with the vision that the people who voted for them have. Democracy in the big wide world is usually based on a majority vote of 51 against 49...so when I say ultimate democracy, it is my way of differentiating us from this normal format. We do not function as above, i.e. we do continue to consult the member countries in all decision making and our majority vote is much higher than 51%. I am not sure what we have had to put on our bylaws as we are required by law to actually put a figure, but we function not only by vaste majority but also by consensus, which is generally understood as listening to and discussing opposing opinions until the 'minority' accept the majority vote....or else coming up with a middle ground. This is what I mean by the democratic process that needs to be respected, i.e. that if a small minority of 10 % are for some change or against some change, at some point they have to accept what the majority want. That is democracy as I understand it.
As far as representative democracy, well having worked with many council members I have often heard them defend members positions that they personally have not necessarily agreed with, in the same way I have heard some national chairs defend individual members opinions which they don't necessarily agree to.... to assume that the individuals voice is 'lost' in the process is I believe inaccurate, what is more if a member has a real concern there is nothing stopping them writing to us, which in fact does occur sometimes, if they prefer to discuss issues and concerns among themselves rather than writing to the council that is also their choice.
The other thing not to forget is that most individual subud members are not particularly concerned with how the organization functions, mostly they see results and are happy with them or not some have written to express their support, others their concerns. We have launched various initiatives over the past term and for example the one that was coordinated by Stefan Freedman regarding "looking at our subud " which was quite well followed, but if you really look at the 13.000 members, we are talking about a very small percentage of feedback.
So having said all this, all we can do is our best and try and stay open and listen, it's actually very easy to hear when there is a real concern of more than the odd individual about any given topic, because it tends to pop up all over the world.....thus for example we were hearing from all over the place different concerns and opinions regarding the 3 month probationer period, so we proposed a workshop around that theme at World Congress. All we as council and executive can do, is create the space and give the opportunity for discussion, we cannot decide by ourselves based on a group of peoples view, if and what comes out of a congress where hopefully many members are present and can speak, is what will be carried forward.

Hope this has answered your comments
Best Maya


From Helissa Penwell, December 4, 2010. Time 17:27

Hi Maya, thanks for answering our questions!

You said,
"I am not sure what we have had to put on our bylaws as we are required by law to actually put a figure, but we function not only by vaste majority but also by consensus, which is generally understood as listening to and discussing opposing opinions until the 'minority' accept the majority vote....or else coming up with a middle ground. This is what I mean by the democratic process that needs to be respected, i.e. that if a small minority of 10 % are for some change or against some change, at some point they have to accept what the majority want."

It seems to me that consensus is a lot like love: it's wonderful when it happens naturally, but there are problems when it is forced. When push comes to shove, wouldn't the minority be more accepting of the will of the majority if there were a straight-up majority vote, than if they were pressured to vote for something they did not believe in?

Helissa


From Michael Irwin, December 6, 2010. Time 19:32

Thank you for participating in the feedback. There are a number of things that you wrote which leave me wondering what they mean. To reply, I would like to begin by looking at several quotes from the WSA Constitution.

Introduction Statement in the WSA Constitution: "Decision Making. The members of the World Subud Association, in all their consultative and deliberative procedures shall be guided by democratic principles and shall seek consensus in decision making through guidance received in the Latihan Kejiwaan."

This overarching general principle uses the words 'democratic', 'consensus' and 'guidance received' without further definition. I would like to narrow the meaning of these words for the purposes of our conversation. 'Democratic' means to me a collective agreement by the participants in the association (the national organizations) as to how decisions are to be made by those participants. So the principle limits the decision making to the participants, not the officers.

Bylaw "1.2 Maximum Autonomy: Unless specifically limited or excepted, individuals and bodies referred to in the By-laws may act within their own jurisdictions as they see fit." This bylaw specifically gives the participants a wide latitude of choices about what methods to use with one restriction: 'Unless specifically limited or excepted'.

Bylaw "2.8 Decision Making: After deliberation by the Member Delegations, decisions are made by consensus." This bylaw applies only to the Congress and, again, 'consensus' is not defined. So consensus can be defined by the Congress delegates. [As a side point I would like to point out that history has demonstrated that this bylaw is inadequate. The original intent was that consensus should apply because Congress was assumed to deal only with matters of principle which are, by their nature not time limited, but that is another discussion.] This bylaw does not apply to bodies other than Congress so other bodies may choose to make their decisions by any method including consensus. But Congress must use consensus and consensus needs to be defined. Beginning with the Sydney Congress Varindra used the 'nobody-says-no' method of determining a consensus as opposed to the 'everybody-says-yes' method otherwise known as 'unanimity'. This method means that a consensus can be declared if one delegation votes ‘yes’ and no other delegation votes ’no’. While true, that example is a deliberately extreme just to make a point about the process. The important point is that the silence of those saying 'no' can be either because those voters really don't care about the issue or because they are afraid to vote 'no'. The fear of saying ‘no’ is a potentially serious consequence of 'nobody-says-no' consensus. Sensitivity and care must be taken to ensure that fear does not occur.

At this point it is important to discuss the meaning of “…consensus in decision making through guidance received in the Latihan Kejiwaan." as expressed in the introductory statement quoted above. Note that guidance is not defined. One of the choices that can be made in defining guidance is that helpers may be employed in testing solutions to difficult problems for the benefit of the voters. By my observation this is a choice that has been made by the WSC. It is a perfectly valid choice according to the Constitution. The questions I have about that choice centre around whether that method is reviewed by each newly selected post-Congress Council and whether the voters on that Council vote about whether to continue to use that method. I would like you to tell me whether or not to continue to use that method has ever been discussed among other options for the Council voters when faced with the need to find solutions for divisive problems.

I can tell you that the phrase “…consensus in decision making through guidance received in the Latihan Kejiwaan." was very carefully worded and looked at by the Sydney Congress constitution working party. Another meaning of the phrase could be that individual voters, who are all opened and can, presumably each receive their own guidance, should be mindful of that guidance when voting. That meaning makes the statement into an exhortation to individuals to look within themselves for guidance rather than use a process involving a group of non-voters, helpers, making a declaration which, by virtue of the office held by them carries a lot of weight.

To return to the bylaws,

Further bylaw pertaining to Congress :

“3.19 Procedures to Resolve Deadlock: In the event of differences of view arising between Member Delegations, the Chairperson may establish Zonal Council meetings or such other groupings of the Member Delegations as the Member Delegations may agree to. If differences persist, decisions are made through guidance received in the Latihan Kejiwaan. If consensus can not be reached, no decision is made; however, a resolution defeated at a previous Congress, which the Zonal Representatives unanimously agree to reintroduce unchanged at a subsequent Congress, is approved by Congress when supported by more than two-thirds of the Member Delegations."

Notice the repeat of the phrase for interpretation, “decisions are made through guidance received in the Latihan Kejiwaan.”

The authors of the Bylaws were well aware that the 'nobody-says-no' method of consensus could result in obstruction by delegations that needed further instruction from their national organizations or by persuasive individuals within even one delegation who might not feel comfortable with the resolution at hand. Under consensus such single, or several, delegations by voting ‘no’ would deny the approval of a given resolution. So bylaw 3.19 was added to allow for four years to pass for the national organizations to discuss the issues involved and come back with clear instructions and a less demanding method of approval, a two-thirds majority, so that while it was a majority vote, that original question, without alteration, could be passed without discomfort. Whether the solution for breaking the deadlock is satisfactory or not is debateable, but that is what the Sydney Congress agreed to. The important point is that if the resolution is re-worded in any way, the consensus vote is needed.

A closer look at the relevant WSC bylaws:

"5.8 Voters: The voting members of the Council are the Zonal Representatives."

This is simple and utterly clear limitation on the Council. Only the zonal representatives have the vote. If consensus is used, then that consensus is required only of those voters. Consensus of all those present is not relevant. I believe that the Chair has been added to those voting but the current version of the bylaws on the net is as above. I am not discussing whether those who vote as directors are covered by the same rules.

A review or our previous exchange:

I wrote: "You mention 'consensus' as a characteristic of 'ultimate' democratic decision making. What does consensus mean and how is it achieved? What are the other mechanics of decision making and what are the processes in those mechanisms?"

I have presented my answer here but I don’t think that you addressed the question in your reply.

You wrote: "As far as I understand it for example, democracy is based on people voting for a president or prime minister and then ultimately supposedly trusting that that person is leading the country in accordance with the vision that the people who voted for them have. Democracy in the big wide world is usually based on a majority vote of 51 against 49...so when I say ultimate democracy, it is my way of differentiating us from this normal format. We do not function as above,"

"when I say ultimate democracy, it is my way of differentiating us from this normal format."

I am sorry to say that I don’t know what you mean by ‘normal format’. For instance in the USA a president is elected by a body of delegates from each state based on the electoral results of the citizen vote in that state. Other republics use other processes. In the British parliamentary system a prime minister is not elected directly, but is the leader of the party in parliament capable of forming a government by securing the confidence of the members of parliament at all times. I can see no comparison and therefore no relevance for the WSA in referring to how presidents and prime ministers are chosen. If you are talking about how the person to fill the office of WSA Chair is chosen, then that method needs to be addressed.

You wrote, “We do not function as above”. Assuming that you are referring to the 51% majority, I have to ask again whether each incoming Council considers the question of how to make decisions as a matter of basic routine at the start of their mandate, given the choices implied in Bylaw 1.2.

"I am not sure what we have had to put on our bylaws as we are required by law to actually put a figure..."

I can tell you that only the original Bylaw 5.10 concerning the Board of Directors was demanded by the registering authorities after the passage of he Constitution in Sydney. All the rest is the choice of Congress. I was disappointed that you were ‘not sure’. Do you or the Council refer to the bylaws for instruction as to how you should operate?

"we function not only by vast majority but also by consensus, which is generally understood as listening to and discussing opposing opinions until the 'minority' accept the majority vote....or else coming up with a middle ground."

‘…vast majority but also by consensus…’ just won’t do. It is either by ‘vast majority’ or ‘by consensus’ for substantive decisions. What has the Council decided? If both methods are available to the Council what are the criteria for using them?

“…until the 'minority' accept the majority vote....or else coming up with a middle ground." I am troubled by your use of the phrase ‘”minority’ accept”’. Is this a process of ‘wearing down’? I don’t have any problem with the phrase ‘middle ground’ but given ‘minority accept…majority’, I wonder about unacceptable pressure.

"...if a member has a real concern there is nothing stopping them writing to us..."

OK. My question would be, what is the Council and Executive doing to ‘encourage’ them writing to you.

"The other thing not to forget is that most individual subud members are not particularly concerned with how the organization functions..."

Again, I think that statement is true but I wonder if many more would become interested if they were encouraged by being invited in to the processes. My concern here is more with the national organization members of the WSA who have a real responsibility to encourage their member participation in their organizations with leadership about that encouragement coming from the WSA. It is not enough to just ‘lament’ the lack of member concern.

"All we as council and executive can do, is create the space and give the opportunity for discussion..."

I’m sorry but creating space and opportunity without a continuing program of active encouragement is not enough. I say that while knowing that past efforts have been made to invite discussion though with limited results. I applaud those efforts and ask for more.


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