Saturday, January 17, 2009

The Different Drum: Community Making and Peace

This book suffers from only one problem and it’s in the subtitle – community making and peace. The two topics are so widely divergent, that the narrative is almost sure to fail accomplishing one or the other. In this, it does a good job at describing community making.

However, even that part of the book has to be viewed from the perspective of the person who wrote it – a psychologist steeped in group therapy.

The heart of the book is his stages of community building:

1. Pseudocommunity
2. Chaos
3. Emptiness
4. Community

Some of characteristics of community he describes are: inclusivity, commitment, consensus, realism, contemplation, a safe place, a laboratory for personal disarmament, a group that can fight gracefully, a group of all leaders and a spirit.

In the first stage – pseudocommunity – “The members attempt to be an instant community by being extremely pleasant to another and avoiding all disagreement.” At this stage a group avoids conflict by telling “white lies” and avoiding the recognition of differences. “To avoid the risk of conflict they keep their feelings to themselves and even nod in agreement, as if a speaker has uttered some universal truth.”

Chaos erupts when people begin to acknowledge differences but do so in a destructive manner, often with the motive to heal and convert others to their way of thinking. “In the stage of chaos individual differences are, unlike those of pseudocommunity, right out in the open. Only now, instead of trying to hide or ignore them, the group is attempting to obliterate them. Underlying the attempts to heal and convert is not so much a motive of love as the motive to make everyone normal – and the motive to win, as members fight over whose norm might prevail.”

“There are only tow ways out of chaos…One is into organization - but organization is never community. The other way is into and through emptiness.” To enter emptiness the members of the group need “to empty themselves of barriers to communication.” These barriers are: expectations and preconceptions; prejudices; ideology, theology and solutions; the need to heal, convert, fix or solve; and the need to control. This requires sacrifice and “sacrifice hurts because it is a kind of death, the kind of death that is necessary for rebirth.”

“When its death has been completed, open and empty, the group enters community. In this final stage a soft quietness descends. It’s a kind of peace.” But, although joy is the prevalent mood of a true community, not everything is sooth. The real work in community is difficult. It is still a struggle it’s just that people seek the third position, not either or, but a creative act of love.

If one were to draw a figure representing this process, it would quite likely be a “U”. Pseudocommunity is a nice comfortable stage at the top left of the “U” and “Community at the top right of the “U” lively and intense. The temptation is always to jump across the “U” without the descent into the “hell” of chaos and emptiness. But, that doesn’t work.

Many other models of change result in a similar “U” pattern. As described by Richard D. Grant from “Mastering the Change Curve”, by Dennis Jaffe & Cynthia Scott, organizational change begins with the comfort and certainty of the past. The final stage is the future rationalized. In between is all the messy work of relationships and spontaneity. In Presence, Senge, Scharmer, Jaworski & Flowers, describe a “U” that begins in the upper left and proceeds through the bottom to upper right through suspending, redirecting, letting go, letting come, crystallizing, prototyping and institutionalizing.

Real change, no matter what the goal is messy and requires a lot of work. That’s why change is so difficult and why people and groups rarely change. Like paradigm’s progress, we’d rather ignore the anomalies, pay no attention to the man behind the curtain spinning the controls, and pretend that everything is OK until the world collapses around us. We’d prefer that rather than facing the fear of having to change what we believe.

The Different Drum: Community Making and Peace, M. Scott Peck, Simon & Schuster, 1987, 334 p

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