Thursday, March 4, 2010

Declaration of Interdependence — Mitch Henrion

A declaration can change the world.

Hard to believe that it’s been only about a month since we finished our “BELFAST COHOUSING & ECOVILLAGE DECLARATION OF CONDOMINIUM.” So much has happened in the last month and a half that it seems like it must have been a year ago. We’ve brought in six new equity-member households and five new exploring-member households. We’ve had two packed, family-oriented Open Houses. We’ve honed in on the final floor plans for the homes and the Common House. We’ve had the first of our new, monthly, consensus-decision-making conversations. We’ve had a two-hour, heart-felt conversation on what sustainability means to us. We’ve confirmed the importance of a barn and a root cellar in our lives. We’ve wrestled with the location of unheated storage (garages). We’ve done energy analyses of the proposed Common House. The list goes on… For me, the most palpable growth over the last month has been our “maturing” as a group in the face of the ever-tougher decisions leading up to our planned spring ground-breaking.

Have you forgotten about the Declaration, yet?

Our Declaration, unanimously accepted on January 28, 2010, is a cornerstone now in place.

Life has been full in other realms, too. Cat (7 yrs old) and I moved out of our cabin to try to "finish" it; I am selling my home in Cobb Hill Cohousing; I am organizing a May workshop on "Communicating Oneness" with Robert Gonzales (an internationally renowned Nonviolent Communication trainer); and I am planning a Texas-Utah-Montana visit to family in June. After the June trip, perhaps Cat and I will stay in Boston a few days so that Cat can see the big fireworks on the Fourth of July.

Another Declaration comes to mind: our country's Declaration, unanimously accepted on July 4, 1776.

Reading the opening paragraphs of that revolutionary document, I’m struck by the consistency of human longings and our inherent wisdom when we’ve taken the time to reflect. A sentence jumps out at me: “Prudence, indeed, will dictate that Governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes…”

Probably not the sentence that you thought would jump out at me. But, then again, you may not have been thinking about the dominant, voting culture as much as I have been lately.

I smile at the prudence of our cohousing Declaration, our willingness to go along with the dominant culture, our own “Government[s] long established.” To satisfy corporate lenders, the town planning board, and the like, our cohousing Declaration states that “Each Owner of a Unit shall be entitled to one vote in the Association” and affirms that “the Declaration may be amended only by vote or agreement of the owners of Units to which at least seventy-five (75) percent of the votes in the Association are allocated.”

Bend your ear close, so I can whisper in it. Did you see the two, little, sneaky, barely noticeable words after “may be amended only by vote?” Now, that’s the stuff of revolutions!

“When in the Course of human events it becomes necessary for one people…to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature's God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare…

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all [people] are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. — That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted…, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed…”

“Or agreement”—those two little words in our cohousing Declaration.

“Agreement,” “consent,” whatever you want to call it, there’s a power and greatness in coming together and declaring with one voice.

Our cohousing Declaration references another of our foundational documents, also recently completed—the Bylaws. The Bylaws tell a bit more of the story (ten words, instead of just two).

“The Community shall endeavor to make all decisions by consensus…”

If you’re asking what happened to the voting, it’s still there (see the three dots after “consensus?”), but the Bylaws are a slightly more private document, so our prudence doesn’t need to be quite so “front and center.”

If you’re finding yourself wondering why I think that “agreement,” “consent,” “consensus”—whatever you want to call it—is so revolutionary, you may be one of the many who has experienced the dominant-culture version of consensus.

The dominant-culture version of consensus consists of endless meetings in which one person after another rattles on about why they think the group should do “this, that, or the other thing.” Once everyone is thoroughly exhausted, the person with the hardest “but(t)” wins “agreement” to their view, and everyone “consents” to go home.

I find that type of “consensus” (an autocracy of the “hard but(t)s”) a revolutionary way to destroy life (energy), liberty (from meetings) and any semblance of happiness.

Give me a dominant-culture vote any day over, what I fondly refer to as, “death by consensus.” I’d even prefer to live under a dictator (at least a “benevolent” one).

[Insert British accent] “Bloody revolutions!”

Here's another vision of consensus—a revolution worth fighting for.

Picture every person being held sacred. Picture every person honored. Picture every person supported. Picture every person equally valued.

What does it mean to hold “self-evident, that all [people] are created equal?”

Picture us making decisions that consider everyone of us. No casualties. No blood. No one ignored. No one left behind (really, this time). No need for a but(t) of steel.


There’s a guy I once met who liked to say, “You can pay now, or you can pay later with interest.” He was a recovering alcoholic, and he was talking about dealing with feelings.

We live in a debtor’s culture (another aspect of the dominant culture). We want what we want NOW, and we’re willing to pay later. We rarely add up the interest payments to calculate the true price we’re paying.

The governance models with which we’re most familiar—Autocracy and Democracy—work well in a culture in which we want a decision NOW (and we proceed as if that immediacy will be free, without a future interest payment).

Autocracy (decision-making by one person or a tiny group) is the speediest form of decision-making (think corporations, small countries, and most families). This form of decision-making is also usually the most costly in the long run (think revolutions, rebellion, and ecosystem devastation).

Democracy (decision-making by voting) is the next quickest to deliver a decision. In democracies, half of the people are happy half of the time, and decisions last until the “under” half can overthrow the “over” half and, thereby, reverse the “dominator” and “dominated” roles.

Are either of those models truly serving us?

Time for a revolution in our evolution.

What if we pay up front? What if we take a little extra time in the making of a decision so that everyone feels okay about the decision upfront?

“You can pay now, or you can pay later with interest.”

Will endeavoring to make all our decisions by consensus doom us to endless meetings? I think not. I predict that as we get better and better at “true” consensus, our meetings will enliven, energize and excite us. We’ll start to see each decision as a creative, problem-solving adventure: a puzzle for our hearts and minds.

In my opinion, endless, energy-draining meetings, labeled as consensus decision-making, occur because, for most of our lives, most of us have lived in autocracies and democracies. In those systems, winning people over to our side is the only way to get our needs met.

We like the idea of everyone agreeing, but, because of our conditioning, we think that means getting everyone to agree WITH US, with our view, with our way of seeing something. We want “consensus” (really a unanimous vote) for the option that WE like the best.

Our founding fathers didn’t say anything about voting in their Declaration—they just said “…to secure these rights, Governments are instituted…, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed…” In our country, most of us have consented to use Democracy which has then shaped the very way that our minds work. We’ve forgotten that our consent (consensus) underlies the choice of which form of governance we’ll use.

So, what is consensus, if it’s not getting everyone to see things “my way” (or “someone else’s way”)?

Here’s how I see it: Consensus is putting the ALL the ways that we all see a situation into a single pot and then owning that whole pot together. It’s recognizing that my needs are best met when my neighbor’s needs are also met. It’s an acknowledgement that all of our perspectives are equally important and that we want to take them ALL into account.

It’s letting the tension of seeming incompatibility propel us into new realms.

When it comes to tension, Peter Senge of MIT (Learning Organizations) likes to use the analogy of a rubber band. When there’s tension on a rubber band it has potential energy. Tension in organizations also indicates the existence of potential energy. When we notice tension, we have options: 1) We can leave the tension in place (static, stuck); 2) We can increase the tension until we reach the breaking point (system failure, chaos, revolt); or 3) We can release the tension and zoom into previously unimagined realms.

Blast off!

I have an engineer friend who likes to say, “The harder the problem, the more fun it is to try to solve it.” (Guess his current passion….: Global sustainability.)

We are interconnected and interdependent. We are learning and creating. How we choose to live will change the world.

[Insert Texas accent] “I declare! We can pay now or we can pay later with interest.”

[Insert Maine accent] "Ayuh."

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