The danger of consensus
An opinion or position reached by a group as a whole.
General agreement or accord.
A general agreement or concord: as, a consensus of opinion.
You would think that consensus is a good thing. Right? Our culture needs more consensus, not less. So why would it be dangerous?
Before we dive in, let me swim back ten years to a post I wrote advocating consensus. In What politicians should learn from pastors, I said:
Both [politics and ministry] are professions in which building consensus and relationships are key. Both are professions that elicit negative feelings from the population. Both have documents for their guides and foundational principles. And in both professions, the trouble comes when those guidelines and principles are misinterpreted or ignored.
From one pastor who is continuing to learn the beautiful complexities of influencing people and seeing minds changed to any politician who may read this: Build consensus. Build it about the right things in the right way and with the right timing. Please. The only splits that are really good are banana.
Consensus is a good thing. We need more of it in this contentious culture. In that post, I used the example of Obamacare’s passing by one vote to illustrate the dangers of division and a lack of consensus. 51% is not consensus.
So how could consensus be dangerous?
I’m going to sound like a socialist when I say, “The majority doesn’t always know everything or what’s right.” This is not an excuse for an elitist group or monarchy or dictatorship to shove agendas down the throats of the masses.
Let’s look at the words of Jesus, who I would present to you as someone who most decidedly did not lead by consensus.
“Enter through the narrow gate. For the gate is wide and the road broad that leads to destruction, and there are many who go through it. How narrow is the gate and difficult the road that leads to life, and few find it.”
Notice the contrast between “many” and “few.” There’s a broad, well-travelled road which “many” traffic. On the other hand, there’s a narrow gate leading to a road that provides ultimate satisfaction and flourishing, and “few” traffic it.
A lemming culture
Humans and lemmings have a lot in common. We tend to follow the crowd without asking questions. The concept of something going “viral” is very lemming-like. We have to click on that link or watch that video - everyone else is doing it!
We need leadership that is willing to stop and not go with the masses (or lead the masses down the wrong road, even if it is well-travelled). By the way, lemmings don’t actually commit mass suicide.
That’s when consensus is dangerous. It’s what our parents used to tell us, “Just because everyone else is doing it doesn’t make it right.”
Do not be deceived: “Bad company corrupts good morals.” (Apostle Paul)
In most contexts, consensus is a good thing. However, confident, stable and wise leaders will also know when to lead toward a more obscure, perhaps “narrow gated” destination.
Not everything that is shiny needs to be bought. Not every software update is an improvement.Not every first round draft pick pans out.
Use caution with consensus. There are times (more than you think) that you shouldn’t listen to the crowd.
Consider the cautious warning about Bertie Bott's Every Flavour Beans:
"You want to be careful with those. When they say every flavour, they mean every flavour — you know, you get all the ordinary ones like chocolate and peppermint and marmalade, but then you can get spinach and liver and tripe. George reckons he had a bogey flavoured one once. - Bleaaargh — see? Sprouts." — Ron Weasley
The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, 5th Edition.
Do Lemmings Really Commit Mass Suicide? (Encyclopaedia Britannica)
1 Corinthians 15:33
Remember Microsoft Windows ME (Millennial Edition) in 2000? Enjoy The 6 Worst Versions of Windows, Ranked by Benj Edwards on How-To Geek, August 24, 2021.