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Appreciating Group Consensus: A Dancing Rabbit Update

I have been working on appreciating what is good right now, finding gratitude for the little and big things in my life. But I think it’s also important to realize what I am missing so that I can appreciate it more when it comes back.

One thing that I am missing right now is spending Sunday afternoons all together in the Common House talking about hard topics.  

Christina here, writing about my love for consensus.

If you have visited Dancing Rabbit, you might have noticed that we spend a lot of time in meetings.  Why do they take so long? Well, there are a few reasons.

Often, we start meetings with quick “check ins.” This could be anything from a thirty-second statement about how things are going or how we are feeling on the topic, to a few minutes of more emotional vulnerability. And depending on how many people are at the meeting, this might take up to fifteen minutes.  

The reason why this is so invaluable, though, is that you often don’t know what people are bringing to the room—someone might be sick or waiting for a text from a family member who is having a hard time, or maybe they have a lot of strong emotions around the topic you’ll be discussing. All this is important information to have if they seem to be distracted or upset in the middle of a discussion.  

When I think about meetings in my life before I moved here, and how much more connecting and productive they could have been if we had spent a few minutes just finding out how people are doing, I realize that this is truly time well spent.

Another reason why meetings can take so long is that we make decisions by consensus which is a magical, amazing process that can be tricky and muddy and complicated. Consensus means that we come to a decision that everyone can live with—which usually means that no one quite gets what they want. It takes a lot of talking and understanding of others and is very different from my experiences with decision making before I moved here. 

So, here’s a very oversimplified example. Let’s say that you have some people who want to paint the Common House red and some people who want to paint it green. If we voted, we would have either a red Common House or a green one, the process would be quick and easy, and some percentage of the people involved would just have to get over the fact that they lost the vote.

If we made that same decision as a consensus, we might spend a few hours talking about the different pros and cons of the colors, why people want the color they want, and what would happen if they didn’t get it. Then we’d talk about some possible solutions together until we narrow the options down to something on which we could all agree. The result of this decision might be that we have a striped Common House or that some walls are different colors or maybe we all agree that actually, now that we look at it, blue is a color that everyone can live with.  

In short, the end product might be nothing like where we thought we might end up.  

And yet a third reason why we often spend hours discussing a single topic is that people around here really care, which usually translates to having strong opinions about topics and not wanting to let go of strong ideals or values. This means that finding a solution can be especially tricky and might take a while.

Back in the “before times,” we used to end especially challenging meetings by heading over to the Milkweed Mercantile for a beverage to relax together. Often, people would buy a drink for whoever was on the “other side” of the disagreement. It was a great way to lessen the tension and connect over things that weren’t so fraught or important.

All this is to say that, wow, I really really miss meeting in person! Who knew, right? Talking about things that are hard and trying to work through differences with others who have strong opinions that disagree with my own, but getting to do it in the same room—those were the days.

For now, we are meeting over zoom, though less frequently. I try to see everyone’s faces on the little screens, but it’s just not the same. There is no after-meeting get together—we just click on the red button and log off of the meeting.  

I’m working on appreciating what is good now during COVID times—a consistent routine, plenty of outdoor time, still connecting with friends, and health. But I think it’s also good to think about what I miss from the time before. This way, when we go back to having long Sunday afternoon discussions about complicated and challenging topics, and when we come to a decision that I don’t especially love, I’ll remember how much I missed those times and appreciate them a bit more. 

Christina Lovdal Gil has been a Dancing Rabbit member for five years. She has a special place in her heart for conflict resolution, non-violent communication and consensus.

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