M. Scott Peck on “pseudocommunity” versus true community

fake community

“The first response of a group in seeking to form a community is most often to try to fake it.” (Image source)

Sometimes when we want something, we adopt a positive, assertive attitude and focus very hard on what we’re trying to achieve.  We don’t let anything negative enter into the picture that could prevent us from achieving our goal.

This may be a good technique for many things, but is it sufficient if what we want is intimacy or true community?  Can we positive-think our way into community, or do such human relationships require something more from us, a greater level of candor or openness or communication?

Here is one perspective:

The first response of a group in seeking to form a community is most often to try to fake it.  The members attempt to be an instant community by being extremely pleasant with one another and avoid all disagreement.  This attempt — this pretense of community — is what I term ‘pseudocommunity’.  It never works.

I was quite nonplussed when I first encountered pseudocommunity– particularly since it was created by experts.  It occurred during a workshop in Greenwich Village, in lower Manhattan, whose members, to a person, were highly sophisticated, achievement-oriented New Yorkers.  Many had undergone extensive psychoanalysis, and they were all accustomed to being “unspontaneously vulnerable”.  Within minutes they were sharing deep, intimate details of their lives.  And during the very first break they were already hugging.  Poof– instant community!

But something was missing.  At first I was delighted, and I thought, Boy, this is a piece of cake.  I don’t have to worry about a thing.  But by the middle of the day I began to grow uneasy… I didn’t have the wonderful, joyful, excited feeling I had always had in community.  I was, in fact, slightly bored.  Yet to all intents and purposes the group seemed to be behaving just like a real community…

M. Scott Peck

M. Scott Peck (1936-2005) was an American psychiatrist and best-selling author of books such as “The Road Less Traveled” and “People of the Lie: The Hope For Healing Human Evil”. In the latter book, Peck described evil as being “militant ignorance” – a refusal to see what one is doing and a desire to scapegoat others. (image source)

I did not sleep well that night.  Near dawn, I decided I owed it to the group to disclose my sense of unease…  When we assembled the second morning I began by saying “You’re an unusually sophisticated group of people.  I think that’s why we seemed to become a community so quickly and easily yesterday morning.  But perhaps it was too quick and too easy.  I have a strange feeling that something’s missing, that we’re really not a community yet.  Let’s have a period of silence now and see how we will respond to it.

“Respond the group did!  Within five minutes of the end of the silence these seemingly mellow, affectionate people were almost at one another’s throats.  Dozens of interpersonal resentments from the previous day surfaced practically simultaneously.  Fast and furious the members began clobbering each other with their different ideologies and theologies.  It was glorious chaos!  And finally we were able to begin the work of building real community…”1


The author proposes that community moves through four potential stages:

  1. pseudocommunity,
  2. chaos,
  3. emptiness, and
  4. true community.

But he says most would-be communities never get past the first stage, no matter how many months, years or decades go by.

Questions for discussion:

  • My teacher once said that intimacy and ecstasy belong in the “sacred domain” of our lives, where we feel free to express ourselves freely, while politeness and “getting stuff done” belong in the “secular domain” of our lives, where we have to put on a good face and be careful what we say.  So… speaking honestly, can you say that you have a true sacred domain in your life, which nurtures you and keeps you from going postal?  Do you have anyone in your life that you can be truly honest with?
  • Do you make sounds and express yourself during sex?  Or do you just try to be polite, put on a pleasant face, and behave as you feel you’re expected to?  What is the price of ecstasy?
  • Have you ever felt afraid to experience “chaos”, or “emptiness”?  (Let’s define emptiness as when something important to you completely falls apart.)
  • A friend of mine said his marriage went through the same four phases mentioned above, and that it was only by passing through the chaos and emptiness phases that they found genuine relationship with each other.  What do you think of that?
  • Do television and “social media” offer us an illusion of instant community? Is television – or any other substitute for meaningful human relationships – truly satisfying and nourishing to the core of your being?

BoT Student

  1. Excerpted from The Different Drum: Community Making and Peace, by M. Scott Peck. As listed by Adi Da Samraj in The Basket of Tolerance, the Epitome of Traditional Wisdom list, section on renunciation.
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3 comments · now closed

  1. Brady Duncan   Thumb up +4

    This was helpful, as it reminded me to re-read this one of Peck’s books, which I have always loved. It is especially relevant to some of us now who actually are creating new and more enlivened relationships right now in our spiritual community through creating an actual cooperative co-housing community. It has been a vivid demonstration of the difference between what people “visualize” that they want as some utopian ideal, and the practical – and yet ego-transcending – necessity of being able to freely express personal preferences, being able to passionately and openly advocate for them, and being willing at times to surrender them when logic and love prevail. Even if we don’t succeed in our “goal” we will have re-vitalized our congregation, and had insights into our ordinary patterns. Thanks for the timely selection.

  2. John   Thumb up +2

    Hi, I am from Melbourne Australia. I am a devotee of Adi Da Samraj. I came across your blog via a browse on forgiveness.
    Speaking of Beavis and Butthead, about 10 years ago Adi Da asked all of his devotees to watch Beavis & Butthead Do America.
    He pointed out that they are exactly what modern USA “culture” is really all about – and not much more.
    Unconscious adolescents obsessed with body orifices, stuffing things (junk “food”) into their mouths, hoping to screw anything that moves, whilst simultaneously trashing everything that they come across, either deliberately, or via the force of their self-oblivious unconsciousness.

  3. This was very interesting to read. This could be helpful to many people. Thanks.

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