Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Deep Community

Morgan Scott Peck (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/M._Scott_Peck), while known mostly for his "Road less travelled" self-help book, also wrote about community development. According to him there were three stages in the maturing of a community: pseudocommunity, chaos and emptiness.

The first stage, pseudocommunity, is marked by shallow friendliness, an avoidance of dissonance and lack of trust and knowledge of each other. The second stage, chaos, exhibits fights, discussions, arguments and diverging opinions and prejudices about each other being brought out into the open.

Finally, emptiness, is the stage in which the waves calm down again and community members, now knowing each other at a deep level, truly trust each other. The term emptiness refers to the fact that in order to belong to a "deep community" one needs to empty oneself of parts of one's individuality and egotism. One needs to give up part of oneself and become part of the bigger community.

Interesting enough, this concept is currently employed mostly in the context of corporate team-building for small groups of people. Peck however, believed that achieving the level of deep community was the only chance of survival for humankind. Would it really be possible or even desirable to practise it at a larger, societal level?

Of course the currently much publicized as much as feared "clash of civilizations" between "Islamic" culture and the "West" shows the dangers of persisting in a stage of global pseudocommunity. Practicing superficial tolerance without true acceptance of each other's divergent values and opinions can possibly lead to severe conflict, especially when coupled with economic and political inequality. However, a very real personal limit to how many people one can deeply relate to makes deep community on a global level simply unfeasible. The difficulty of changing the behavior of mass societies has always prompted reliance on automatic incentive mechanisms (like Adam Smith's invisible hand) rather than the encouragement of individual moral decision making for the common good. Going through Peck's stages of community development however, requires a lot of individual goodwill and determination to make this community thing work. Corporate team-workers might have that motivation even if only to get advancement credits within their company. The crucial question however is to find what it needs to make the dock-worker from Alexandria, Egypt and the CITY insurance broker gather the motivation to take that road less travelled.

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