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The Community Building Process

"Exploration Into Personal Interspace"
(Book Chapter Title)

by Jerry L. Hampton ©

This was originally published in Germany as a chapter in the book,
"The Fire of Large Groups©"
publisher: Klett-Cotta.
It has been edited for all audiences, but retains the format dictated by the German publisher.
You may make one copy of this article for personal use.


Community Building is developing authentic relationships between people. The word authentic is extremely important because people rarely communicate authentically. These workshops bond participants into community at a deep emotional level through learning how to communicate differently. It is life changing for a number of people. Thousands of people have attended these workshops in countries all over the world. This is derived from my experience with the Dr. M. Scott Peck model of Community Building over the last 15 years.

Dr. Peck is a renowned psychiatrists from the United States and is best known for his book: The Road Less Traveled which was on the best seller list for more than ten years. Dr. Peck discovered his CB model in 1981. The process centers around four stages of group development. It is an experiential workshop that is highly unstructured. Participants learn how to build a community by doing it themselves with a minimum of facilitation. There are few presentations or specific exercises to achieve the one goal: building community with the people in attendance. Dr. Peck says community is a miracle.

The first workshops were done as public offerings. They were advertised by a sponsor with self-selecting people attending. These are referred to as open groups. Eventually they were offered to businesses. This was slow to develop because building a community takes considerable time and commitment, and may cause transformational change. Workshops in organizations are referred to as closed workshops.

To see the community building process illustrated and a very brief description, go to this link. (CLICK HERE)

The Beginning

Dr. Peck stumbled onto this process by accident in 1981. He was invited by George Washington University to conduct a workshop on Spiritual Growth. The participants were teachers, nurses, therapists and ministers. This event started as an intellectual process but changed into an emotional process with participants telling stories about their lives. They sought a belonging and acceptance of who they were individually, which can be descried as a yearning for community. Thus the first community building workshop happen.

Following this experience, Dr. Peck discovered the process could be repeated in a natural pattern. In December of 1984, Dr. Peck and nine other colleagues formed The Foundation for Community Encouragement (FCE). The purpose of FCE is to encourage the development of community primarily by conducting Community Building Workshops and encouraging others to do the same.

Similar processes have been discovered by other people in the psychiatric field such as Freud, Rorschach, Rogers, Tao and Maslow. Abraham Maslow saw the most human potential of such groups as stated in his 1961 book: Eupsychian Management. Perhaps he would have developed a process similar to Peck's if he had not died at an early age. Dr. Peck was perhaps the first to document his finding and start a foundation to offer his model.

My Introduction to the Peck Model

In 1986, I was given a copy The Different Drum written by Dr. Peck. I read it and was immediately impressed by the prospects it presented. Intellectually I understood much of the book, but did not understand his concept of emptiness. I decided to attend a workshop to learn about emptiness.

At this time in my life, my wife and I were separated, all my children were adults and had left home and I was not liking my job very well. You might say I was very full of nothing. At this same time, I was attending a church that was in deep chaos. I decided that I would learn this new process and fix my church. This was the premise I took into my first workshop.

By noon of the first day, I knew my purpose was not to fix my church. I found this the most interesting and unusual process I had ever experienced. I hadn't figured out why I was there? By 5 PM, I was feeling unusually close to many people there because they were being authentic in telling their personal stories. I was getting the feeling this workshop was for me. I began to wonder what I might say about myself?

When the evening session started at 7 PM I was feeling in a very safe place. My usual fears about acceptance seemed to mysteriously disappear. By mid evening, I felt compelled to tell my story. It was the story of my marital separation. I had kept this secret from many of my acquaintances and that had become a giant burden. I just could not carry it any more. It was about my feelings of aloneness, it was about my need to belong and be accepted as a person that was loveable and could love others. I NOW knew what emptying meant because I had just done it in telling my story. I also knew what it meant to be accepted and to accept others just as they are.

This workshop was the most important single event in my life to cause personal change. The acceptance of the group gave me the freedom to be who I really am. The next day the world looked brighter, the air smelled sweater, and I saw beauty in everything that was around me. Some time later, my wife and I came back together, thanks to the learning in community about how to go through the chaos and to empty myself of things that really did not matter. Early the following year I was trained by Dr. Scott Peck as a facilitator of community building and have facilitated more than 250 workshops in 32 U.S. States and in 10 countries.


Process Characteristics
Dr. Peck was largely influenced by many happenings in his life before he stumbled into community. Parts of his model are based on some of his life experiences and he probably did not consciously think of these when he made the discovery of community. These included attending a Quaker school, being in the US Army, participating in the Tavistock therapy groups, T-Groups, the sensitivity group movement and systems theory (These are described in detail in Chapter one of The Different Drum)

When a group of people who have experienced community are asked to define community in one word or so, they state a large number of different words. This is because community is different for each person. It is different because of individual life experiences and needs. At the same time, a group will say they were “in community together”. Building community is a collective process and takes most of the group to allow it to happen. Some characteristics of community people list are:

An Adventure, Accepting, Compassionate, Understanding, Comforting, Hopeful, Authentic, Peaceful, Respectful, Loving, Efficient, Passionate, Inclusive, Conscience Building, Ego removing, A Pink Cloud and a great decision making body

This process can work in any kind of group or culture. The outcome is the same: formation of an emotionally relating group of people. Language is no barrier and many have been done with translators in German, Russian, French, Chinese, Spanish and other languages. This is not to say there are not cultural differences, there are. But the basic process remains the same with few changes in design. Different cultures will unfold the communications by moving either slower or faster than others and they will talk about different subjects. For example, in Asia, it is not normal to speak publicly about personal experiences so the process takes a longer time to work. In Germany there is considerable talk about World War II. You would not find this in the US or in Asia. In public workshops in Germany, this process worked well. But when it was used in closed groups where people knwe each other, it did not work as well as in other cultures. We are unsure why.

Changes in workshop design are necessary for most closed groups like a business or church. People that know each other or work with each other daily may need some exercises to bring about community. Closed groups often have a special purpose or problem that needs emphasis. For example, one closed group of 85 people felt they had lost their motivation and spirit in their work. This was a religious teaching group so special design was done to incorporate their religious aspect. Also, optional evening events were planned.

Most workshops are done with two facilitators, usually a male and female. The normal duration is three days. Occasionally they are one or two or four days, but this is rare. Attendance is usually limited to 50 people. I have successfully done groups of 85 and 160 and believe more can be accommodated with changes in format. The workshops are most effective with groups in the ages of 35 to 90. In a sampling of demographics of 25 public workshops the average age was 43, with the normal range being from 33 to 70. People from 14 up to 89 have attended. I have done 5 workshops with boys 16-18 years old and that has been effective with some modifications of the basic model. I've recently done four workshop in a prison for youth offenders, ages 12 - 18 who have committed felonies or worse crimes. It was effective in the age groups 16-18 more than in the younger groups and helped these boys get a different perspective on life, changes in attitude and more hope for when they leave the prison. And it appears to be effective in reducing the number that return to prison, but more time is needed to fully determine this.

Going back 13 years, the public participant in the US were 80 percent female, 20 percent male. Gradually attendance changed to about 50 - 50 male-female and sometimes the males outnumber the females. In Germany, the workshops overall were about 60 percent female and 40 percent male.

Why and How This Process Works

Peck's writings go to great lengths to describe what the process does and some rules for doing the process. But he does not tell how or why it works. Abraham Maslow perhaps hit on why the process works, as described in his 1961 book: Eupsychian Management. Maslow related unstructured groups to free association and the unstructured Rorschach inkblot test. He went on to state that people live in a very structured world and adapt themselves to the structure. This structure tends to cause people to always be told what to do and they loose initiative to be themselves. They become a group of followers instead of a group of leaders. It keeps the inward person from knowing who it is and to accept a typecast or stereotype. Yet the yearning to be that real person hides inside the person waiting to be freed. When the freedom of unstructured conversation is allowed with a leader that participates, then people drop their defenses, their guards, and their many masks as they get less afraid of being hurt. The hope is that this signals others in the group to do the same and that they are an OK person without judgment. Then the others will respond in kind. The longer they talk, the deeper they connect to the hidden person. Maslow described his experience with unstructured groups as:

My experience in facilitating the process agrees with the above, but adds a "spiritual" quality to the "gift" of community. Groups often come into community in a way that feels spiritual in nature because it can not be described, only felt.

The Process

Stages of CB Development
In the Peck model of community development there are four primary stages. Peck calls these:


There are other processes that have four stages and there are similarities in meaning of the stages, but the processes are very different These are:

There are common elements to Open Space and Future Vision. But the Peck process is unique because participants work experientially almost on their own (unstructured) through communication rather than doing specific task. It is more like a laboratory for experimentation by trial and error to find what works and what does not work. People find an inter part of themselves being moved to speak by a force greater than they can define.

The group is given a unique challenge. It is to “speak only when moved to speak” and to “speak when moved to speak” and to learn what this means. Groups struggle well into the second day to learn this.

Each workshop follows a basic pattern in four developmental stages. Each stage unfolds in a different way depending on the participants. The process is not very intellectual. It involves the emotions to a larger degree than in normal conversation and a combining of the intellectual more with the emotions. It allows discovery of what emotional intelligence may be and how it can be effective in a person’s life. To fully understand the process, you have to experience it by attending a workshop.

The four stages do not occur in a linear progression. They may be commingled during the workshop. The first two stages of pseudocommunity followed by chaos generally occur in sequence, but from that point on, each person in the workshop may be in a different place, seeking community. Eventually, a group consensus or critical mass moves into community.

All Stages are Important

Some will say Chaos and some say Emptiness is the most important. This is because of individual differences in personalities. There are several major transitions in the process that are almost the opposite of each other. These occur between pseudocommunity and chaos, and between chaos and emptiness. Emptiness and community often blend together.

Some of the characteristics of the four stages and the process are as follows:

Pseudocommunity Stage
People generally begin in this stage. It is a stage of pretense. People pretend to already be a community. They use the best of manners to be socially correct as they speak. They avoid any differences or being very personal or anything controversial. They pretend life is great and they “have it all together” with not a care in the world. They fake it. They are not vulnerable. It’s often, boring, sterile and not much deep communication takes place. All of this is a learned response imposed by society.

Pseudocommunity is important to the overall process because it builds safety, trust and respect. Occasionally a person will be vulnerable early in the workshop by telling some personal story with deep meaning. The group often pretends they did not hear the story because their comfort level has been exceeded. It is too much to hear at this point, its not safe yet. When the group pretends not to hear, a facilitator must respond to the vulnerable person by just saying, “I heard what you said”. This story teller then knows that someone in the group cared. At this stage, this is important.

Pseudocommunity can last a number of hours but about two hours is average for many groups. It has been know to go for several days in certain groups, but this is very unusual. In closed groups it may only last 15 minutes or more than a day depending on the fear level in the organization. People may return to pseudocommunity later to build more safety after going through the other stages.

Chaos Stage
Each workshop has its rhythm and chaos is the staccato at a very high pitch when the cymbals clang. It is about the opposite of pseudocommunity. Participants learn they are different and start to explore the differences. This may begin with a big bang if pseudocommunity has been long or highly inauthentic. In my first workshop as a facilitator, about 2 hours into the process, a man was relating some sweet story about his mother and a lady suddenly jumped to her feet and proclaimed: “all this talk is sickeningly sweet and its all fake!!! You are a bunch of phonies. If I hear any more of this I’m just going to puke.” Chaos had begun. Most people avoid chaos as if it were some life threatening disease. It is a dis-ease. But it is highly creative. In this process, the facilitators “hold” the group in a safe place to encourage them to go through chaos and not avoid it. Facilitators do not facilitate chaos. To do so will result in creating an unsafe place and result in chaotic behaviour that is unproductive. On occasions, a facilitator may point out that the group is avoiding their task. This may set off a different kind of personal chaos where people start to look at their own personal chaos that is keeping them from being in community with themselves. This is what they need to empty.

In chaos people let go of their manners and blurt out their prejudices, opinions and judgments. There may be transference or projection toward others but often this about a person or situation outside the workshop. For example, a woman revealed an experience with a man she hated. Shortly after this, she started picking fights with all the men, but they backed off from her. Finally a man got “hooked” by her and they engaged in a lively discussion. At a point he asked the woman if he was really the person that deserved her anger. This helped her see she was doing this in every day life and it was keeping her from having the relationships she dearly wanted.

In chaos people often try to fix, heal, and convert each other and this only adds to the chaos. “Now if you will only do what I did, your life will be much better.” “If you believe what I believe, your life will change.” People do not like advice and mostly reject it. An intervention is offten used to point out what the group is doing, like trying to make others be like them (fixing).

In chaos, people exhibit chaotic behavior. The talking pace pickups. The shy can’t get in to talk. There is no space . They often feel an urge to speak when there is nothing to say. They do not listen much and often speak to hear themselves talk. On occasions, I have counted the number of times that people speak in one hour and the high number is 81 speakers with an average of about 60. This is chaotic behavior and the opposite of “moved to speak”. But this is necessary for the group to learn what moved to speak means.

In chaos, people explore group norms. They will test what subject can be discussed. They may resort to doing one or more "projects" and this is a mix of pseudocommunity and chaos. The purpose of projects may be to avoid task or to learn what may be acceptable to this group. Some project can be: if the windows should be open or closed; if the lights should be on or off; if the room is hot or cold and what should be done about it; if window shades should be open or closed, etc. Facilitators usually allow one or two projects early in the process. But after about two, an intervention is in order.

Chaos is full of avoidance. This can take many forms. One is to scapegoat another person. This causes the focus to the scapegoat and away from those doing the scapegoating. And intervention is often used to point this out . Another ploy is to attack the leader for not leading more. They may ask the leader to lecture or do some exercise. They may also attack the guidelines and try not to use some or all of them. Sometimes a participant will try to take over the leadership and attempt some from of organizing the group or to get a vote to do something different. This is only flight from the task. I've seem many attempts to get a vote to do something different, but I've never seen a vote taken. The people seem to know that this is not the way out of chaos. The only way out of chaos and into community is through emptiness.

In chaos, people start finding their personal, internal chaos that keeps them from being in community with themselves. This is often what they need to empty. A person finds it difficult to be in community with the group if they have much internal chaos. It blocks compassion for themselves and others. And in more recent years, it seems people arrive for a workshop in far greater state of anxiety than they did 10 years ago. Once they catch their breath, they often "must" let out some of that personal anxiety. As they make these discoveries (awareness), they start to slow down and become more contemplative. They may use a few words or phrases to indicate emptiness is about to happen. “I can’t do this.” I need to let go of ….”. “Why am I doing ……”. Etc. This is the creative part of chaos. It sets the stage for letting go of what is not needed and allows creation of something new in peoples lives.

At this point of transition, individuals know what needs to be done but will start asking everyone else to do it by returning to WE and YOU statements. “We need to really become personal in what we say to one another.” “You need to …..”

The duration of chaos can not be predicted. I have experienced from two to 12 hours initially. The group may cycle back into chaos after being in community, but it becomes different. It rarely concerns ego issues and the pace is much slower and people do listen. At this point, they have learned. A true community does conflict well and knows how to fight fare. A group in community becomes a most effective body for conflict resolution.

Emptiness Stage
This is the stage of letting go of what is not needed to make room for something new. People come into workshops very full, so full that not one more thing can enter into their lives. During chaos, participants often find what needs to be emptied and is robbing their energy, perhaps killing their soul. Often, forgotten personal values reenter the picture.

Emptiness can be a time when people tell personal stories that are current in their lives. This sometimes is with a great deal of sadness and perhaps tears. When this happens, the people become very quiet and hear what is spoken. There is space and often periods of respectful silence to honor what is said. Body language “speaks”, saying what words can not say. As people unraveled their authentic stories I have seen their affect change from a high anxiety or depressed state to euphoric as they tell their story. In Germany, there is considerable talk about World War II and the scars it has left and a letting go of what is in the past. Stating suppressed hurts is healing.

As people empty, the group atmosphere starts to feel very different. The pace slows, people speak softer words, they listen intently with their whole bodies, and compassion fills the room. There may periods of silence that some people describe as peaceful or even holy. Peoples faces become softer. They may say this is the first time they have ever really been heard. They are often full of gratitude for the acceptance they feel. And when enough people empty, the group feels in community. There is a collective consciousness that gives the gift of community.

Community is a state of being that is hard to describe. People feel peaceful, at ease with one another, accepting of differences, and perhaps celebrate with joy. It is a feeling of wholeness, of oneness, of knowing acceptance for just who you are, faults and all. Differences are appreciated, even honored. People seem to know it is just enough to be human and to experience a true feeling of what love may mean.

Different groups experience varying degrees of community. Exit surveys ask: “What sense of community did you experience in this workshop?” The average ranking is from 7.5 to 9.5 on a ranking of 1 to 10. Facilitators will usually rank the sense of community one or two points below the group ranking. On occasion, it may be as much as four point lower. This happens with a closed group that has never experience any community and perhaps just touched community. In the facilitators ranking, we look at the risk taken and the subjects discussed. We look at how diversity of personalities was approached and how well they explored differences.

Workshop Format

The workshop begins by the facilitators presenting an introduction, some simple guidelines for conduct in the workshop, read a story, call for some silence and participants begin to speak. For the next two or three days, the group works through the stages. Sometimes on the third day, specific, directive exercises that deepen the community are used. These will vary with the group.

This is another unique aspect of community building. The word facilitate comes from the old French word faciliter meaning “to make easy”. Community building is not easy; it is a struggle. We do not actively help prevent any struggle. Participants must do it themselves to own it. Another definition of facilitate is: “to hold one’s hand”. This is more in keeping with CB facilitation. People will run from both chaos and emptiness when they can. Both are scary. In the process facilitators “hold” the group safely while encouraging them to go through the chaos and have the courage to “let go” into emptiness.

The first task of a CB facilitator is to create a safe place, and to build trust and respect in the group. The second task is to facilitate the group into emptiness, not community. As the process develops, facilitators keep the group in task by giving progress reports and make a minimum of guidance interventions. We want the group to own the building of their own community, not us.

A CB facilitator must continually be aware of four levels of interaction all at the same time. This might be like playing a three dimensional game of chess or juggling four balls at once. It takes a multi-tasker to monitor these and take appropriate action or no action. The four areas are:Where is the group as a whole?

This requires a balance between the group and each individual. This is a group process, but neither the group or the individual should suffer at the expense of the otherWell experienced CB facilitators are often ahead of the group in the process. A facilitator learns to wait about twenty minutes from the time they think of an intervention. Someone in the group usually will do the intervention. Groups are smart when given the opportunity to be truly themselves in a safe place. Facilitators frequently model emptiness or even chaos in a most personal and authentic way. A facilitator can become a full participant if they are authentic. Facilitators must see very cautious to not manipulate. In some groups, it becomes necessary to teach at each break. Sometimes this is cultural. For example in the 1992 Australian workshops, it was discovered that self help groups were just starting to emerge and the people did not have the vocabulary used in the US. This made it necessary to teach a small amount at each break. The teaching usually covers a single principle and last only a few minutes.

There is a poem titled Old Chinese Verse that tells how to facilitate:

Old Chinese Verse

Go in search of your people:
Love Them;
Learn from Them;
Plan with Them;
Serve Them;
Begin with what They have;
Build on what They know.

But of the best leaders
when their task is accomplished,
their work is done,
The people all remark:
"We have done it ourselves."

Author unknown

At times the group will attack a facilitator. This may be projection about someone else in a participants life, often a father or mother. It is often a demand based on dependency for the facilitator to move the group faster or differently and it happens in chaos. CB facilitators don’t usually do that. Facilitators learn to take any attack in stride and not react so the group can become a group of all leaders.

Facilitative Interventions

Interventions vary considerably with each group depending on their behavior. There are probably at least 100 different interventions that may be used under given circumstances.

In closed workshops, interventions occur more often and in different ways than for open groups A closed group arrives with their unwritten, unspoken norms or “rules of behavior” in place. These always impact the process, because they are often based on fear. The group is not consciously aware of what they are doing with their norms. The facilitator task is to expose the norms.

Example: The norms of a closed groups stops the process. The facilitators initiates an exercise to explore their norms. This group listed 26 norms, many peculiar to this group. They expressed amazement as this unfolds. Knowing the norms facilitated letting go of many norms. One norm was “no confrontation is allowed with another person”. Following the norms exercise, they engaged each other in healthy confrontation.

Sometimes a group gets stuck and can not move forward. This may be group emptiness and this is not stuckness. If stuckness is for another reason, the facilitator must attempt to find the cause. One way is to ask the group “what is going on”. They often know. At other times, it may be a “field” (like a magnetic field) that is impacting the group. Fields work just below the conscious level and are not usually known by a group. The facilitators must try to uncover the field and name it to resolve the stuckness.

Example: In Melbourne Australia a workshop was very flat from the start. This group did not have any energy. We started looking for a “field” by talking to participants during breaks and at lunch. By mid afternoon we found it. The state of Victoria had gone bankrupt the week before. The government was overturned and more than 1,000 workers fired. In addition, the new government took away benefits of many other government employees and made drastic payroll cuts. This was the field impacting almost everyone in the group, either directly or indirectly. The subject was mention by a facilitator and they started talking about it which broke the stuckness and restored energy.

Certain interventions must be done immediately to keep group safety. Once this is lost, it may take many hours to get back. A facilitator must be careful to not manipulate the group, but also must keep the atmosphere a reasonably safe place. Some examples of behavior that can create an unsafe place are: scapegoating a participant or the group by a participant, attempt to organize the group into small groups or some other kind of organization, manipulation of the group by a participant, or a subgroup talking in “code” so that the group as a whole can not understand what is being said.

A facilitator must stop unsafe behaviors quickly by using a proper intervention. Interventions are about balance and awareness in the group. Instant interventions are mostly about keeping a safe environment.


There is no typical case as far as interventions are concerned because each workshop is as different as the participants. The following will present a middle of the road case that gives fewer interventions than many workshops. Many details are limited to conserve space.

1st day, 9:00 AM.

Workshop starts with the introduction and reading of the story. The group goes into typical pseudocommunity with talk about the story. Many “we” and other global statements are made. We wait for someone in the group to remind them the guidelines say to use “I” statements.

10:30 first break
11:00 AM. First intervention: “I notice that many of you are making WE statements instead of I statements. Speaking more personal with I statements will help us build community. Also, the we statements imply that all people agree with what is said and I really doubt that all of you agree with some of what has been said.” (inviting them to explore differences indirectly) The group continues in pseudocommunity.

11:30 AM. The first project starts. It is about the window being closed and not enough air in the room. People open the windows. Noise from the streets starts entering the room and those sitting by the windows have problems hearing. The project continues by shutting the windows with agreement that enough air has come in the room and the windows can be opened at the breaks. Bill says, ”WE all can breath well now.” “Speak for yourself, I really liked the window open but will agree with the group” says Mary Ann. [The first statement that there are differences] As the group breaks for lunch, a facilitator reminds them again that they can be more personal but have done much better in using I statements. Also adds, that they are doing normal pseudocommunity but that we did hear expression of at least one expression of differences by Mary Ann.

1:00 PM. The group starts back into pseudocommunity and quickly get into another project. This time it is the design in the carpet on the floor. One person says it is highly distracting to them and they want to cover it up. Several others agree. The debate continues for about 20 minutes, then it starts to change toward a person that is playing a victim role. She asked the group to have three minutes of silence because she does not like the debate. The group agrees to the silence, reluctantly. After about one minute the lady pulls out a tape player and turns it on, playing some music that breaks the silence. The group explodes and in rapid fire she is attack by other participants for asking for silence, then playing music. We are into chaos. After three people go after her, a facilitator intervenes, “This is not the best way to build community. This event is now over. Lets go on by completing the silence and decide where to go doing our task.” The group does the silence, and starts talking at an increasing pace.

3:00 PM. Break time. As the group breaks, a facilitator announces, “Your are into chaos if you have not figured that out and in the last hour I observed that you had 66 speakers. That is chaotic behavior and the opposite of Moved to Speak.”

3:30 PM. The group comes back and continues chaotic behavior with some real chaos. Later, a participant attacks the facilitator, “Why don’t you do something to lead us. Why do you just sit there. Tell us about Scott Peck or something.” The facilitators nod they have heard but do not reply. Frustration breaks out. Later a person says they are uncomfortable in this large of a group and would feel better if we broke into small groups. Discussion follows with some agreeing that small groups would be better. Facilitators are ready to stop the organization if necessary. Then a person says, “Lets vote on if you want to be in smaller groups –raise your hand if your do.” and he sticks up his hand. Only two other hands go up. End of another project. They remain quiet for about a full minute, the longest pause in the afternoon. The afternoon ends at 5: PM with the group starting to slow down. As we break, a facilitator says: “you did a great job of chaos this afternoon. You did make an attempt to organize yourself out of it and that never works. The only way out of chaos is emptiness. Emptiness is a letting go process. You might like to think about this tonight. See you in the morning.”

2nd day 9:00 AM

The group starts slowly. It seems that no one knows what to say or wants someone else to say it. They finally start and go right back to no space, taking automatically and not listening. They get into some real chaos. It seems the group norms are now starting to act out more and it has more to do with their communications skills more than anything else. We allow it to continue and develop. We call a break at 10:15 because the group is not on a good path. During the break, we facilitators decide to do a "norms" exercise.

10:40 AM. We divide the group into groups of five and give them several norms we have seen acted out. Then ask them to write down as many as they can in the next 20 minutes. They are doing a great job, getting some really good ones. They report the norms to the large group and they have 19. We discuss each one in a positive way and there is not much to say about some of them. For example, one is that they are expected to know everything and if asked a question, they are to bluff the answers if they do not know it. We had seen some of this that was causes inauthentic talk. We start the workshop back up at 11:15 with three minutes of silence. They start a philosophical discussion about how to communicate and it is a lot of head stuff, but good and authentic. The conversation becomes lively and they discuss expectations of each other and discover there are many that no one know about. The authenticity is getting better. There are a few You statements directed to several people. They react and defend themselves. There are a number of these and it is getting just a little hot. Its time for the noon break. A facilitator says: “In community it is not necessary to defend yourself, only to recognize that the other person spoke. Sometime defending is not beneficial. So if this fits, you can try it and see what happens."

1:00 PM. We start again with three minutes of silence. The first person says they have an issue that has been bothering them now for about 2 years. She says, “Remember that hate paper that we found on our desk one morning? I have suffered from it ever since. It has not done any good that the originator was fired for writing it. It still hurts.” She begins to sob and can not talk. The group is quiet and listening intently for the first time. She says, “I know others were hurt too, just like me.” Then for the next 45 minutes others speak about how it hurt them and they wished someone had done something to counter the statements in the paper. Its a mix of anger and hurt. This is the secret we knew was in the group that no one would tell. It was out now. Then the president spoke. “I knew I should have called you all together and talked about that document, but I just did not know how to do it." He went on, “I’m so sorry it has hurt all of you for so long. I felt you all knew that no one believed what he wrote. But evidently some of you did. I am sorry for not doing something. What can I do now to make it up to you? What can I do?” It is quite. No one speaks for a number of minutes. Then the lady that brought it up says, “I accept your apology even if it is late getting to me." Many others do the same. We have had our first emptying and a touch of community in the compassion shown for the President and each other. Its time for another break.

3:30 PM. A facilitator reflects on what happened in the previous session. “You experienced some authentic conversation and some emptying by many of you in that last session. You might ask yourself what is standing in the way of being in community with yourself that you need to empty.” We start again with three minutes of silence. The atmosphere has changed. They are quiet in a different way. It’s evident that the group know what to do. They are hesitant to start and they ask others to do it in very indirect ways. This keeps up for about an hour. Then a facilitator speaks by saying, “I’m putting on my participant hat and turning the facilitation to my cofacilitator.” He speaks of what was on his mind as he came to the workshop. It was about his aging mother that had a heart attack a months ago and he expressed his concern that she would die from it in the next few months. He tell some more details and then is silent. The group response with respectful silence. Then a lady speaks about how she did not want to come very much because her mother has cancer and she felt a need to be with her. She gives more details. Then silence again. The group has reached a new level of respect for each other. Others continue to talk of personal things until 5 PM. We end with a few statements that there is more to come and the night often allows a group to find a deeper place. So, “Remember your dreams.”

3rd Day, 9:00 AM

We start with silence and wait to see what happens. It seems its the men’s turn. They begin to tell their life with stories of childhood, jobs they did not like, divorce that was still causing grief, etc. This kept up till 10:30 with no interventions. It had become a bit heavy.

10:45 AM. We start again. They retreat into pseudocommunity mixed with chaos. This is usual after a heavy session to lighten up. Then a person starts to probe another to say more about what he talked about earlier. He does not respond. Then more probing follows with a barrage of questions. A facilitator interrupts and says, “Remember the guideline about moved to speak and if not moved, do not speak." The prober quits questioning and the other participant does not say more. Then a person starts into some WE statements about the government and is quickly shut down by the group. Right before noon, a man tells a deep story about himself that brings the group back to emptiness. As we break, a facilitator encourages them that they are on the right track and know what to do.

1:00 PM. A facilitator give a short 3 minute talk about emptiness and what it can mean to each individual. More silence to start. Then the group start slowly into emptiness and tell their stories one by one. No interventions are required, they are on their way to community. The stories continue with out stopping. They have much to say and it seem it will never stop. We hate to call a break, but do.

3:30 PM. We start again. They continue deepening their community with each other. It is peaceful and there is an air of compassion, respect and trust in the room. At 4:15 a facilitator reminds them that this community will end at 5 PM and they might need to say something to certain people that had given them a gift or perhaps there is something special they would like to say to the group before they leave. They take the advice and behave accordingly. The group ends by standing in a circle with arms around each other and someone sings a song that is appropriate. A facilitator ends by saying, “When you came in, I saw many hard eyes and now I see mostly soft eyes." They stand there and look at each other eye to eye. Then the circle breaks. The workshop is over. It 5 PM.

Outcome in a Public Workshop

This is about a big man that must have been 6' 5" with a very loud deep voice and he tended to use harsh words. He scared everyone to death just to hear him talk. People stayed away from him. He was really very nice but came across as scary. He owned a dairy farm and it was not making money and he was going to have to sell it or go bankrupt. In the workshop, people started to tell him how he impacted them. Slowly and kindly they told him about his voice and his vocabulary. You could not tell that he had heard it till the third day. Then he took the floor and did a "dance" by stomping his feet and saying "hard words, loud words, angry words (stomp, stomp, stomp with his feet) Words, words, words, words" Then he started chanting, first in a loud voice then it grew softer, "emptiness, emptiness, emptiness". He did a couple of circles and took the form of a ballet dancer softly tip-toeing and began to say in a soft voice for him, normal for most of us: "soft words, kind word, nice words, caring words, meaningful words". Then he sat down with no other comment. Many months later I got a call from him late one evening. He told how after he went home he changed the way he approached people and now his dairy farm was making lots of money and he no longer HAD to sell it. But he was going to anyway at a good profit and go back to college and do what he had always wanted to do.


Dr. M. Scott Peck, The Different Drum (Simon and Schuster New York,) 1981

Abraham Maslow, Eupsychian Management, republished edited as Maslow On Management, (John Wiley and Sons, Inc. New York) 1998.

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