Stages of Community
June 24, 2014
June 13, 2011
Two weeks ago I promised to get back to the idea of belonging to community. People ask me frequently about the risks and rewards of community, and I think the best way to address this is to write first about stages of community.
I read M. Scott Peck’s book A Different Drum: Community Making and Peace sometime in the 1990’s when I also studied with him at Kanuga Conference Center. I was deeply touched by the way Peck described and worked with the development of community. The following stages come from his work and the way he describes developing communities.
The first stage of community building is referred to as pseudocommunity. Some people call it false community but I prefer the word pseudo as it sounds less judgmental. The stage of pseudocommunity is the stage when people are ignoring their differences and pretending that nothing is wrong. Differences are covered up. If there is a community leader, it becomes this person’s job to shorten this stage. The sooner differences are named and brought into the light, the easier it is to move forward.
The second stage of community development is chaos. If we aren’t the same and we don’t agree on everything, then what? How do we fight? How do we come to consensus? What do I do when someone hurts me? When I hurt someone else? What happens when I stop liking someone? Members should realize that they can’t just sweep their differences under a rug during this stage. Painful as it can be, this stage is moving true community toward progress. Many communities never get beyond this point because the next stage requires a good bit of painful work.
Emptiness, the third stage, is perhaps the hardest stage for people to tolerate. During this stage, members begin to look at themselves. They look at their egos, their projections, their problems and expectations. They may become more interested in meditation and prayer, and hopefully they become more psychologically astute and introspective. They become curious about their own behavior and motives. During this stage, people shed as much personal baggage as they can and a spiritual, psychological, and intellectual maturity can begin to truly form. People in this stage are open to the challenges of others. They become discerning and humble, more vulnerable and human.
The fourth and final of Peck’s stages, true community, only happens when people have true empathy for another. When egos and agendas are set aside, even when there are differences, people will have good will for each other and a desire for the community to thrive. There will even be times when the good of the community trumps individual wants and needs. Getting to this stage takes courage, conviction, and maturity.
In my own life, I most often see people getting to the final stage of community during a serious crisis. This may happen when someone dies, when there is a natural disaster, or when something huge is on the line. If you have a true community that has formed without crisis, you are lucky indeed. And not only lucky, my bet would be that you have amazing leadership in your community. Families can function like this if the parents are mature and non-anxious. Most other communities just can’t get this far without serious and lived crisis.
In this book, Peck mentions some of the main characteristics of true community. Without referring to my copy of this book (which I cannot find at the moment) I will try and summarize these characteristics:
Inclusivity, commitment, and consensus: A true community is committed to its members and solves its problems by consensus. There is no arrogance and no group whose agendas or votes carry more weight than another’s.
Graceful fighting: Disagreeing is a natural part of life. When someone is mature and committed, they are able to state opinions and listen to opinions. They know when to give in and when to stand up. They respect each others differences and live with deep compassion. A specific way of resolving conflict usually exists in well-functioning communities.
Shared leadership: In true community, leadership rolls around. No one person is always the leader of everything. Leaders can also take a break and be assured that others will lead.
Realistic Perspective: A true community is realistic about its members and its agendas. The many perspectives and ideas that come from different people are considered important to the realistic viewpoint of a community. A situation is not fully understood until everyone has spoken and is heard.
Safety: People won’t speak their minds and hearts unless they are safe. In true community, people can be vulnerable and can heal. Everyone is committed to their own and others psychological, spiritual, and physical safety.
Contemplation: Members of true communities are involved in self-awareness and self-understanding. They are willing to look at their own issues and how they bring those to community. Everyone attempts to withdraw their psychological projections when possible. Letting something bigger than oneself be a guiding factor is important. People spend time reflecting and meditating.
Shared vision: Why are we together? What is our purpose? Why would we work so hard to be together if we don’t have a purpose? Naming the vision is important.
I hope this is at least a way to begin thinking about community. Do you belong to any true communities? How would you describe the stage of your communities? Do you want true community? Is pseudocommunity ever truly satisfying?
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