Issues with committees revisited

By , 28 September 2007 8:45 pm

Two weeks ago I expounded on the way that writers and readers of fiction overlook the way that major events are often made not by epic acts of heroism but by seemingly boring committee meetings. There were some suggestions that I might consider this theme further and so here we are.

It is often said that committees acquire a life of their own, as if the very process of half a dozen human beings gathering together creates a new and monstrous psychological and spiritual organisation. At one level this is true, but we need to be a little more rigorous in our analysis. Why is this the case? Let me make some observations.

The first is that committees are able to allow evil to occur because they give the participants the illusion that they are no longer personally responsible for what happens. It strikes me that when we personally are asked to take a decision then, if we are people of principle, we carefully consider the outcomes in the light of our own morality and only then do we proceed. In some shape or form we know that we as individuals will be held accountable. And whether we fear God, man or the verdict of history we tread warily.

However as a committee member all is changed: we feel absolved from all this. We are now part of a collective organism and our responsibility ends the moment we sit down round the table. The result is that men and women who would willingly shed their own blood to help someone now feel an extraordinary freedom to condemn innocents to a life of suffering. We need reminding that while there may be strength in numbers there is no exception from judgment.

A second observation is that committees are oddly open to manipulation. I’m sure a number of my readers have been in some sort of committee meeting and suddenly found themselves surprised at the way the decision was going. The theory of committees is that because everybody has a say then a committee should come to the wisest decision. The reality is that often – perhaps because people assume that it can’t happen – committees can be gently and discreetly managed by those with agendas. It’s easy to assume that such people must inevitably be the chairman or chairperson; in practice it might easily be someone else, possibly someone who merely makes a few minimal comments but who with quiet steady suggestions pushes an otherwise unpalatable decision to its conclusion.

A third observation is that because in any group of human beings there will be some sort of clash of personalities then dynamics are set up in a committee which may easily affect what happens. Consider a fairly simple case. Young Charlotte, recently appointed to the committee against the wishes of one or two of the senior gentlemen, comes up with a jolly good proposal. The senior gentlemen consider it not simply on its merits but with other factors in view. Might agreeing to this proposal encourage this young lady to go further and possibly tread on their own territory? Might it perhaps be appropriate to teach her a cautionary lesson? It may even be that they vote against the proposal just because they don’t like her. The upshot is that a decent proposal might not be approved simply because it was, in that dreadful word, politic for it to be rejected. The results of the committee’s deliberations have produced nonsense. And lest I be accused here of inverted sexism, let me suggest that when the committee meets again Charlotte deliberately vetoes one of the elderly gentlemen’s proposals on the grounds that some degree of retribution is valid. Very soon the committee becomes a battleground of egos rather than a method of resolving problems. All too often what is at stake in committee meetings is not success or failure or truth or falsehood but one’s own personal prestige.

There was much that was wrong with Mel Gibson’s Passion of the Christ. One of the worst things was the portrayal of the Sanhedrin as exotic, woolly wild Jews alien to all that we are. It would have been far more telling (and far less anti-Semitic) to have portrayed them (as the gospels hint they were) as men who when they came together in committee, let the strange dynamics of collective decision meeting push them into the most terrible of deeds.

5 Responses to “Issues with committees revisited”

  1. Terry says:

    I have a few thoughts on this topic of committees. Thanks for the soapbox, Chris! :)

    One question that arises is, “How do we keep these things from happening?” How can we as groups represented and directed by committees keep closer tabs on what happens around the table? Where is the accountability, and how is it administered?

    There are mixed views on the practice of having open meetings, for example, where any stakeholder in the organization can observe. There are good arguments for and against. There may be other controls that work for different groups.

    But somehow, I think, the responsibility falls back on the body of the organization to monitor the progress and integrity of the committee they’ve appointed or elected. I believe there’s a line in the American Declaration of Independence stating that it is the right and responsibility of the citizenry to ensure that there are astute “guards for the future.”

    In general, I think we often hope and expect that our committees will do our thinking for us. We hand over not only the representation and implementation of the group’s wishes, but the power to direct those wishes as well. We set the committee in place, breathe a sigh of relief that the mess is now in someone else’s yard, and promptly forget about it. We leave the committee on their own. It then comes as a surprise and an outrage when these, our representatives, move us in a direction we don’t like. Hmm…

    I’ve more thoughts on this, but perhaps another time. Thanks for bringing the discussion back. I’d really like to find a workable alternative to committees. There may even be a thesis in there somewhere.

    Take care,


  2. GuardStar says:

    I think the problem of getting any kind of positive results from any committee is very well illustrated in Chris’s own “Lamb Among The Stars” series….that of spiritual interference from outside our own reality. While to Christians, this is a no-brainer, it is often ignored and dismissed by non-christians who don’t even realise that the very fact they dismiss this has been suggested to them supernaturally from outside. Its no wonder the Bible tells us to pray for our leaders and those in authoritiy over us with all that interference going on. Its a war that, more often than not, most Christians fail to realise is happening right in front of them.

    Chris, your books really inhance the fact that in all levels of government, from the lowest levels (committees) up to the top are subject to the spritual forces that are out there. As the Word says, ?The battle we face is not against flesh and blood but against principalities, against powers, against spiritual wickedness in high places.” I’ve rarely read even non-fiction accounts where this is so well illustrated, but your books do so most grandly.

    I have a 13 year old son who really blessed me a few months ago after reading your books. He says he now considers more carefully the things he does and says knowing that there is a darker spiritual reality out there that constantly pushes and urges us to respond to our situations and circumstances negatively and takes advantage of our own sinful natures to accomplish its ends…mainly domination and destruction of our souls.

    God bless you Chris. Can’t wait till your next book is out. WHEN?

    Yours in Christ,
    Bradenton, Florida

  3. Chris says:


    Some fascinating comments. Perhaps open commitees are the way to go? The video transcript being available on the internet? But I agree laziness is an issue; we love commitees: its one less thing for us to worry about!

    On other aspects;surely on of the worst disasters atheism has visited on us is the removal of the doctrine of human sin. We need to be constantly alert for corruption.



  4. Chris says:


    I am always very humbled by such comments as yours. Are you sure you didn’t mean someone else?

    I have no date for publication yet but I have no doubt you will like The Infinite Day. We are we working on covers and editing now. My guess would be March/April.

    Blessings to you and your family


  5. dugmad says:

    Excellent thoughts on this subject once again!

    Very well put by Terry as well.

    Having served on several commities and boards this discussion is very real and indeed all scenarios happen far too frequently.

    The idea of open meetings is one that scares me a bit. I mean imagine the challenges of gaining consensus of 5-10 egos (sorry, I meant people) now lets open it to the internet and all the viewers there. Yikes! It kind of follows the old idea of ” Ask a person for their opinion and they will give it to you”. As a professional graphic designer I see this in meetings all the time and often it is just to have their say as opposed to truely looking at a quality solution. You ask and they feel obligated to say something regardless how it really impacts the bottom line of the discussion or decision.

    And yet, even in that environment, it would still be those with interest and often agends that will push the vote/consensus/results. And far too often it can be with suspect motives.

    What might the proper style of leader look like for a commitee that is effective/efficient and caring? Does the leader really matter on a commitee?



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