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Opportunities of the “consensus culture” : rediscovering a sense of human community

The fact that consensus appeals so much to western culture today finds its source in every person’s desire to live in a united society, in a human community where communion can be experienced.

The West and the world are tired of the divisions that were characterized modern societies : ideological divides, majority-opposition divides, the win-lose paradigm, hierarchical and institutionalized power, individual or common pursuit of special interests.

Modern paradigms (individualist/collectivist) obeyed the sole logic of the “reason-power” coalition and left little room for love, trust and gratuitousness in interpersonal and social relationships. They have now proven their incapacity to create a social order in conformity with human nature. We are witnessing the failure of a model.

The reasons for this failure are above all anthropological. Modern paradigms were based on a reductionist or distorted anthropology that not only gave absolute primacy to reason, but also separated reason from heart and conscience, and reason from faith.

Western culture will not go back to modernity and its paradigms. No one questions the adoption of “consensus” as paradigm of the new culture. History rarely goes back on its tracks.

Equality, grassroots participation, respect, dialogue, solidarity, consensus, harmony with nature are more than ever the human and ethical demands of a civilization that is going global. There is a “consensus” on these values, which forebodes the possibility of turning love again into a cultural, social and economic theme in the West and in the world, of reintroducing love and gratuitousness in the public domain.

A fruit of the western cultural revolution, the postmodern consensus is nonetheless the caricature of a universal human aspiration to communion in truth. In the current state of affairs, the western “consensus” expresses more often than not an ambivalent compromise that commits and satisfies no one.

The new global consensus lacks a fresh source.

Every person aspires to an authentic consensus, a real communion. The African palaver model, which draws closer to the realization of this aspiration, can help us discern the prerequisites of a consensus that truly conforms to man’s integral nature.

Let us try to identify some of these conditions :

1. First of all, the community has to want its own good. It has to :
- Believe and hope that what is real, true and good exists and can be found ;
- Love what is real, true and good as one’s own good ;
- Decide to openly and constantly, in every situation, look for what is true and good for each and everyone, favoring personal growth and the growth of the community.

2. Love, peace, solidarity, unity, harmony, trust, communion of the members come before, but do not exclude, justice and law. The community that seeks a consensus considers itself and acts as a family. It is governed by fraternal relations. The consensus process strives to avoid hurting someone. A form of social control prevents the one who claims to be right, knows how to convince others through rhetorical skills or is the strongest, from imposing his or her point of view.

3. The community has a realistic outlook on man’s capacity to do evil and to make bad choices. It recognizes that evil exists. It honors the importance of discerning what is right and what is wrong. It recognizes the need of frequent reconciliation, and it believes and hopes that reconciliation is always possible.

4. The consensus-building process should respect each person as equally competent to participate and make a constructive contribution. Every person is taken seriously and is listened to with respect.

5. The community is alive : each person is concerned and takes on its responsibility towards the entire community. This responsibility manifests itself in their effective participation, which comes from the heart.

6. The consensus-building process takes place in a dynamic of growth and openness. Reality can always surprise us and take us a step closer to the truth. It is not about “owning the truth” once and for all.

7. The process honors commitment. The spoken word is solemn, not vain ; its content is real and stems from truth.

8. The community is open to the wisdom of the elders and of tradition. It is open to God.

9. The community recognizes that human relations, their healing and growth, do take time.

10. Conflict resolution founds itself on a sincere acknowledgment of the wrongs committed and of the truth that has emerged in the process, and on the will to amend and to start growing again with the community.

© 2009 Marguerite A. Peeters
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