2017-08-09 / Opinions & Letters

Building consensus

Midwest Memo
by Alan Shultz

I always learn something new when I am the broker on a real estate deal. That was certainly the case several years ago when I was hired by a small congregation to list their large church edifice for sale. The church was a brick mid-century modern structure complete with pipe organ, steeple and a sanctuary that resembled Noah’s ark flipped upside down.

Selling a church is a tricky proposition and this property was no exception. The church was not handicap accessible, there was no parking lot and the building systems, the heating, cooling, plumbing and electrical, were all shot.

The phone didn’t ring once on this offering until I got a call from the Rabbi of a growing liberal Jewish Congregation. Their niche is serving the families of inter-faith marriages. That one phone call took me on a journey that lasted over a year and involved showing the property about 30 times to members of the same group.

As I recall, the very first showing was to the Rabbi and the congregation’s search committee. Following that were showings to groups with names like “Executive Committee,” and “Finance Committee” and “Steering Committee.”

Then followed showings to groups of different categories of congregation members. There were families with young children, groups of elders and finally - groups of donor class looking people. They all came at different times and over a long period of time. Then there were open houses where all could attend. There were meetings at which architects and engineers spoke. At one meeting, the cantor of the congregation came and demonstrated the auditorium’s acoustics for the music committee. I opened the windows for the visitors in spring. In the summer, we determined that the air conditioning no longer worked at all. Come fall I figured out the heat system and when winter followed I pushed that thermostat past warm all the way to cozy.

Over this long period of time and the many, many showings I attended, I got to know many members of the congregation. I watched as clarity sharpened, mission focused and consensus was built. And I watched as a dream became a question and then a discussion, then a debate and finally a deliberation followed by a vote to move forward.

The congregation built consensus, then took action.

I toured the totally transformed temple about a year after the sale was closed. Seeing how happy the congregation is in their new home was a real privilege. Seeing the result of that long year of consensus building and reflecting on the process I witnessed got me to thinking about the power of consensus.

Americans generally share a consensus on the list of issues that the United States must tackle as a nation. Issues like the deficit, military preparedness, support of veterans, care of both the young and elderly, entitlement spending, and public education are all high on that list. Protection of the environment, affordable health care, border protection and civil rights all share spots on this serious and weighty list of national shared concern.

If consensus can be reached on the “to do” list of issues the nation must address, that suggests that the long, hard work of building consensus of the solutions is a worthy endeavor. I don’t think any proposed solution that has a 51 percent buy-in by our elected officials is ever really a winning plan. On its face, a squeaker solution suggests consensus has not been reached and that the hard work has not been done.

“That which unites us as American citizens is far greater than that which divides us as political parties.” That quote comes from the concession speech given by Adlai Stevenson in 1952 when he lost the presidential race to Dwight Eisenhower.

Stevenson’s speech has been referred to as the “granddaddy of all concession speeches.” In addition to the reference to what unites Americans, Stevenson reminded the citizenry of something in 1952 that seems relevant to us all in 2017.

“It is traditionally American to fight hard before an election. It is equally traditional to close ranks as soon as the people have spoken.”

I’ve witnessed the power of consensus building. It’s hard work, but clearly worthy of the effort.

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