Community building: Its development over the past 25 years and the problems it has encountered

1980 saw the publication of M. Scott Peck's The Road Less Traveled, which promptly became an international bestseller, selling alone in America around six million copies. In this book, Peck presented his experiences as a psychiatrist and psychotherapist. But he also talked about a much greater topic - personality development - which reaches far beyond normal therapy to touch on such issues such as spirituality, community and one's vocation in life. The book still represents a classic of psychological literature and has been reissued in numerous editions worldwide.
    Writing clear and concise prose, Peck formulated the key foundations of personality development in his very precise and clear style. As a result of this success, he quickly moved on to become a sought after and highly-paid lecturer. He discovered over the course of his speaking tours that there is more to be gained by letting his listeners speak than by merely lecturing to them, and Peck gladly experimented with this potential. Inspired by such diverse models as Travistock, T groups, the Quaker movement and also the Twelve-Step Programmes, he developed two-day workshops aimed at experiencing genuine authenticity within a group. He then proceeded to concentrate his activity entirely on the study of these group processes. He discovered that there are four phases of community building: pseudo, chaos, emptiness and authenticity. He described his experiences in his book "The Different Drum."
    In his 1993 book A New World Waiting to be Born, M. Scott Peck described the development of community building, its application in firms and in the FCE, the organisation he founded in 1984 to spread community building workshops. In those days the process was widespread in America, particularly within companies. Countless community building workshops were held, and a total of over one hundred facilitators were active. Even former American vice president Al Gore called A New World Waiting to Be Born "an extremely important book".
    This boom levelled off in the late 1990s. While many workshops continued to be held, things were simply no longer the same. This decline probably had something to do with M. Scott Peck's health. In 1995 he began a desperate fight against Parkinson's Disease. The fact is that today not a single company in the United States uses community building on a regular basis, which means that we can regard this approach as a failure. What happened? In my view, FCE concentrated too much on companies and workshops and too little on the fact that community building is rooted in intentional communities and regular groups. When I asked Ed Grody, who once concentrated on the application of community building in intentional communities in America, why he no longer does so, he responded by saying that it is a purely financial matter. Companies pay better than intentional communities and regular groups.
    At first glance, it might make sense to apply community building in companies since a group that regularly finds itself in an authentic state will automatically be more productive. But community building has a price. If it is to be used over an extended period of time, it requires personality development. This is where we encounter boundaries that cannot be so easily overcome within a commercial framework. It is not so difficult to create a state of authentic community within a group. The problem lies in maintaining this state. The less previous experience the members have had with personality development, therapy and spirituality - i.e. the greater each individual's leap into authenticity - the greater the danger that a group will slide back into its old behavioural patterns. The introduction of community building in a company can, for example, have a powerful impact on the staff's couple relationships, as M. Scott Peck noted in his book A New World Waiting to Be Born. Nor can a company make mutual support for personality development its top priority. This is only possible within the field of relationships and intentional communities. But companies are ultimately also interested in developing an authentic community culture. However, it is apparently even more difficult to realise this in business than in private relationships and intentional communities. It will probably take a long time to bring about the necessary transformation of our society into a genuine community. After all, industrialisation (which has made this development possible in the first place) is only 250 years old.
    Part of the problem may derive from the process itself. Wherever I go I have witnessed how the facilitators of community building workshops which are not firmly integrated into an existing group or living community easily slip into a leadership or therapist role, either on a short-term or long-term basis. This leaches some of the energy from the workshops since they can only function if the facilitators take the back seat and make sure that no new dependencies are created. Instead, as facilitators they are expected to make themselves redundant as soon as possible and lead the group into a situation where it can be "a group of all leaders" where each individual shares responsibility for leadership. That is why a workshop is facilitated by at least two but usually three persons who consult with one another before they provide any assistance to the group.
    Peck wrote extensively about the great difficulties and particularly the massive avoidance tendencies that groups experience on their path to authenticity. The key point on this path is the transition from chaos to emptiness. At this point he talks about a kind of death experience within the group. The ego must be abandoned, participants must stop hiding their weaknesses and dark sides from one another and from themselves and take off their masks. Only then can everyone genuinely open their hearts to one another.
M. Scott Peck had the following to say about emptiness in his book The Different Drum:
    "Because the phase of emptiness can be so painful, I am always asked two things about fear. This first is: 'Isn't there any other path to community besides emptiness?' My answer is no. The other question is: 'Isn't there some other path to community besides the shared experience of brokenness?' Again, my answer is no."
    He illustrates this point in his 1993 book Further Along the Road Less Travelled. It can also be found in the chapter "Addiction: The Sacred Disease" in his book The Different Drum:
    "One of the most difficult tasks in my work with the FCE has been the attempt to explain to people what it is about. The only people who grasp it immediately are people who have gone through a twelve-step programme. I can explain to them that the FCE is trying to teach people how to become part of a community without previously being alcoholics, without having gone through a crisis. Or, stated better, it tries to teach people that they - that all of us - are already in a crisis."
    (The twelve-step programme was initiated in the United States in 1935 as a self-help group for people struggling with alcoholism. It has spread across the world and is also applied to other addictions and psychological problems. In Germany there are three psychosomatic clinics, centred in the Bad Herrenalb clinic, that use the twelve-step programme as the basis for their therapeutic concept. The first step of the twelve-step programme consists of admitting to oneself that one is not able to overcome one's addiction problem through one's own will - whether it is alcohol addiction or other addictions such as drug, relationship, sex, romance or work addiction - and that one therefore needs help.)
What does this crisis - this brokenness - consist of and what did he mean by it?
    Throughout his books, M. Scott Peck paid particular attention to narcissism, particularly in Further Along the Road Less Travelled and A World Waiting to Be Born:
    "While only a small minority of us are full-fledged narcissists, it is important for us to realise that we all display basic narcissistic tendencies."
    "It is not only possible for us to outgrow our narcissism, it is essential. By this I do not mean that we have to do it for our personal survival. It is necessary both for our collective survival and to understand the essence of what life is about. Our life has little or no meaning if it is not a spiritual journey, and the core of this spiritual journey lies in learning to grow out of narcissism." "It is not an easy battle. The tentacles of our narcissism are subtle, permeate everything and need to be chopped off one after the other - week by week, month by month, year by year." "Marriage is a form of community and thus a vehicle we can use to grind down our narcissism."
    Narcissism means self-centredness. In the areas where people have not developed their individuality, they experience others as objects (me/it relationships). They view other people according to how useful they can be to oneself and not as autonomous persons. People in this situation are not capable of social relationships, genuine empathy and love (I/thou relationships). When people try to work on these areas, they experience unpleasant feelings, shadow zones and traumas, that lead them to fall behind in these areas and start putting on the protective coating of narcissism. These areas are normally covered up by addictions or avoidance behaviours such as excessive consumption or entertainment in order to avoid experiencing these unpleasant feelings. When people succeed in abandoning these behavioural patterns they are once more confronted by the unpleasant feelings, and it takes a long time to live through them and process them. They need help during this difficult process in order to maintain discipline and not to revert to addiction and familiar patterns.
    It is easier to abandon this habit of hiding one's own crisis or brokenness within a workshop, but this can only be a way to start recognising these mechanisms in the first place. In order to deal with them on a stable basis, a person needs a stable group, intentional community or relationship that he or she can encounter in an intensive and authentic way and where people can support each other on this difficult path.
    Because the resistance is so great, it is probably only possible to achieve an adequate framework within new groups. This way, everyone who joins understands from the start why the group is there and that they will all face the issues confronting them with determination. If this path were easier, then there would be many more authentic communities - and perhaps even authentic companies - and the separation rate we encounter in marriages and couples or communities probably would not be as high as it is. These issues only surface in very close relationships such as couples and communities where people genuinely challenge one another. When people face them together, issues are simply impossible to hide from. If they lead to friction, then chaos phases emerge along with the opportunity to examine and overcome these dark sides.
    That is why these two-day community building workshops are so effective. They allow a close relationship to emerge where people cannot avoid one another. A painful chaos inevitably appears that allows people to point out their mutual weaknesses. These weaknesses can then be come to terms with in the emptiness phase.
    The crisis that M. Scott Peck addressed has a great deal to do with the fact that this profound form of togetherness is lacking in our world. We feel a longing for authentic and nourishing contact that can be anaesthetised but not really satisfied by excessive consumption and entertainment. Furthermore, individual therapy can only do so much to heal brokenness. Since brokenness is not only an individual affliction but also points to an error and failure in the system as a whole, as shown by studies in system theory, people ultimately require the assistance and energy provided by a group.
    With this website we hope to spread M. Scott Peck's community building method wherever German is spoken. We believe that this framework can provide tremendous assistance in demonstrating how a group can come to terms with various issues and conflicts. The group can then grow into an authentic community where a special spirit is permitted to dwell within the human soul, as related in the tale of the old rabbi.

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