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

their friends.

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.)


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.


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

Christi, USA.

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

Christi, USA.


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

of Education.