Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Consensus, culture, and conditions

Pragmatic leadership is present in communities, though not always recognized.
--Mary Ohmer and Karen DeMasi (2009, p. 2)

Indigenous cultures vary as widely as do the colonizer cultures in their corporate decision-making processes. In North America, Arapaho bands were among those who used consensus amongst elders, men and women, with women assuming all responsibility for religion. Some tribes restricted all decisions to a single chief, some to councils, and some used various mixtures, depending on the nature of the decision to be made.

In Canada, Jessie Sutherland (2005) helped facilitate a collaborative youth dialog project between six Francophone youth and six Cree youth, living together in the bush for the summer, reconciling worldviews and learning first tolerance and then appreciation. The cultures had been in conflict in many particular ways--over hydro dams, preservation of burial grounds, etc., including armed conflict. The Francophone were, at first, disaffected by the silent treatment from the Cree and Cree were alienated by the verbal Francophones. By the end one of the Quebecois youth said they had not taught the Cree to express themselves, but rather the Cree had taught the Francophones to listen. The leadership, both present and future, was invisible at first, unrecognized, and only emerged through patient facilitation and persistent exploration.

Johan Galtung (2004) describes this sort of process as an admixture of intellectual and emotional work that produces a creative transcendence, a transformation of conflict that seems sudden but requires a great deal of hard conflict work before the 'sudden' change can occur.

In the end, the internal work inside a community is one level of consensus building that overwhelms conflict by eliciting the indigenous leadership that had been latent, and then by drawing in external partners to build a stronger consensus that, again, overwhelms conflict by relational advances. All this work is a function of intentional civil society that makes sustainable nonviolent victories possible. It is quieter work than protesting, but can make the occasional use of nonviolent direct action work well, work fast, and produce outcomes that last.

Part of preparing civil society for any nonviolent campaign is to create a combination of relationships and sustainable alternative institutions so that fears associated with such campaigns can be reduced. Again, indigenous wisdom and methods can instruct, removing dependence upon the structures of the ruling elites. Galtung discusses this as simple pragmatism, producing work, wealth and partnerships even where there has been scarcity. Creating conditions for nonviolent success will enhance the chance for long lasting results.


Galtung, J. (2004). Transcend and transform: An introduction to conflict work. Boulder CO: Paradigm Publishers.

Ohmer, Mary L. & DeMasi, Karen (2009). Consensus organizing: A community development workbook. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.

Sutherland, Jessie (2005). Worldview skills: Transforming conflict from the inside out. BC, Canada: Worldview Strategies.

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