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HEADS OR TAILS
August 21, 2003
 
Decision-making in common life is hard. Hard in a community of two, hard in a community of forty or two hundred or a thousand. The ancient Israelites knew how hard it was to decide things among themselves -- so hard that sometimes they just they gave up trying, and consulted the Urim and Thurim, something like a pair of dice. You tossed them and the decision was made. Heads I win, tails you do. The earliest Christians knew how hard it was to decide: when it came time to choose a person to replace Judas Iscariot, they cast lots.

They were sure, of course, that God guided the roll of the dice.

We, on the other hand, are convinced that the best way to make a decision is to have a discussion. That the discussion will lead us to a consensus. Pure consensus models in decision-making often don't work well for sizable comunities, though: everyone becomes exhausted, and the victory defaults to the one who can stand there the longest and not give in.

And so voting began. The one with the most votes wins. Okay. But, while the consensus model can allow a minority voice to hold up the entire project, the democratic process of voting often cuts out the minority voice. It can't win in a democratic vote: it's the minority. If the Civil Rights movement in America had used a consensus model, we would still have colored drinking fountains.

Deciding things is hardest, paradoxically, in a community for which you have a great love. We think love conquers all, but it doesn't: it complicates things further. In a beloved community, the outcome is far from being a matter of indifference to you. You care passionately about how things unfold. And you have some ideas about how that should be. You've thought about it, done your homework, listened, prayed. Then comes the vote -- and you lose. They didn't buy your idea. They don't see it your way. Not enough of them, anyway.

You believe in democracy. You understand what a vote means. You get it. But it hurts, and it is faintly scary: does this mean that we're not on the same page here at all, me and these people whom I love and respect? Can we really be so closely related and still feel so differently about this? Can it be that I am somehow left behind, that the rest of them are rushing forward without me, taking first steps to somewhere I don't want to go?

Somehow, for a community to work, the winners need to hear and appreciate the goals of the losers. What made them feel as they felt? What have we left out, that they represent? Unless we want to become a homogeneous commuity of people who all think alike, we must find a way to understand and affirm our minority voices -- we won't present a true picture of ourselves without them, and we will lose all possiblity of honest self-criticism.

Can I at least understand why my friends decided as they did? Can I at least understand what they were working toward? Can I at least understand what they thought they were doing? Can I at least understand how my position looks to them? If I can, we can still live together, even though I may never come to agree with them about the issue that divided us. If I can, we can find other ways to make sure everyone is heard, and then the whole of us is enriched by each of us.
Copyright © 2018 Barbara Crafton
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