Monday, 17 January 2022

How democracy is right even when a decision is wrong

WHAT do you do when the big decision goes against you? It might be at work

WHAT do you do when the big decision goes against you? It might be at work — think junior doctors or Southern Rail — but the issue is much wider than those two debacles.

It might be at home, though most families are not explicitly governed by shareholders’ meetings.

Possibly a school governors’ or PTA meeting, or Brexit (can I risk the “B” word now?). This is not a direct comment on Brexit but the question still applies at that level.

Personal or principle? Imagine that a decision is made, in Church Meeting (the gathering of all the church members), after a full and very frank exchange of views, to repaint the church cat a charming shade of green.

You were one of the 48 per cent who voted against. Why, in your heart of hearts, do you object? Is it because of noble considerations of animal welfare or simply because you would have preferred a bright yellow cat?

We can all dress up our personal preferences in high-sounding principles when it suits us but, truthfully, what is your problem with the decision? It helps to be clear about that, at least in your own mind.

How do you cope with that decision with which you disagree? I can only speak from my own experience.

Every system of church government has its pros and cons. In the United Reformed Church we go in for democracy — our much-maligned Puritan forefathers played a very large part in the institution of parliamentary democracy in this country.

Church Meeting makes the big decisions. On the basis that God can speak through any one of us, we try to find the mind of Christ as we talk together and listen to one another. (Have you noticed, though, how often the statement that “we are not being listened to” seems to mean “we are not getting our own way” nowadays? A dangerous confusion).

We try to operate via consensus but many decisions will, in the end, come to a vote.

Some will find themselves faced with an outcome they do not like. What do they do? Normally, we would expect them to fall in with the decision of Church Meeting and try to make it work.

We would certainly not expect them to actively work against the decision and constantly undermine the work the fellowship is doing.

Decisions can be reviewed after a sensible time but until then we try to move on together because we are told to love and respect one another.

Now a congregational meeting is not a direct model for a government or a nation, though at a lower level it may offer some pointers, but the question remains: at what point should you say, “I don’t like this”?

The decision is a mistake and may even damage the group/company/church/nation/school/charity.

But I also see that fighting over a lost cause will in fact do more damage than the mistaken decision itself.

We are now in a new situation and I must work together with the other side to make the best of it.

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