Building genuine community is difficult, whether it is within a large group of people or as small as two. It is also nearly impossible (except in times of great distress and urgency) to skip any of the stages in the community-building process. Scott Peck outlines the four stages of community as follows:
Stage 1. Pseudocommunity
Stage 2. Chaos
Stage 3. Emptiness
Stage 4. Community
In most interpersonal and group dynamics we vacillate back and forth between pseudocommunity and chaos. We are either fighting or pretending that our conflicts have been resolved. Quite often we become rather effective at making our pseudocommunity more convincing. We fool not only the people outside, but even ourselves.
These pretenses can be kept up for years, even decades. Most business partnerships, working relationships, friendships, and marriages follow such a path, and the road between chaos and emptiness either leads us to a visceral reaction that throws us back into pseudocommunity or it causes a dissolution of the attempt to build community with that person/those people altogether.
We are ill-equipped to deal with emptiness, much less persist through it. The post-modern world is so full of distractions and preoccupations that we can quickly escape the pain caused by emptiness. Emptiness is where we “do the work of depression” in our interpersonal lives, it is where we live out a sort of emotional and public silence.
It is the place where all of the chaos culminates into a collapse of our rational ability to deal with, explain, or try to fix what appear to be irreconcilable differences. Any attempt to try to “fix” just throws us back into chaos, which we may do repeatedly, rather than enduring the legitimate suffering of emptiness.
But in most cases, emptiness eventually leads to simply giving up.
In the last two weeks a respected business partner and I have rejoined forces after an unpleasant (though amicable) parting of ways many months ago, and the reconciliation is one of the most joyous occasions of my life. It represents the power of silence and emptiness. We had not spoken a word or communicated in any other manner since the parting of ways.
When we finally spoke again by phone last week, there was that sense of peace and transcendence Peck describes when he writes about achieving true community. None of the angst or hostility was there that had characterized our chaos phase. None of the ego or posturing. The depression of emptiness had faded and we had entered for the first time a spirit of true community.
This has really focused my thinking on the question of emptiness, how it can be understood, how it can be experienced to eventually lead to community even when everybody has given up and actually walked away. It is a subject Peck never addresses in The Different Drum. Perhaps we should take a much longer-term view of these processes, allowing emptiness to run its course.
Solomon says “there is a time to embrace and a time to refrain from embracing.” Let us refrain from embracing and be anxious for nothing. Let us do the work of depression in our relationships and let silence repair the damage done by the inevitable chaos that flows from the clash of unique individuals. Let us not fear the long emptiness when it is necessary to bring healing and joy to broken communion.