I started M. Scott Peck’s The Different Drum: Community Making and Peace. I’d like to use as my starting-point something that Peck says on page 103, as he describes a hypothetical group that has entered into a state of community:
“When she is finished [speaking] there is a hush. It goes on a long time. But it does not seem long. There is no uneasiness in this silence. Slowly, out of the silence, another member begins to talk. He too is speaking very deeply, very personally, about himself. He is not trying to heal or convert the first person. He’s not even trying to respond to her. It’s not she but he who is the subject. Yet the other members of the group do not sense he has ignored her. What they feel is that it is as if he is laying himself down next to her on an altar.”
What I’ve gotten out of Peck so far is that community is a place where people can be and share who they truly are, while finding acceptance. As Peck notes, this is rare. But it’s beautiful when it does happen.
I wonder how it can happen, though. That’s the topic of this book, for it concerns how we can create community rather than just experiencing it on a hit-and-miss basis. But I have a hard time envisioning how community can happen, or rather how I can fit into a community. Don’t get me wrong—-there have been a number of groups in which I have felt comfortable. But feeling free to bare my soul before others and to show them who I truly am? That occurs very, very, very rarely!
I don’t entirely blame others for this—-their desire to hog the limelight and dominate the discussion, their judgmental put-downs, etc.—-for I myself am part of the problem. I myself can be quite intolerant. I could identify with one guy Peck mentioned (and appeared to disagree with) who complained that he did not like how people in the group focused on their negative experiences, for he thought that they should share what was positive in their lives as well. I’ve felt that way in Asperger’s support groups!
Moreover, if people are free to be who they truly are, then that will entail that they will disagree with each other. Peck is critical of what he calls “Pseudocommunity”, in which people try to avoid rocking the boat. But some people may take it badly when someone disagrees with them, seeing such disagreement as a put-down. And, while one may say that they should then defend their positions, not everyone is glib or quick at debating.
Peck says that people in groups should use “I” statements rather than making generalizations. Rather than saying that divorce in general is bad, Ralph (to use a fictitious example) should say that his own divorce was hard on him. Someone else may have had a different experience with divorce! I think that this is an important point: that an essential part of community is recognizing that people are in different places and have had different experiences. I don’t think that this by itself creates intimacy, for I have been in groups in which people were required to use “I” statements, and, while such groups ran smoothly, there wasn’t much intimacy among the people. But perhaps it can set the stage for people to share and thus to become intimate.
To come back to the passage that I quoted at the beginning of this post, I’m the sort of person who would be hurt if someone talked after me without addressing what I had just said. I’d see that as a rejection, as someone believing that my point was unworthy of consideration. Why? Because I’m insecure about whether or not I am accepted in groups. But it doesn’t necessarily have to be that way. Suppose someone was sharing to place himself on the altar alongside of me—-that he wasn’t ignoring me, but we were taking turns at sharing who we are, and now it’s his turn. (This is rare in a number of groups. Twelve Step recovery groups probably approximate it more than others, for many of them prohibit cross-talk and interruptions, but even in those groups there can be cliques and judgmental snark.) And suppose that I felt accepted in a group, even if someone disagreed with me or ignored what I said.