“Build Trust First…reaching Consensus is the easy part. “
By Margie Doyle
Some came together in grief, some in anger, some in frustration, and some in concern for schoolchildren’s safety.
For fifteen hours over four days ( Jan. 26 to Feb. 2, 2013), some 43 Orcas Islanders met to discuss an island response to the school killings at Newtown Connecticut on December 14 last year.
They were brought together by Fred Klein, community activist, member of Eastsound Planning Review Committee, and grandfather. Marta Branch, local science teacher, marine guide and mother, assisted Klein in guiding the group to abide by its agreements in the goal of reaching consensus.
(The agreements and the definition of consensus can be found HERE and are listed at the end of this article.)
Many of the participants had taken part in a previous consensus group to recommend ways for the public school to rebuild, “A Way Forward,” also convened by Fred Klein. Each participant to “A Response to Newtown” received a name badge with the additional words “Build Trust First…reaching Consensus is the easy part. ”
Those who had participated in the “Way Forward” consensus group of 2011 spoke on several occasions to encourage the group that, by abiding by the process, establishing trust and being respectful – not only of each others’ words, but also of their time — consensus could be reached and a meaningful response from Orcas Island, could be recommended.
Some spoke of the directness and simplicity of personal codes of conduct: do what you say, finish what you start, say ‘please’ and ‘thank you,’ apologize when necessary, speak up when someone is in distress.
As gun issues were discussed, strong arguments came from participants who have been active in law enforcement and other police and military activities. They advocated for Constitutional rights, gun locks (free at the County Sheriff offices) and gun safety classes. They described how law enforcement “works.”
Some participants felt that the schools should be the focus of the group’s recommendations, suggesting that armed policemen (not allowed in schools by law in the State of Washington), gun safety classes and social outreach discouraging isolation and bullying be taught in the schools. As with several of the school-based suggestions, social activities such as mentoring, grandparents’ clubs and chess clubs that were brought up are programs that are already in existence.
Mental health professionals and others spoke out regarding mental illness, domestic violence and drug abuse, and the complexity of the mental health issues. Terms defining mental illness were debated, and the need for a balance between caring and interference was mentioned several times. Many islanders want to ignore domestic violence and drug abuse. The negative impact of prescribed drugs was explored. The overwhelming busyness of life and the stress it causes came up, and some confessed to the inability to continue to remain engaged and keep an open mind, even in the consensus group.
Others were adamant that their views must be considered, and went on, at what to many was uncomfortable length, to express those views. Much time was spent resolving that argument, and the group voted to abide by a “road safety” law: if five cars are behind you, you must pull aside to allow others to pass. Similarly, if five hands were raised as a speaker went on, the consensus participant should yield the floor.
Many hearkened back to the olden days, when social gatherings were more informal and recreational. Personal responsibility for safety, inclusion and well-being was a concern repeatedly mentioned.
And always, it seemed, the pressure of coming to consensus by the end of the “Response” sessions, weighed on the participants’ minds. One participant brought up that the consensus statement was only the beginning of the process; that smaller groups would naturally form to carry out the practices and attitudes recommended by the group.
At the last session, the group broke into six subgroups to structure the consensus agreement that they “all could live with,” if not actively support.
Although many expressed that they were overwhelmed and drained by the experience, most highly valued the intentions and participation of all there and will go on to bring the recommendations to an everyday practice (the Code of the Rock) on Orcas Island.
Proposed Definition of “Consensus”
“a decision by two or more people…a decision which everyone may not feel is the best decision…but is a decision which everyone can live with…and commit themselves not to undermine”
Proposed Agreements for Participation
- commit to attend ALL FOUR (4) sessions…be punctual…please arrive 10 min. ahead of time…sessions will end PROMPTLY as scheduled.
- be fully present during the sessions (set aside other concerns, turn off cell phones, PDAs, etc.).
- say your name before speaking…address the group as a whole rather than a specific individual
- become aware of when you are moved to speak and when you are not moved to speak…listen to your inner voice.
- when speaking…speak personally from your own experience and feelings; use “I” statements; avoid generalizations, and avoid trying to win others over to your point of view…be aware of the preciousness of time.