Tag Archives: Consultants’ Camp


III     —by Jinny Batterson

A veteran of dramas both global and
intimate, he was sired by a socialist
who alternated families while shepherding
a mid-20th century experiment in cooperative living.
As soon as he could, he escaped to serve time
in the Navy. Afterwards reticent about his military
experiences, he let drop only something vague
about intelligence and early computers.

Out of the service, he worked for a time
as a banker, then shed most
trappings of conventional life and
headed to hippiedom’s heyday:
1960’s San Francisco.

He studied acting, acted for years as a catalyst
for companies and organizations wanting to make
better use of technology. Along the way, he jettisoned nearly
all of his name, becoming just III. His only personal
concession to technology: a telephone with a number that
spelled out “TANTRUM” plus a basic answering maching.

I knew him later in life, a graying pony-tailed
“jiggler” at our small annual conference,
noted for his deep-throated laugh, his facilitation skills,
a deep aversion to being photographed.
In multiple conference sessions, he coached us:
“Boundary is everything.”
He honored the boundaries of us non-smokers by
limiting his cigarette consumption to the outdoors.

He allowed just one physical likeness: a basic pen-and-ink
sketch a friend drew, strictly for promotional purposes.
Despite III’s pared-down lifestyle, he became a packrat
of conference clothing, saving all twenty-five garments from
his years of participation. After outliving his father by almost
a generation, he died of a stroke. I mourned,
first from afar, later at a Pacific beachside
service his partner organized, bringing along
hand-me-downs from III’s conference sweatshirt collection.

Our advance crew filled a fire pit on a chill misty afternoon.
Once the fire blazed hot, we wrote or sketched some
of our favorite III memories. Shivering in our sweatshirts,
we let the fire devour the papers, arcing their residue skyward.
We told III stories to the young, lamely imitated III’s signature guffaw.

Not until I returned from the beach
did I notice a small burn mark on this year’s
sweatshirt sleeve–the size and shape of a cigarette ember.

III memento

Toward a New Consensus: Voting Thumbs Side

Toward a New Consensus: Voting Thumbs Side    —by Jinny Batterson

Most Americans these days are subjected to increasingly agitated media and political environments—uneasiness about the state of our personal finances and national budgets, evidence of ethnic and racial profiling, demonstrations and counter-demonstrations, terrorism fears, an American presidential contest replete with name-calling and innuendo. A cheery attitude seems somewhat out of place. Still, I keep looking for glimmers of an emerging new consensus, both locally and beyond my geographical area. 

During the late 1970’s, I was exposed to the human potential movement. In intensive workshops, I completed solo, two-person, and group exercises to better understand what motivated me, and what might motivate all of us attendees to interact more humanely and productively with each other. One impression that has stuck with me is that individuals and groups typically exhibit agitated behavior just before transitioning to a different level of organization.

A decade later, I attended an experiential simulation of a five phase change model based on the work of family therapist Virginia Satir: 1) original, decaying status quo; 2) introduction of a “foreign element” that generates resistance; 3) chaos, resulting in a transformative understanding; 4) practice and integration of new learnings, leading to—5) a different status quo. None of us participants wanted to go through the chaos phase. Yet, as the simulation progressed, we each came to recognize that passing through chaos was the only way to transform a system that no longer worked for us, to move toward a newer, generally more inclusive state.       

About the same time, I started attending an annual week-long “un-conference” with other small-scale consultants at “consultants’ camp.”  A decade into the camp experience, an initial phase of “top down” camp leadership ended, and our group went through chaos to evolve an alternate model. Part of the revised model consisted of a single annual morning session to tend to the nurture and future of the camp community through consensus decision making.

One of the most important features in the consensus model we adopted is an open system of thumbs up/thumbs side/thumbs down voting to validate any proposal. Approval requires a strong consensus from all community members—a single “thumbs down” vote defeats a motion. However, because it is highly unlikely that any proposition will be equally pleasing to the whole community, we include a “thumbs side” option. Voting thumbs side is much more participatory than abstaining. While a “thumbs up” indicates enthusiastic support of a proposal, a “thumbs side” shows that the proposal being voted on is not the voter’s first choice, maybe even not his/her fifth or sixth.  However, by voting “thumbs side,”  the voter shows a willingness to abide by the choice of others voting either thumbs up or also thumbs side. A thumbs side voter agrees to support the proposal, if enacted, and to avoid actions that might undermine its implementation. No gossiping, no backbiting, no second-guessing, no requests for reconsideration until the succeeding year’s camp session. This kind of consensus decision-making requires much time, effort, and goodwill among participants, but it seems to generate better long-term decisions and stronger group cohesion. 

The model for our smallish camp (typically 25-35 members) likely does not scale up to broader political discourse. However, other efforts are underway in lots of places to re-establish civil discourse and downplay strictly “either/or” choices. For example, an Institute for Emerging Issues headquartered near where I live in central North Carolina has focussed for the past year on the future of work, trying to come up with long-term strategies to enable North Carolinians to earn living wages in the face of continuing automation and globalization. Localities throughout the world can now organize TEDx conferences to bring together people and “ideas worth spreading,” using a template developed by the evolving non-profit, TED (Technology, Entertainment, Design).  So I remain hopeful, I keep the television mainly off, and I practice strengthening my “thumb side” muscles.         

Treetops (for Linda Swirczek)

Treetops   (for Linda Swirczek)    —by Jinny Batterson

(Those who mother us are not always our biological mothers. The first version of this meditation was written nearly a generation ago in memory of a fellow consultant whose physical death had come much too early. Though Consultants’ Camp has since relocated and though I haven’t been as acutely aware of Linda since the treetops episode, I’m persuaded that her spirit persists, ready to provide wise counsel again when most needed. Happy Mother’s Day to all the women and men who’ve mothered us, whether or not they have biological children.)

For the first few years, she attended our
Struggling annual conference,
Bubbly, nearly always kind, smoothing
Our rough edges.

Then the politician husband whose children
She had raised to adulthood divorced her.
First came depression. Later, a brain tumor
Proved resistant to treatment.

She rallied long enough to share one
Last festive meal and decadent dessert
At the log cabin restaurant in
The Rockies resort town where
Consultants’ Camp was then meeting.

The mountain climber who’d fallen
Deeply in love with post-divorce Linda
Took charge of her physical ashes.
The following summer, he scattered them
On a favorite peak.

Several years passed. After a health scare
Of my own, I was shaky and unsure.
I traveled. I took a short hike
Among California trees, then
Stopped for a rest, seemingly alone.

Dust motes sparkled in light filtered
Through redwoods that had been seedlings
A hundred human generations
Before my friend and I were born.

From somewhere near the tops
Of the trees, Linda’s lilting cadences
Drifted down: “Don’t panic,” she told me,
“Remember who you are.”