Consensus is a group solidarity in sentiment and belief, a general belief, or a collective opinion (according to the dictionary given by my coworkers in the public library I worked in as a teenager, way back in the early 1960’s – grin. I keep it next to my computer to remind me of those formative years. Their parting gift dedication reads, “In the life of a young man the most essential thing for happiness is the gift of friendship”, from the book, ‘Life of Sir William Osler’. Wise advice indeed!).

These ‘beliefs’ and ‘collective opinions’ are a ‘process’ of a group, be it small or large, a family or a nation. All too often these days, however, I find they are presented as a summary of ‘facts’ or stated as ‘rules’, designed to control and possibly manipulate the masses for conformity and perhaps personal gain. The conclusion or outcome of this process may be the only thing presented, so OFTEN people have been deprived of their ‘options’ or ‘free will’ to consider anything else during that process. The classic example being: ‘Father says…!’.

In contrast I would suggest healthy consensus is a fine balancing act. Too little process and people grow up not knowing how similar/different they are, or what others have done in the past, and chaos results. Too much and most people only know them as ‘power and control games’, which are usually based upon fear and anger (vs necessary, satisfying, and hopefully happy outcomes for the majority).

Our current times, and it appears increasingly so as we approach the installation of a newly elected President, and with the U.S. House and Senate also being predominately Republicans, are producing what appears to me to be an expected new level of pressure for only their opinions being considered, resulting in the probable processes (or the appearance) of coercion, bullying and a variety of potentially dangerous ‘power and control games’. Interestingly, too, is it is being marketed as bringing America back together, again. This feels all to familiar to the ‘tactics’ of the perpetrators of dysfunctional families, and on an international scale, even resulting in World War II through its ‘leadership’, as I will illustrate.

As I recently wrote, politics used to be about campaigning and then setting aside partisan differences to get back to governing as a group… Now it’s 24/7 politics and the next ‘race’ is being set up before the current one is even completed. Almost all political actions are seen as potential election platforms, or playing to a particularly important voter base for future support. Everything is seen as a ‘test’. As I mentioned, this also occurs within families, and the more ‘dysfunctional’ their processes are, usually also are their levels of ‘gamesmanship’. Which came first is a question as old as the chicken or the egg dilemma?!? As I’ve detailed in previous writings, I would encourage readers to do Internet searches for ‘domestic violence’, or ‘power and control wheels’, or ‘perpetrators’ or ‘domestic violence victims’ to see just how well known and detailed these characteristics of behaviors and their ‘tactics’ are… They are playing by a perpetrator’s game book, which is very different from a healthy assertive behavior model, no matter what the perpetrator claims the expected outcome to be. Actual outcomes, behaviors and ‘facts’ speak louder than words…

The biggest difficulty is the family members of these game players are not informed that they don’t have to play these games and by the dictated rules – coercion, bullying, or various ‘power and control’ manipulations are used instead. People could negotiate a variety of consensus or agreed upon guidelines or relationship operating procedures, which could be fair to everyone (and everyone gets their turn at being as happy as all can manage – ‘equality’). Where is it ‘required’ that each state or an entire nation MUST act in only one manner, and therefore needs its own independence and/or local laws? We live in a world of ‘interdependence’, like never before, but many ‘leaders’ portray it differenty. This requires people to be initially informed they have ‘free will’ (e.g. as our U.S. Constitution already clearly spells out), and they are also informed it is a ‘right’ they are entitled to! Just like ‘unconditional love’, unconditional freedom is critically important (as well as possible consequences being thoroughly discussed for ‘INFORMED decision making’). I wish I had known this growing up in my dysfunctional family, which wasn’t violent but the ‘neglect’ of healthy socializing lead to similar unhealthy and very sad living conditions and conclusions. The ’60’s was also a beginning to a cultural freedom for many others in our nation as well…

One example of this not working as expected, regards our just completed election. NBCNews.com had an article on the idea of ‘one President at a time’ as newly proposed legislation. Apparently, Congress has to codify as law that this applies to the President of the U.S. as well!?! “Only the President has the authority to conduct foreign policy on behalf of the United States, and there needs to be absolute clarity about his positions and the policies of the US,” Tommy Vietor, who served as President Obama’s national security spokesman, said. “If there’s ambiguity, an adversary can use it to gain leverage on us and it creates general confusion and uncertainty among our allies.” Our current President-elect is conducting business through his Tweets, even before he is sworn in (or his advisors have been approved by Congress)!?!

Another illustration of the consequences of not establishing consensus was the telephone conversation between President-elect Trump and Taiwan’s President (a first conversation since the U.S. has had a policy of ‘one China’, starting in 1972! The call only lasted 10 minutes, but the fallout has continued. As reported on the front page of The Wall Street Journal, December 6, 2016: “At the While House, officials fielded multiple calls from Chinese officials over the weekend in which China complained about Mr. Trump’s actions and said it needs stability and predictability in their relationship with the U.S., a senior Obama administration official said.” This would apply to any family system, too.

“What you have seen in the past eight years is possibly too much predictability” from the U.S. in its approach to China, said Christopher Johnson, a former senior China analyst at the Central Intelligence Agency. “A little unpredictability is a good thing, but too much is scary. There’s a fine line there between good unpredictability and scary, and that’s the balance that has to be found.”

This is an illustration of the ‘gamesmanship’ that goes on at the international level of politics, and I suggest it can be the same on the family, business, organizational or any relationship level, too. While our political ‘leaders’ (and their advisors) may feel ‘a little unpredictability’ is a good thing (?!?), I find it highly disruptive to open dialogue and building ‘trust’.

And, I propose consensus isn’t finished until all the interested/involved parties say it is completed (and possibly sign-off on it to demonstrate to any future explorations who was involved, that they indeed agreed and specifically what they expect they agreed to). It may seem strange that these would need to be spelled out, but I have had a LOT of clients who got caught up in these details, and the continuing messes they can create! Some times going on for entire lifetimes (and in one case for four generations, with the current ones unaware of the history involved!?!).

A new illustration of this was recently reported by NBCNews.com (12-28-16). The family of an 8-year-old New Jersey boy says he was kicked out of Cub Scouts because he is Transgender, a move that could open a new front in the debate over discrimination in Scouting. This is the third known case of a Transgender male in the Boy Scouts, but the first who was asked to leave. The Boy Scouts of America endured years of controversy before ultimately lifting bans on Gay Scouts and leaders in recent years. But spokeswoman Effie Delimarkos said in a statement the organization considers Transgender children as a separate issue. “No youth may be removed from any of our programs on the basis of his or her sexual orientation,” she said, but added: “Gender identity isn’t related to sexual orientation.” I find this VERY surprising that they consider the two are not related… at all?!? The article mentions earlier this year, the Boy Scouts told The Associated Press that it would admit Transgender children to its coeducational programs, but not to programs that are for boys only, like the Cub Scouts and Boy Scouts. The article went on to explain the national Girl Scouts organization, which is not affiliated with the Boy Scouts, has accepted Transgender members for years. I also recall the U.S. military struggled with the similar issue of whether men and women could possibly work together (even though other nations had been doing it for years…). Perhaps, a continuing illustration of American men having MUCH more trouble with homophobia than women??? Perhaps, something which relates to the concept of all people being created equal… and where have I heard those words before (hint, our U.S. Constitution, written how many years ago???)? What might consensus look like in this instance – sarcastic humor.

Consensus is a step towards ‘free will’ where a person has a large range of options from which to choose, as previously agreed upon through the consensus building process. As a child I understand it is recommended that a parent limit a child’s options so as to help him/her learn how to effectively/efficiently choose (e.g. ‘which set of clothes do you want to wear today, the red ones or the blue ones”… vs letting the child sort through all combinations). As an adult I suggest this is no longer considered appropriate, as hopefully they have become experienced at making personally meaningful (and healthy) choices as to what might make them most happy… and it can be a learning process (with hopefully not too costly learning curves – humor). It might not be ‘conventional’ but it may add to their passionate ‘fun’ life – their life!

Food for thought: a recent The NBC/WSJ poll finds 31%of Americans believing that Trump’s relationship with Russia’s Putin is too friendly and not appropriate, versus 24% who don’t believe it’s too friendly; and 44% HAVE NO OPINION!?! IF our elected ‘leaders’ are supposed to represent their constituents, how do they do this when there is such great divide between opinions, and nearly half have no opinion??? Once again, this recent poll found, there’s a striking partisan divide: 61% of Democrats say Trump is too friendly with Putin, compared with just 8% of Republicans who believe that. Perhaps, we are way too far from a sense of consensus for our ‘leaders’ to be spouting out American ‘policies’, yet??? And, again, it happens in families, too. How we’ve come to this period of such diverse opinions has the pollsters stumped (as they admitted when the Presidential election didn’t go as they strongly predicted). One interesting analysis is that of the national fire fighters union, as detailed in the story of firefighters’ views.

Also, will we be examining and accounting for the price of our ‘free elections’? According to a March 15, 2016 New York Times article, over the course of the campaign up until that time, President-elect Trump had earned close to $2 billion worth of media attention without any financial costs to his campaign, about twice the all-in price of the most expensive presidential campaigns in history. It is also twice the estimated $746 million that Hillary Clinton, the next best at earning ‘free media’, taken in during the same time period. What possible impact(s) these HUGE ‘free media’ amounts might have had in ‘influencing’ American’s opinions is open for debate (and maybe some consensus, eventually… or, sadly, probably not)??? We continue to not have effective consensus on campaign finance laws!?!

In the beginning President-elect Trump boasted about his ability to capture America’s and the media’s attention at a huge rate. Then when the press coverage didn’t go as he wanted, he then complained that the media was quoting everything that he said (as if it had become a ‘bad’ thing all of a sudden). Then, during his few later/current comments on his ‘campaign promises’ he said they were merely illustrations, talking points, or thoughts off the top of his head, and not ‘promises’… How do people reach consensus with such a ‘moving target’??? Only time will tell, but I have seen the consequences of such behaviors over the many years I’ve worked with clients and their dysfunctional families! It takes a lot of energy, and creates LOTS OF STRESS, not knowing what to expect or what a person can count on!!! Creating dependable behaviors and accountability are critical to beginning to build trust. Focusing on the behaviors, and not getting into ‘name calling’ and ‘character assassinations’ are also important shifts towards building cooperation and examining concepts and ideals. I encourage people to focus on the ‘places’ and their ‘processes’, and not get caught up in the hurtful and skilled game of ‘one up mans ship’. This too often leads to ‘drama’ and distracts from the important points (which, again, is often a ‘tactic’ of perpetrators). Perhaps, Hitler was a strong example of this ‘skill’ taken to a terrible level?!?

As an example of how we’ve known of the importance of consensus for some time, was the invention of ‘quality circles’ as a management style and tool. I learned of this potentially important management skill through discussions with the author of “Quality Circles In Health Care – A Leaders Manual” (1981 by Bernie Hoffman and Associates, Inc., Bruce D. Craig, senior associate). I found the conference of the detailed directions and examples to be very well developed! We even discussed the idea of applying this model to family counseling, but this was never developed to completion. Others went on to create a national Quality of Work-Life Institute, which was headquartered in Michigan, listing hundreds of companies they supported for their healthy management approaches. Sadly it only lasted a few years, and even quickly vanished (???). Current Employee Assistance Associations (EAP’s) are another example of our knowing ways of helping build consensus in the workplace, but the support is still too often for ‘the other side’ of management models, controlling outcomes for ‘everyone’s benefit’!?!

One final illustration from my own past of the impact of not reaching consensus. In 1983 I learned of a men’s conference that was going to be meeting in my region of the country and was encouraged to not only attend, but to present a paper I had just delivered to a professional counselors association. I excitedly attended my first men’s conference and presented what was a well received workshop. A few years later, after attending and presenting annually, word spread that the group was having a forum to consider changing the group’s name. Several of us went, out of surprise and unknown concern. During the heated debate, one of the organizers looked up from his rapid writing and said he didn’t care what the group called itself, as he simply had too much important work to do, and resumed his writing. Well, the group did indeed change itself from ‘The National Organization of Changing Men – NOCM’ to the new ‘National Organization of Men Against Sexism’ www.NOMAS.org . [I would also recommend www.StopBullying.gov for people with additional interest in this area].

While there hadn’t been much discussion of any organizational changes, following the name change, the group indeed shifted from workshops on men enhancing themselves and their social and cultural lives, to a focus of fighting for women’s rights and stopping sexism in its many forms (also an important concern, but different from what had been occurring for many years). After a couple of years of attending this ‘new’ organization several of us regular attendees stopped going, as the focus had shifted away from men learning to care for themselves, and those they cared about. I miss those ‘growth’ conferences and the friendships that resulted from our shared struggles… A few years ago I attended another group which grew out of the original conferences – The American Men’s Studies Association – www.MensStudies.org . They will be holding their next annual conference at the University of Michigan, in Ann Arbor, MI in late March, 2017… the same location I attended my first men’s conference. I excitedly anticipate returning to like-minded individuals with similar thoughts, concerns and motivations… hopefully building more of a consensus of what constitutes health men in today’s rapidly changing world – grin. In recently discussing this historical perspective on men’s issues with a client, he shared his experience that whenever a ‘men’s rights’ male joins a group or online discussion there is a noticeable shift towards only the topic of men’s and women’s political/social conflicts being discussed… which he described as having an ‘aggressive attitude’ present. Perhaps, another example of what happens when consensus is substituted with power struggle politics, resulting in the ‘Battle of the Sexes’ raging on and on…?!? Does this even need to continue???

Contributed by

Dale Ross

Therapist, Counselor and Educator
As a professional counselor/therapist, public speaker and writer on men’s issues since the early ’80’s, Dale has lived through many of the situations and issues with which …

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