Four Stages of Community

According to M. Scott Peck, any group of strangers coming together to create a community goes through four distinct and predictable phases:


The essential dynamic of pseudocommunity is conflict avoidance. Members are extremely pleasant with one another and avoid all disagreement. People, wanting to be loving, withhold some of the truth about themselves and their feelings in order to avoid conflict. Individual differences are minimized, unacknowledged, or ignored. The group may appear to be functioning smoothly but individuality, intimacy, and honesty are crushed. Generalizations and platitudes are characteristic of this stage.


Once individual differences surface, the group almost immediately moves into chaos. The chaos centers around well-intentioned but misguided attempts to heal and convert. Individual differences come out in the open and the group attempts to obliterate them. It is a stage of uncreative and unconstructive fighting and struggle. It is no fun. It is common for members to attack not only each other but also their leader, and common for one or more members--invariably proposing an "escape into organization"--to attempt to replace the designated leader. However as long as the goal is true community, organization as an attempted solution to chaos is unworkable.


The way through chaos to true community is through emptiness. It is the hardest and crucial stage of community development. It means members emptying themselves of barriers to communication. The most common barriers are expectations and preconceptions; prejudices; ideology, theology and solutions; the need to heal, fix, convert or solve; and the need to control. The stage of emptiness is ushered in as members begin to share their own brokenness--their defeats, failures, fears, rather than acting as if they "have it all together."

True community

True community emerges as the group chooses to embrace not only the light but life's darkness. True community is both joyful and realistic. The transformation of the group from a collection of individuals into true community requires little deaths in many of the individuals. But it is also a time of group death, group dying. Through this emptiness, this sacrifice, comes true community. "In this final stage a soft quietness descends. It is a kind of peace. The room is bathed in peace." Members begin to speak of their deepest and most vulnerable parts--and others will simply listen. There will be tears--of sorrow, of joy. An extraordinary amount of healing begins to occur.

* Adapted from M. Scott Peck, MD (A Different Drum), and reprinted with permission from Wellness for Helping Professionals © 1990, Meryn G. Callander