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Holding Conflict Together

By on Feb 5, 2012 in Society at Large | 1 comment

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A key theme in consensus is holding differing opinions together. It is the idea that two opposite opinions, or just different opinions can coexist without conflict. I have had a hard time understanding this point of view. I am still trying to understand consensus. My heart knows it’s the right method for most groups, and that it is an underutlized method. My whole body knows that when consensus is reached it simply feels right. But, I struggle with its complete understanding.

In order to understand consensus, I’ve solicited the help from others. I’ve participated in no less than three trainings I helped organize with Tree Bressen. I am now using brush’s help as my food club changes in scope.

Each example has helped shave a layer off this consensus onion. Each meeting, training, or interaction I have with people who use consensus makes it a little clearer and I get a little better understanding of what healthy consensus could look like. But, I would still be very uncomfortable saying I am an expert. And, I’ve been doing this for about two years now.

In addition to the trainings offered by Tree and brush, I’ve also, recently, purchased a small cache of books to help educate me in the process. It makes me giddy again with the books splayed over my dining room table, complete with highlighter. I love school. And, now I’m in my Michelle University in Understanding Consensus and Facilitation.

I’m skimming through, reading thoroughly, and perusing these books, and I run into an oft spoken theme: a tenet of consensus is being able hold differing opinions together. Differing opinions, living, side by side, without conflict.

I’ve racked my brain, and I have not been able to think of what that could mean. Doesn’t consensus mean we all have to agree all the time? No, answers my brain, in fact another key tenet is being able to give a wider space for dissenting opinions. One of the things I appreciate most about consensus is this beautiful facilitation that encourages the soft-spoken ones to speak their mind. It’s this perfect utilization and encouragement of group wisdom.

But, we all reach one great decision for the group, so how can two differing opinions be held in the same spot without trampling all over each other? What would that look like?

I have a very narrow view of consensus. My hope is that I will be able to expand where I witness this tool being used, but currently it is largely limited to my food club steering committee meetings. Sure we all agree on food, but we have a lot of different opinions on where to get there. And, I keep looking back to some of these conflicting ideas held together, and well, we’re not there yet. We don’t hold these differing ideas peaceably. We struggle with our own egos. We struggle with embracing this picture, and we struggle with learning about consensus.

Then, a friend posted about her husband. And, I think I have a clue about what this picture can look like. Her husband refused to eat this beautiful plate of food she prepared for lunch. It was full of protein, greens, and an amazing use of sweet potatoes. I thought it looked divine and wanted to rush over for lunch. But, this meal was his worst nightmare. And, now it’s donned on me – they are together. They are in a relationship. Despite their disagreements, they stay in this relationship. The meal wasn’t going to tear them apart. In fact, it makes me chuckle. It makes me think of my own marriage. Despite our disagreements, we stay together.

Differing opinions being held, peaceably, together. She and her daughter ate the meal. He likely had is own. Differing opinions being held, peaceably, together.

Maybe that’s what holding different opinions together looks like.

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Michelle Lasley is a graduate of Portland State University where she studied Social Science, Sustainable Urban Development, and Art History. Michelle currently divides her time working with SOLVE, the North Portland Food Buying Club, and volunteering for the Community Alliance of Tenants and her church. She loves spending time with her husband and son.

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