Kaleidoscope House (kaleidescope) wrote,
Kaleidoscope House

Nerding out: Why Roberta's Rules are crap

As a mega-nerd, I love Robert's Rules of Order. But mostly, I love them not because they give me lots of interesting details to learn and geek out about, but because the more I learn about them and use them, the more I see how functional meetings become when we use them right.

Fucking COSA uses Roberta's Rules of Order at the international level. (I mean: local meetings don't necessarily use it, but the annual decision-making shindigs and the Board do.) My personal opinion of Roberta's is what it has been for the last decade or so: that it is touchy-feely crap that people automatically assume must be better because (a) it's named after a woman and therefore must be some feminist updating of Robert's Rules, and (b) it's newer, therefore ditto. The book for Roberta's gaily promotes this fuzzy thinking, babbling about consensus and the dreary terrible structure of parliamentary proseedcake. I also suspect that the main reason COSA uses it is that it's mostly women (at least at that level) because people also fuzzily assume that men are the sex addicts and women are are the codependents, so men are scared to go to COSA and women are scared to go to SAA.

My experience with it has been that it promotes a lot of sloppy crap. The way we tend to use it is wrong, first of all. There are a whole lot of rules and guidelines it has that go straight out the window in COSA: it's supposed to be for smaller groups than ours (around a dozen people or fewer) because the whole premise is that you don't really need to use a lot of rules in a small group; there's no need to second a motion, which people compulsively do anyway because they're used to doing it; people are supposed to take turns being an "egalitarian", a person who makes sure everyone's being heard and taking turns to talk and whatnot, which we don't do at ALL. I mean: nobody takes that role. And once you've spoken, you're not supposed to speak again (on a particular issue) until everyone else has had a chance who wants to, which gee is exactly what they do in Robert's Rules too and gee we don't do that either.

Basically, what we do is an even more lax version of Roberta: the chair tells us what the next agenda item is, and we talk around it, generally focusing on obsessively small details that are totally unnecessary and not at all our business, and then we "vote" by saying whether we're red, yellow, or green on it, and then everyone who is red or yellow says what their problem with it is, and then there's usually more discussion about whether we can resolve those problems, and then we have the final vote where majority rules.


There's no need for two bouts of discussion. You know what they do in Robert's Rules? You discuss it up front and if you don't voice your concern then, too bad. There's no "Ohhhh, I WOULD have voted for this if you changed this and this and that about it." That's passive-aggressive crap.

The real idea with Roberta's, as I understand it, is that people don't make motions up front. The theory that people like to spout about it is that Robert's assumes there's a problem and that the person saying there's a problem is right about what the problem and solution are. And ROBERTA'S... doesn't. A solution gets to emerge naturally in discussion.

Which is FILTHY stupid, because the reality is that solutions emerge naturally in discussion in either situation. If the solution is wrong in Robert's, somebody suggests an amendment or nobody seconds it or people in discussion say that the whole thing is wrong and suggest voting it down so that they can propose a different thing and then everyone does. I've seen it happen. Or the person withdraws their motion.

It is midnight so I forget what I was going to say about that. The real problem with Roberta's, I CAN say, is that there are no seconds.

I realized this tonight. I can't tell you how many times I have seen groups go into obsessive stupid discussions about a proposal (you have PROPOSALS in Roberta, not motions, even though that's basically the same exact thing - only difference is that when you change what the proposed solution is, you don't call it an amendment) only to find out that nobody opposed it and there was no need for the obsessive stupid discussion.

Not having seconds means that there's no point at which people can just avoid a whole proposal by not seconding it. You're basically forced to discuss it. I suppose if people had the self-control necessary, they could just not discuss it and then when they voted they could just say why they are red or yellow. We've begun experimenting with going straight to the vote, at least, which is something.

The real problem with Roberta's Rules is that I hate being on the Board. I hate the lack of structure that you can see in the way that we misuse Roberta, which also shows up in a real lack of clarity about who is supposed to be responsible for what. Like, we discuss and vote on a fair number of things that usually would be the decision of a specific committee. I hate the fact that there is major resistance to requiring that everyone on the Board have worked all 12 steps. I hate the fact that people don't put the program first; that people say "We can't require the meeting delegates to have worked all the steps because we on the Board only have to have done the first 5 steps" instead of "It's really important to have recovery in our program, how can we make sure that people at these levels have recovery." It just rips my heart out and whacks me over the head with it that anyone would come down on the side of the Board only being required to work the first 5 steps, and nobody else having the suggestion to work any of them. And it's a vicious circle where that lack of recovery leads people to continue underemphasizing recovery.

The steps and traditions are the most important thing in my life. I love them. I love exploring how they play out in all different situations and how I can better use them and carry the message about them in recovery. I love Robert's Rules mainly because it reflects those principles: that everyone is equal, that everyone's voice must be heard, that a certain amount of judicious structure is crucial, et cetera. I thought that being on the Board would mean taking all of that to the next level, that we'd have a lot of discussions that focused, even briefly, on the principles of the program and how they play out in whatever issue is up at the moment.

The only time I can think of that the traditions came up, it was because some rehab center wanted a meeting list so they could refer people to meetings when they left. Instead of saying "well, our primary purpose is to carry the message to the COSA who still suffers", people were trying to argue that it would somehow violate people's anonymity to give the meeting list to the rehab center. You know, because if people can FIND the meeting.... The clearest argument I heard about it was that there MIGHT be people on the list whose names are detectable in their email addresses, or who MIGHT not want to be meeting contacts to anyone who wasn't hand-referred from COSA itself? And now I can't even remember whether we got anywhere with it. I don't think we did. It's not like it's important, to be there for people.

Yes, I am struggling with resentment. Too much to work on my cookbooks and go to bed. It's more grieving than resenting; grieving for the image that I had in my head of what this level of service in recovery would be like. I struggle a lot with the fact that I've been slapped down or patronized repeatedly by one of my fellow Boardies, seemingly whenever I get into a topic that she feels is her business and not mine. Which everyone knows is not how it works. But she does it privately, in general, and if I respond she waits and does it again later. I feel jealous of a friend who is on the board in Debtors Anonymous, which has more recovery by far than this fellowship and which I imagine is exactly what I dreamed of, plus sparkles and lollipops falling from the sky. (Because what is jealousy without ridiculous fantasies about what you are missing??)

Today I was fantasizing that it would turn out that the only airport near the annual convention in May was the one (IAH, the George Bush one) that does the horrific groping/xray security crapola. And then I would say "I am not going to the convention! If that means that I have to resign then so be it!" But then I looked and it sounds like it's equidistant from both airports. But then it turned out that ALL THREE of the airports near me do it! (OAK, SJO, SFO. There is a list here: http://goo.gl/WvDaM) But in theory, I could drive to Sacramento somehow and get on an airplane there to go to it.

(I also do not understand why I have to pay to go to the convention and Board retreats, which are mandatory. In other fellowships, the fellowship pays for that stuff, so that it doesn't become a matter of "the people who participate are the ones who can afford to". COSA is supposedly working toward that, but I don't know how big a priority it really is. Hopefully once we have a way to do recurring donations via the website, which they are slowly working on, we will have more money coming in and it will become more feasible.)

I guess I can stop complaining now long enough to do my work. Bah and double bah :)

And lest I inadvertently give the wrong impression, COSA is a really strong fellowship locally, with great recovery in the meetings I've attended, which is always getting stronger. Eventually that will trickle up more. (Or down, I guess, since 12-step fellowships are an inverted pyramid structure with the meetings/members at the top.)
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