This article originally appeared in my catalog, addressed to the Baha’i Community, but the points it makes can be applied to any group trying to make a decision.
There are many things that an individual can do to make sure that his or her opinions and desires prevail over the combined good sense of the other eight people in a consultation. Don’t think that I am aiding and abetting the manipulative by explaining them here – those who use them are quite aware of their effectiveness, even if they are used subconsciously. It is those who cave in under their tactics that need to be forewarned and forearmed. These tactics include:
- The one who talks the loudest wins
- The one who is the most restrictive wins
- The one who claims the moral high ground by being the most narrow-minded, puritanical or judgmental wins
- The one who is most fearful and can imagine the most dire consequences for the alternate path wins
- The one who is the most emotional wins
These techniques are often played like cards, with restrictive trumping loud, emotional trumping restrictive, and, of course, a loud, emotional, fearful expression of the dire consequences of not following the most narrow-minded puritanical path being the highest trump of them all.
Since any action offers more potential problems than no action at all, a person who wants to maintain control of a community can easily use these techniques to guarantee that many hours of consultation result in absolutely no movement in any direction.
It is too much for anyone to expect these petty tyrants to change their ways. It is up to the rest of the believers to simply learn to recognize these techniques for what they are, and simply walk around them. If a person is loud, simply thank them for their contribution and then make sure that all other voices are heard – even, perhaps, asking other people to speak up when they share.
If a person is being narrow-minded and restrictive, thank them for their perspective and remind them that the Faith includes a wide range of cultures and perspectives, and that we may have to travel a middle path in order to let everyone feel comfortable. Not everyone is ready or able to walk the path of perfection just yet.
How many times have I heard the phrase “the Cause deserves the very best” as a way of making sure that the Cause got nothing – whether it was a Bahá’í Center or fun activities for the youth.
If they are fearful, ask if the community wants to make decisions based on fear rather than trust in God.
One community had to completely reorganize a race unity event because one person tearfully expressed the fear that if the entertainment took place before the potluck, then someone might bring some food with eggs in it, and it might get hot, and that extra 20 minutes might be just enough to poison everyone there. We might as well start holding our meetings over the phone, because someone might get hit by a car on their way to the meeting.
Emotional blackmail is one of the most difficult things for a community to overcome. We are so uncomfortable with emotional expression, that we are willing to cave in to any request just to get it to stop. The first thing we can begin to do is to become more intimate with each other. When we are intimate, we share emotions. When we become comfortable with people sharing a wide range of emotions, then we will not panic when it happens during consultation. The second thing we can do is simply say “Thank you for that piece of sharing. Emotions are important tools of perception to tell us about the virtues and principles involved in a situation. But they are only one of several mutually supportive and mutually fallible tools. Would anyone like to address the rational and writings-based evidences that would be pertinent to this question?” Emotions then become one tool in the process rather than the trump card that blasts away the seemingly cold, hard intellectual perspectives.
The one-step cure for Community disunity:
I have outlined several of the techniques that people use to hijack consultation, and the responses you may use for each of them. But ultimately, you cannot control the response, behavior or votes of other members of your Community or Assembly. What you can do is simply make sure that your own vote always follows the path of love, rather than the path of least resistance. When an issue is raised, and two or more “camps” immediately take positions, simply ask yourself which position, if either, is motivated by love rather than fear; love rather than control; love rather than perfectionism; love rather than tyranny. Then support love – even if the specific proposal is does not impress you as being the “best.” If neither “camp” is motivated by love, then choose neither.
Love is always the best, even when it is less logical, theological or perfect. In always choosing love, you slowly drain the power away from all other motivations, and the community will then be guided entirely by love.
This same perspective can be used during annual elections. Instead of looking for the most knowledgeable, most charismatic, hardest working, most visible people, vote for those whose actions, not their words, always seem to be motivated by, and expressions of, love. Instead of electing people who are good at telling other people what to do, we can fill our administrative order with people who are good at doing what we have been called to do – loving each other.