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We Need a Third Party Think Tank…
Collaboration and Consensus

In Brief: When we make decisions with 51% to 49% majorities, half of us lose. True democracy requires engaging in genuine debate until solutions are found that serve most of us and are destructive to none.
Ready to be involved in building a third party think tank? Click here.

Have We Ever Had Collaboration and Consensus?
Without doubt, there is a history of collaboration and consensus as decision-making tools in American democracy, though at times they seem like foreign concepts. The Declaration of Independence and the Constitution that founded this government are sterling examples. If we'd experienced the kind of bullheaded partisanship in 1776 or in 1787 that we have today, neither of those documents would have been written and there would be no United States of America.

This is not to say that there was no dissent, or even rancor in the founding proceedings that birthed our political heritage. There were both. But the people who affixed their signatures to those documents had some things we seem to lack. They had dedicated and wise leadership, a deep devotion to purpose, a commitment to principle, and a process of collaboration and consensus.

We actually use collaboration and consensus often outside Federal government. It's common in small political bodies such as city councils, in some businesses, and in many community, spiritual, and charitable organizations. We use it better in lesser venues. Can we learn to use it on the big issues?

Definitions:
Let's define the terms. For our purposes, collaboration is working together in joint effort, and consensus is a position, or general agreement, reached by a group as a whole. But those skeletal definitions need a bit of flesh on them.

Collaboration involves assembling diverse ideas into a workable whole. It involves finding areas of agreement, and building new agreement upon those. It is creative work, often allowing for the discovery of ideas that hadn't existed before, or the adaptation of old ideas to new purposes. It involves careful presentation of one's own positions, and honoring the positions of others with thoughtful understanding.

Consensus is not so much process as it is acceptance of a status—the state of being in collaboration until some level of unanimity is achieved. It is a decision not to accept narrow victories. It is abandonment of the concept of winning at the expense of others. It is commitment to finding the best solution, rather than an adequate solution.

So, the two go hand in hand. Collaboration is the process of bringing our best assets to bear upon our most important needs. Consensus is applying those assets until we find the right solution. Do we deserve less than that? Can we afford less than that?

Practical Measures
In practical terms, collaboration and consensus mean that we quit making decisions by narrow majorities. When we only have 51% agreement on an issue, we simply aren't finished searching for the solution. The solution that can only be supported by half our people isn't good enough. We may seldom be able to reach full agreement on an issue, but 60% will be better than 51%, 67% will be better yet, and 75% still better. As consensus grows around a decision, we can become ever more confident that it is a good decision.

Some will argue that this kind of process is impractical, that is too time-consuming, and that consensus will often be unreachable. But where collaboration and consensus are employed, they are often successful. And we might ask how well the alternative is working. How often has legislation been abandoned in Congress because partisan division made agreement too costly to achieve? How often have we worked through months and months of a budget year on continuing resolutions because partisanship made budget agreement impossible? How often have judges' benches gone unoccupied because partisan obstruction made confirmation unreachable? If we pursue a course of collaboration and consensus, over partisanship, it may not always work. But can it be any less effective than what we're doing now?

Achieving the Best
We are a vast and diverse nation. We are rich and poor, secular and religious, wise and foolish, sophisticated and naive, conservative and liberal, peaceful and hostile. But mostly we are in between such extremes. Whatever serves our nation serves us best when it serves all of us. A solution that is victory for half of us, and defeat for the rest, will not be a permanent, workable solution. A solution that is victory for three-fourths and defeat for a quarter may be better than the even split, but it will always have negative, sometimes terrible consequences. A solution that is a victory for most of us, and destructive to none is much to be preferred. Such is a solution of consensus.

Consider this: In a democracy, a consensus solution is the only real solution. Think of the Declaration of Independence. Certainly not every person in the colonies agreed with it. Even the delegates who contributed to its writing had widely differing ideas. But when they ultimately penned their signatures upon the document, they mutually pledged their lives, their fortunes, and their sacred honor to support it. That's serious business They could not have made that pledge if they had not dwelled in the collaborative process until they achieved consensus. They could not have pledged everything if they had not all believed that their declaration was the best and only solution—for all of them, and for their new countrymen and women.

Of course, not every difficulty we face is as grave as what confronted those patriots. And the resolve that was essential for them will not always be required of us. But today, our democracy may be in exactly as much danger as it was in 1776, and we may need every bit of the resolve they had. They strove for the best they could achieve. So must we.

How We Get There
There may be other ways to change our process so that it uses collaboration and consensus, but perhaps the surest, quickest, and most achievable method is for the electorate to deny majority power to any one party by creating and building new political parties. Then collaboration and consensus become virtual necessities.

If you're interested in helping create a third party think-tank, click here.

Please Speak Up…

  • If you have a response or an additional thought regarding something on this page,
  • If you'd like to write an article for possible publication on these pages,
  • If you have an idea or suggestion about developing the think tank…

…Send it along to: leaveparty@greatreality.com

The political saga of the past several years has brought changes across the polical spectrum. It has not, however, changed the fundamental principles expressed on these pages.

Some of the pages have been revised, and some await revision, to add content and to update specific references to parties, events, etc. While that revision proceeds, please read the information posted here for its fundamental ideas and principles.

As always, your comments are welcome: leaveparty@greatreality.com

copyright © 2010, J. C. Adamson