Community Building

“Community building” following the ideas of Scott Peck is a theory of group work. We sit in a circle and speak as moved, for a weekend. Peck’s theory is that we cycle through four stages:

Pseudo-community, where we behave to each other as we might at a party with people we know slightly. We are on our best behaviour, showing a mask to the world.

Chaos, where we explore our differences frankly and openly. We may try to “fix” another participant, making them how we know they ought to be. We argue, we express hurt which is often not heard. If we participate in this to the edge of the comfort zone, showing ourselves completely, we may proceed further. If it just gets too uncomfortable we may retreat to pseudo-community for a sense of safety.

Emptiness, the stage of shedding the parts in me which block the process. I shed my illusions and demands on myself and others. If there is more of the work to be done, we may return to chaos. If enough of us do enough of the work, we move forward to Community.

Community, in this scheme, is a sense of being in the moment together, accepting each other and ourselves, able to share deeply.

Rather than moving forward from Chaos to Emptiness, we may escape it into Organisation, where we explicitly or implicitly accept rules for working and being together. This prevents forward movement. This part of Peck’s theory directly contradicts the tag, “Storming- norming- performing” where chaos leads to rule-making, which leads to productivity. There can be wise, creative and liberating rule-making, but it is less than is possible for free human beings.

Ideally, Quaker worship, including our decision making which is done during a meeting for worship, cycles between Emptiness and Community. In decision making we may disagree, but we are attached to The Good rather than our own understanding of it, so the group uses the wisdom of all its members. Unfortunately, this is very difficult. Quakers’ deep discomfort with chaos means that if we cannot empty properly we flee to increasingly shallow pseudo-community, with all conflict swept under the carpet until it explodes.

Peck started the Foundation for Community Encouragement in the US, to organise workshops around this model. In the early 1990s, people from the US came to train people in Britain to facilitate this work. In 1999, a friend who had done one of the weekends recommended it to me, and I went to a Christian CB weekend facilitated by an Episcopalian nun, ES. I went to a further weekend over new year 2000, and the facilitation training in May 2000. I then joined the Facilitator Training Group, which met for weekends three times a year, and which merged with the “Holding Group” to form the “Core Group” a few years later.

Here, I feel, the difficulty of making decisions using this model caused it to collapse. We got stuck in old patterns of conflict, no-one “emptying” enough to resolve them. Knowing and liking each other, we made decisions from what I call deep pseudo-community: we have the friendship, we can make a decision good enough to get by, rather than the decision from the basis of our wisdom and love.

If you wanted something done, you had to do it yourself. I just did not. Each time the core group came round, I would assess whether I could contribute anything to it in the state I was in, and regularly concluded that I could not. When I was nominated to facilitate it the first time, I and my co-facilitator did not do the work to get into community together beforehand. We established a very shallow working relationship which broke into chaos in the middle of the weekend. Later he phoned me and told me that he had found me attractive, and that he had found this a threat to his masculinity. When, later, I had my operation he sent an email to the whole group including the words, “Ah, Clare. Welcome back- what’s left of you.” He left the group.

I finally left the group over irreconcilable differences with Mike, perhaps our most creative and hard-working member. He organised the first week-long “Facilitating Ourselves” gatherings, where thirty of us would have a CB circle each morning and evening, hang out together in the evening after, and spend the day in Open Space. Open Space is a format where any person may propose a topic for a sub-group, the whole group then negotiates whether any of these can be amalgamated and which will go ahead, and “butterflies” can move between the sub-groups.

Mike also came up with a model for conflict resolution, where two people could state a position on their conflict, and then go away with supporters to discuss what the other had said, and decide what they wanted to say next. His latest idea for circle work involves a group who seek to get to Community, and discuss how they are trying to get there and where they get instead.

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