The Four Stages of Community Formation
Based on his experience with community building workshops, Scott Peck said that community building typically goes through four stages:
Pseudocommunity: In the first stage, well-intentioned people try to demonstrate their ability to be friendly and sociable, but they do not really delve beneath the surface of each other’s ideas or emotions. They use obvious generalities and mutually-established stereotypes in speech. Instead of conflict resolution, pseudocommunity involves conflict avoidance, which maintains the appearance or facade of true community. It also serves only to maintain positive emotions, instead of creating safe space for honesty and love through bad emotions as well. While they still remain in this phase, members will never really obtain evolution or change, as individuals or as a bunch.
Chaos: The first step towards real positivity is, paradoxically, a period of negativity. Once the mutually-sustained facade of bonhomie is shed, negative emotions flood through: Members start to vent their mutual frustrations, annoyances, and differences. It is a chaotic stage but Peck describes it as a “beautiful chaos” because it is a sign of healthy growth. (This relates closely to Dabrowski’s concept of disintegration).
Emptiness: In order to transcend the stage of “Chaos”, members are forced to shed that which prevents real communication. Biases and prejudice, need for power and control, self-superiority, and other similar motives which are only mechanisms of self-validation and/or ego-protection, must yield to empathy, openness to vulnerability, attention, and trust. Hence this stage does not mean people should be “empty” of thoughts, desires, ideas or opinions. Rather, it refers to emptiness of all mental and emotional distortions which reduce one’s ability to really share, listen to, and build on those thoughts, ideas, etc. It is often the hardest step in the four-level process, as it necessitates the release of patterns which people develop over time in a subconscious attempt to maintain self-worth and positive emotion. While this is therefore a stage of “Fana (Sufism)” in a certain sense, it should be viewed not merely as a “death” but as a rebirth—of one’s true self at the individual level, and at the social level of the genuine and true Community.
True community: Having worked through emptiness, the people in the community enter a place of complete empathy with one another. There is a great level of tacit understanding. People are able to relate to each other’s feelings. Discussions, even when heated, never get sour, and motives are not questioned. A deeper and more sustainable level of happiness obtains between the members, which does not have to be forced. Even and perhaps especially when conflicts arise, it is understood that they are part of positive change.
Characteristics of True Community
Peck describes what he considers to be the most salient characteristics of a true community:
Inclusivity, commitment and consensus: Members accept and embrace each other, celebrating their individuality and transcending their differences. They commit themselves to the effort and the people involved. They make decisions and reconcile their differences through consensus.
Realism: Members bring together multiple perspectives to better understand the whole context of the situation. Decisions are more well-rounded and humble, rather than one-sided and arrogant.
Contemplation: Members examine themselves. They are individually and collectively self-aware of the world outside themselves, the world inside themselves, and the relationship between the two.
A safe place: Members allow others to share their vulnerability, heal themselves, and express who they truly are.
A laboratory for personal disarmament: Members experientially discover the rules for peacemaking and embrace its virtues. They feel and express compassion and respect for each other as fellow human beings.
A group that can fight gracefully: Members resolve conflicts with wisdom and grace. They listen and understand, respect each other’s gifts, accept each other’s limitations, celebrate their differences, bind each other’s wounds, and commit to a struggle together rather than against each other.
A group of all leaders: Members harness the “flow of leadership” to make decisions and set a course of action. It is the spirit of community itself that leads and not any single individual.
A spirit: The true spirit of community is the spirit of peace, love, wisdom and power. Members may view the source of this spirit as an outgrowth of the collective self or as the manifestation of a Higher Will.