I finished M. Scott Peck’s The Different Drum: Community Making and Peace.
My latest reading had a few paradoxes, even if Peck may not classify them as such. He wants for groups to be inclusive, even politically, for he states that a Democrat seeking to form a group should include Republicans. Yet, Peck wants for churches to take a bold stand against the arms race, which would probably alienate Republicans. Peck is insistent that one should not leave a group, claiming that community is fostered when people stick with each other and work out their differences. Yet, Peck earlier in the book tells the story about how he disappointed his parents by deciding not to continue his enrollment at an exclusive private school, choosing to go instead to another school, where he found genuine acceptance. This brought out the best in him.
I sympathize with Peck’s emphasis on the importance of community, for I believe that, when people know each other, empathize with each other, value each other, and are open to learning from each other, things can be better than they would be otherwise. But I myself would have difficulty participating in a number of communities, to tell you the truth. Working through my differences with other human beings is sometimes easy for me, and sometimes it’s not. In my younger years, I one time wrote a letter to a leader of a group I was in detailing my problems with him, and he reprimanded me for not telling him about this stuff before—-for not telling him at the time of his offensive behavior that he was acting inappropriately. But it’s not easy for me to process on the spot what my problem is with a person or a situation, and then to come up with the words to express my concern. Moreover, unfortunately, I’m somewhat of a “don’t rock the boat” sort of person, so I have an approach that Peck calls “pseudocommunity”, which is different from open, honest community. One reason is that I want for people to like me. Another is that I fear starting an argument that I won’t be able to win, for I want to save face in as many social situations as I can. Plus, I feel awkward being confrontational. These are characteristics that I have that are barriers to me achieving real community with others.
I think that leadership in a group is important. Peck said that he was accused of being a weak leader, and sometimes in the book he seems to indicate that he believes leaders should step back, keep a low profile, and allow group members to resolve their differences openly and honestly. But, in my opinion, group leaders are needed to keep the more articulate, glib, and narcissistic members from dominating the discussion and to give everyone a chance to talk. I get so annoyed when group leaders don’t do their job (as I understand it, of course!). Peck appears to have some sensitivity to this concern, though, for at one point he mentions inviting quieter members into the discussion. I think that the best way to do group is to do what twelve-step groups do, and what one Asperger’s Syndrome support group that I attended did: to allow people to share without interruption, one at a time, within a reasonable time limit. There are weaknesses to this approach: for example, it’s parallel sharing, as opposed to dialogue. But perhaps we can permit people in their own shares to respond to what other people said, or we can create a situation in which a person shares a problem that he has, then people in the group would share, one at a time, their thoughts on the person’s problem.