What Is Consensus


What is consensus? Consensus is a principle, a guiding rule, not a law. It is not an option. One cannot decide what is consensus. The reality is that you cannot define consensus because there are too many opinions. It is like putting the management of a large multinational company in charge of deciding what is consensus.

What is consensus, then, is subject to interpretation. The reality is that it depends on the circumstances, on the different interests represented by each of the parties. That is, it is affected by the personalities of the individual members of the groups that determine whether the decision is consensus or minority view is predominant. So, in fact, what is consensus can be different for different types of decisions. But the reality is that majority decision making underlies the majority rules.

What is consensus power? The power to govern is determined by the number of individuals who have legitimate voting rights. If the number of voters exceeds the number of citizens who actually elect the leaders, a minority view prevails. It is a power possessed by the people at large, although it may not enjoy absolute power. A government by consent of the governed, a government of the people by the people for the people, is a society in which there is an equitable balance of power.

Why does the minority rules prevent absolute power? Because majority rule by definition favors one form of decision over another. Majority rule favors the minority view. If two hundred million people believe that the Earth is warming, they have to get a second opinion, and three-quarters of the country thinks the same thing. If two hundred million people believe capital punishment is deserved, no one else has the power to tell them differently.

How then do we tell whether a majority or a minority view is right? By listening to what the people are saying. When we listen, we are discovering what the minds of the majority are thinking, and we can then begin to persuade them. This is what is consensus in action.

Majority rule by definition favors what is popular. Popularity is good for business, politics, religion, etc. But what about what is common sense? What if a third party decided that only nine percent of all thoughts expressed were really heard and believed? What then?

What then is a minority view? A minority view is one that is being spoken out, but those that want to say it are being quieted. We could learn the techniques of civil disobedience from the minority viewpoint. We could learn to say “No” and refuse to do something just because we are asked to.

What is consensus for you may not be what is consensus for me. So, to summarize, I ask, “What is my opinion, and what is the opinion of those who think alike?” If you think there is a popular opinion, and many of your friends think the same way, you need to listen to what they are thinking. If you listen to what your friend’s thinking, you can begin to create change.

What is consensus in your world right now? You know it when you see it. What is popular opinion in your world may not be what is popular opinion in other people’s minds. When you look at two groups of people, one majority and one minority, what is the majority opinion? If you don’t know, begin to research and find out.

What is consensus for me might not be what is consensus for you. This is true in all areas of life, not just education. For instance, what is a popular belief among members of a minority culture and what is common belief among members of a majority culture? What are factual and what isn’t? Facts can be very difficult to find and often, if you ask someone to research a certain topic, they don’t know where to start.

In education, what is the consensus for me, might not be what is consensus for you. Even in religion, what is popular belief today, might not be what is popular belief tomorrow. The only constant in human society is changing. What is factual today, will be changed, discarded or modified in time. If you have an agenda that you want to follow, try to be aware of and be open to changes that might occur.

What is consensus, is really a matter of perspective. What is popular perception in our world might not be what is factual tomorrow. We must always remain open minded to all options and allow for change. When you are in the minority view, what is the consensus for you may not even be what is consensus for the majority.