Building Community for the 21st Century
Joan T. England
Source: England, J. (1992, December). Building Community for the 21st Century. ERIC Digest. ERIC Clearinghouse on Counseling and Personnel Services, Ann Arbor, Mich. ED347489
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The theme for the Association for Counselor Education and Supervision
2nd National Conference in San Antonio (1992) is "Pluralism: Building
Community for the 21st Century." A society in which members of diverse
ethnic, racial, religious and social groups maintain participation in
and development of their traditions and special interests while
cooperatively working toward the interdependence needed for a nation's
unity is an excellent definition of pluralism. But what of community
building? What is it?
Community is a state of being together in which people lower their
defenses, and learn to accept and rejoice in differences among people.
The transcendence of rugged individualism to soft individualism is the
basis of community. As M. Scott Peck (1987) said "Community is a true
alchemical process that transforms the dross of our differences into
golden harmony" (p. 171). We can no longer define equality as
sameness but must value differences whether we are talking about race,
gender, ethnicity, life style, or professional discipline.
How does one build community? Perhaps the best example could be
through a version of "The Rabbi's Gift" from Peck (1987): The story
concerns a monastery that had fallen upon hard times. As a result of
waves of antimonastic persecution in the 17th and 18th centuries and
the rise of secularism in the 19th, all its branch houses were lost
and it had become decimated to the extent that there were only five
monks left in the decaying mother house, the abbot and four others,
all over 70 in age. Clearly it was a dying order.
In the deep woods surrounding the monastery there was a little hut
that a rabbi from a nearby town occasionally used for a hermitage. It
occurred to the abbot to visit the hermitage and ask the rabbi if by
some possible chance he could offer any advice that might save the
The rabbi welcomed the abbot. But when the abbot explained the purpose
of his visit, the rabbi could only commiserate with him. "I know how
it is," he exclaimed. "The spirit has gone out of the people. It is
the same in my town. Almost no one comes to the synagogue anymore." So
the old abbot and the rabbi wept together. Then they read parts of the
Torah and quietly spoke of deep things. The time came when the abbot
had to leave. They embraced each other. "It has been a wonderful thing
that we should meet after all these years," the abbot said, "but I
have still failed in my purpose for coming here. Is there nothing you
can tell me, no piece of advice that would help save my dying order?"
"No, I am sorry," the rabbi responded. "I have no advice to give. The
only thing I can tell you is that the Messiah is one of you."
In the days and weeks and months that followed, the old monks pondered
on this and wondered whether there was any possible significance to
the rabbi's words. The Messiah is one of us? Could he possibly have
meant one of us monks here at the monastery? As they contemplated in
this manner, the old monks began to treat each other with
extraordinary respect on the off chance that one might be the Messiah.
And on the off, off chance that each monk himself might be the
Messiah, they began to treat themselves with extraordinary respect.
Because the forest in which it was situated was beautiful, it so
happened that people still occasionally came to visit the monastery to
picnic on its tiny lawn, to wander along some of its paths, even now
and then to go to the dilapidated chapel to meditate. As they did so,
without even being conscious of it, they sensed this aura of
extraordinary respect that now began to surround the five old monks
and seemed to radiate out from them and permeate the atmosphere of the
place. There was something strangely attractive, even compelling,
about it. Hardly knowing why, they came back to the monastery more
frequently to picnic, to play, to pray. They began to bring their
friends to show them this special place. And their friends brought
Then it happened that some of the younger men who came to visit the
monastery started to talk more and more with the old monks. After a
while one asked if he could join them. Then another. And another. So
within a few years the monastery had once again become a thriving
order and thanks to the rabbi's gift, a vibrant center of light and
spirituality in the realm. (From the preface of "A Different Drum" by
Scott Peck, 1987.)
THE INDIVIDUAL AND COMMUNITY
Much in the same way that the rabbi helped the abbot, we too are
called to power. In the process of individuation we must take
responsibility for ourselves and develop a sense of autonomy and
self-determination toward a global community. This wholeness must be
recognized in the context of others. We are social creatures who
desperately need each other not only for company but for meaning in
our lives. Swami Venkatesananda (1985) said, "Any persons whom you
have ever met, even if you have just exchanged a glance on a bus, have
become part of your being, and consequently you are in some sense
ultimately responsible for them. You carry them in your heart" (p.
Scott Peck, in his book "The Different Drum" (1987) claims that the
move into true community frees those who must lead from leadership
positions, for, he states that compulsive leaders feel free in
community not to lead. True community becomes the ideal
decision-making body, but control and traditional hierarchical
patterns must be set aside.
STAGES OF COMMUNITY BUILDING
To work toward peace and community we must recall that building
community takes time; it is not an instant process but one which
requires the recognition and celebration of individual differences.
Peck (1987) describes the transcendence of culture and community
building as a process of stages involving individuals and groups of
people. Christensen (Bernard & Goodyear, 1992) parallels this with a
paradigm of Stages of Cross-cultural awareness. For individuals in
Peck's (1987) Stage 1 people are pretenders; they pretend they are
loving and pious, covering up their lack of principles. The first
primitive stage of community is characterized by pretense. The group
looks like a community without doing any of the work involved.
Christensen's Stage 1 includes people who are unaware, who have never
thought about cultural, ethnic, or racial differences or meaning and
influence for individuals and groups.
Peck's (1987) Stage 2 people have begun submitting themselves to
principle--the law. Consequently they are legalistic, parochial and
dogmatic. They are threatened by anyone who thinks differently from
them and attempt to fix one another as opposed to accepting one
another. Christensen's (1989) Stage 2 people are beginning to become
aware, developing a sense of uneasiness and cognitive dissonance.
Peck's (1987) Stage 3 is a stage of questioning and is analogous to
the crucial stage of emptiness in community formation. In reaching for
community the group must question themselves. They may ask, "I wonder
to what extent my feelings about homosexuals represent a prejudice
bearing little relation to reality?" Such questioning is the required
beginning of an emptying process. We cannot succeed in emptying
ourselves of preconceptions, prejudices, needs to control or convert
and so forth without first becoming skeptical of them and without
doubting their necessity. Individuals become stuck in stage 3
precisely because they do not doubt deeply enough. Christensen's
(1989) Stage 3 involves a conscious awareness where there is evidence
of conflicting preoccupation with cultural, ethnic, and racial
differences and meanings, present and past. (The stereotypes don't fit
To enter Peck's Stage 4 they must begin to empty themselves of the
dogmas of skepticism such as, "Anything that can't be measured
scientifically can't be known and isn't worth studying." They must
begin to even doubt their own doubt. Christensen's (1989) Stage 4 is
consolidated awareness where there is commitment to seek positive
societal change and promote understanding. (Reconciliation). In both
Peck's and Christensen's models, the key to transition and change is
between the third and fourth stages; the changes begin and can be
aborted or continue to fruition.
The characteristics of true community are true inclusivity, no one is
exclusive or excluded. There must be commitment; the group must commit
themselves to one another to become community. A second characteristic
is realism; from the divergent views of the members of a community, a
realistic and viable response can be found versus the single view of
one. Community is a safe place to be vulnerable and therefore leads to
change, for you are accepted as you are.
When you do what you can do you may begin through language and
communication. Communication and community, like charity, begins at
home. The overall purpose of human communication is (or should be)
reconciliation. It should ultimately serve to lower or remove walls
and barriers of misunderstanding that unduly separate us human beings
from one another. The rules for community making are the rules for
effective communication (Peck, 1987). Communication is the bedrock of
all human relationships, the principles of community have profound
application to any situation in which two people are gathered
together--in the global community, in the home, business or
neighborhood. The Sufis advise us to speak only after our words have
managed to pass through three gates. At the first gate we ask
ourselves, "Are these words true?" If so, we let them pass on; if not,
back they go. At the second gate we ask, "Are they necessary?" At the
last gate we ask, "Are they kind?" (Easwaran in "Peacemaking," 1985,
p. 59). If we were to adopt the Sufis' strategy would we move closer
to community and global peace? As this vision of peace becomes
possible, as necessary for human survival, we express this vision in a
language of peace. Language, in turn, shapes our way of seeing things.
The power of our own words can foster peace and community.
Counselors are the "human concern providers" to our communities. The
pinnacle of our being lies in our membership in communities. Taking a
stance from the peace and justice movements currently active in our
country may be necessary. Susan Wilson (1992) says that working toward
unity and peace is not a task for the weak or fainthearted. She
visualizes for us the words which may spur us forward; we need to
build bridges to span barriers, release bonds and practice bravery. We
may "rise above" the turbulence, the chasms of our fears and build a
diverse house with many levels on the "other side"--the 21st century.
Ault-Riche, M., & Goldhor Lerner, H. (Co-directors). (1991). Unity and
diversity: Empowering women to explore our differences. Topeka, KS:
Menninger Video Productions.
Bernard, J. M., & Goodyear, R. K. (1992). Fundamentals of clinical
supervision. Needham Heights, MA: Allyn and Bacon.
Christensen, C. P. (1989). Cross-cultural awareness development: A
conceptual model. Counselor Education and Supervision. 28, 270-287.
Easwaran, E. (1985). Peacemaking: Day by day (Vol. 1). Erie, PA: Pax
Peck, M. S. (1987). The different drum: Community making and peace.
New York: Touchstone.
Wilson, S. (1992). Univery and diversity: Empowering Women to explore
our differences (Women in Context Conference Audiotape Series).
Topeka, KS: Meninnger Foundation.
Venkatesanada, S. (1985). Peacemaking: Day by day. Erie, PA: Pax
Joan T. England, Ed.D., NCC, is Professor of Education at the
University of South Dakota in Vermillion.
This Digest was developed by the ERIC Clearinghouse on Counseling and
Personnel Services (CAPS) with funding from the Office of Educational
Research and Improvement, U.S. Department of Education under contract
number RI88062011. The opinions expressed in this report do not
necessarily reflect the position or policies of OERI or the Department