Those processes were based on one person convincing the others that his or her opinion was the best. It felt more like a competition than anything else; the person who was able to talk the loudest, the longest, and in such a way as to break apart the logic of every single other person at the table, was the one who “won.” In this sort of environment, the skill to take apart and destroy someone else’s opinion was the best asset one could have.
This approach does not seem to take advantage of the fact that “the views of several individuals are assuredly preferable to one man.” By adopting such an approach, we are limiting our ability to seek the truth by following the opinion of one person.
What if instead, we had a decision-making process that builds on the unique views of each participant? It demands quite a change in perspective: instead of placing importance on the ability to destroy someone else’s argument, it requires that we place importance on the capacity to find the common point, build on opinions, put them together, and, ultimately, create a whole that is stronger than any of the parts.
I myself try to control my urges to over-instruct or to “win” a conversation, trying instead to find the common point between the people in my group. I remind myself constantly that “consultation must have for its object the investigation of truth.” It isn’t easy! But more often than not, it leads the participants, including myself, to realize that there are many ways of thinking about something that, if we give them a chance, shine of the truth as much as ours does. And another benefit of such an approach is that all those involved in the process feel a sense of ownership in the decisions that are taken.
I can’t help but wonder how a consultative approach would transform our justice system from a fight between two sides to a group effort towards achieving a just verdict. For example, in such a consultative environment, one side could look for signs of guilt, the other for signs of innocence; both sides would then sit together and consult about every piece of evidence, not resorting to twisting words and situations, but rather to seeing the entire picture.
For such a consultative approach to work, we have to turn away from our agendas, and turn instead towards such things as the common good, justice, etc. Of course the most powerful impetus is given when we realize our true purpose in life. It’s just like with Tuesday’s post, where I mentioned how “spouses should put each other first for the sake and in light of Holy Writings. Putting your spouse first is both a means to an end, as well as the result of a life centered on fulfilling one’s purpose of knowing and worshipping God.” Focusing on the betterment of the world as the object of our consultations definitely helps us turn away from ourselves and contribute to an environment conducive to consultation, in which we will be able to “weigh [our] opinions with the utmost serenity, calmness and composure,” and we will be able to, “before expressing [our] own views [to] should carefully consider the views already advanced by others.” And imagine what a group of people consulting like this could achieve!
Originally published on Sahar’s Blog
on 3 October 2013