Smaller organizations typically base their procedures on larger models. Community groups, for example, adopt the procedures defined for their governing body.
Canadian committees use Bourinot as their authority; Americans rely on Robert's Rules of Order, and so on.
Not that they actually follow those rules and procedures. In my experience, they ignore them until they actually have to vote on something.
Most decisions evolve by a fuzzy consensus. In theory, any discussion requires a formal motion on the floor. Changes must come as amendments, which follow a strict order of precedence. But what really happens is that an idea gets discussed informally, until someone formulates a motion that captures the apparent agreement. Everyone votes in favour, and the meeting moves on.
Rules of order get invoked mainly for unresolved differences of opinion. The matter goes to a formal vote, and the majority tramples over the minority. Bitterness, hard feelings, and a sense of betrayal often result.
Which is, you might note, a reasonable description of the U.S. Congress.
Maybe it's time larger organizations learned from smaller ones, instead of the other way around.
Several churches in the Okanagan now use a consensus model for reaching decisions. When it comes time to decide, members don't vote yea or nay, for or against.
Having only two options works fine for simple decisions like approving the minutes of the last meeting, or declining a request to host a Hell's Angels picnic.
But for complex decisions on major expenditures, or for developing policy statements on anything from theology to sado-masochism, where there are at least 50 shades of grey to consider, a black-or-white choice polarizes opinions.
By contrast, the consensus models permits varying levels of commitment. When an issue comes to a vote, members have five options, not two.
Those who support the idea strongly enough to commit themselves to working for it, hold up one finger. Those also in favour, but less strongly, hold up two fingers.
Those who don't care, either way, hold up three fingers.
Those opposed hold up four fingers.
Which leaves one more option - those so vehemently opposed they're prepared to block any action. They hold up all five fingers, palm out -- the universal signal for Stop.
That means one person can veto the wishes of the whole group.
In a consensus model, that indicates a communication failure. Neither side has been able to convey their perspective adequately. Or, as sometimes happens, both sides have refused to hear what the other side is saying.
In the consensus model, the five-finger veto forces both negotiation and education.
Now compare that model with, say, the U.S. Congress, where some 40 hard-line Tea Party Republicans have effectively exercised a veto on the other 495 members.
But from what I can read, there is very little education or negotiation going on.
A veto, I should point out, is an act of arrogance, whether at the local or national level. It declares, in effect, what the rest of you think doesn't matter.
It takes courage to grant veto power to one person or one representative.
The institution most noted for its veto is the UN Security Council. Five nations - the United States, Russia, United Kingdom, France and China - have the right to block any decision.
Why those five? Simply, I suggest, because when the UN was formed, following the Second World War, they were on the winning side. So they got to make the rules.
Since then, a couple of the losers have outperformed the Big Five. Germany has become the economic powerhouse of Europe; Japan was for years the dominant economy in Asia.
If the Security Council were being formed today, Brazil and India might also qualify as superpowers. But it won't happen. Because any one of the original Big Five can veto the change.
At the community level, we've learned, such deadlocks rarely happen. Given sufficient time, several things may happen. The proponents see the wisdom in the opposition's stance and modify their proposals. Or the blocker moderates his/her five-finger veto to just four-finger opposition, thus permitting the process to move on.
As a last resort, if a deadlock cannot be resolved, the individual blocking progress has little choice but to resign from the organization, to disassociate himself from its actions. The community frowns on those who stay on, just to foment discord internally.
It's a lesson the Tea Party representatives, who have chosen to hold the whole nation to ransom unless they get their way, might consider copying.
If you're out of step, step out of line.
Jim Taylor is an Okanagan Centre author and freelance journalist.