Evolution and the Anthropic Principle
Richard Dawkins vs Ken Wilber
Where Am I
The Cheshire Cat
I Could Have Been a Contender
What I Wish Id Said
Keeping Up with the World
The Flight of the Phoenix
The Power of Fog
Naming the Unnamed
Principles in Art
Spirit and Matter
The Enlightenment Conundrum
On Believing
Water? What Water?
Telling Stories 2
I believe in Rainbows
Whom Can We Believe
Patterns by Paul Simon and Douglas Hofstadter
Copyright Inheritance
Broad Minded
Beliefs Part Two
A Long drawn-out solstice
The Quest for, and the Illusion of, Certainty
To the Ends of the Earth
The Meaning Of Life
We Hold These Truths
There are Beliefs
Music and Language
Circular Thinking
Runaway World
Deep Playmate
An Alchemy of Telling
Cultural Genes
The Joy of Science
The Conundrum of Human Nature
No, The Computer Isn't Smarter than I Am!
A Rant on Religion
The West Wing Turning Right?
The Geometry of Spring
Music as Language
What is Art
Beauty and Spirit
You Don't Understand Us
The New God of Probability
Gene Hackman as President
Being Lifted Out of the Ordinary
The Head and the Heart
Pay Attention!
Music Poetry and Meaning
On Seeking Truth
Perceptions and Reality
The Marriage Bond
Taboo is a Right
Copyright versus Copyleft
Cycles of Transcendence
Ego and Self
The Big Picture
Mindfulness as Larger Mind
The Power of Words
The State of the Union
Out of My Mind
Family Thoughts
One Life
Telling Stories
Small World
Bigger Realities
What Comes Next
Humor as a Higher Level of Consciousness
Sometimes Everything Goes Wrong
Emotional Resonance
Extraordinary Respect
Insight Meditation
Us and Them
Paradox and Paradigm
To Reach
I Don't Know
Don the Romantic
The Guy in the Blue Saab
The Sound of Silence
Eating is an Intimate Act
Evolution of Spirit
On Cloning and Other . . .
Creativity and Psychic Phenomena
Magic in My Life
My Difficulty with Aaron
Mindful & Mystic
Taste of Irony
Music Appreciation
Levels of Consciousness

Extraordinary Respect

I've been participating in groups a lot in my life, groups whose only purpose is to provide an excuse for people to touch each other. Not physically, although that often happens, too. Emotionally, spiritually, I'm not sure what to call it. "Community building" is one term for it. They used to call them "encounter groups," but that label took on a negative connotation a generation ago after some participants came away wounded from battles they neither expected nor wanted. Seeking human contact, they encountered jousting fields.

What draws us to such experiences that are unrelated to any objective task, often not even offering us entertainment or intellectual stimulation? Each of us undoubtedly has a different set of objectives or expectations or just unarticulated hopes. Still, the impulses that make us social creatures are not entirely unique to each of us. There's something in us as human beings, I'm convinced, that pushes us together. It's not just sex or mutual protection. Even as we tend to withdraw into our television-watching habits and sit alone at our computer terminals, what we seek is connection to others. Only a very few of us seem able to live completely alone, in the wilderness of open spaces or the closets of our minds. Whether we consider ourselves fortunate in this respect (a la Barbra Streisand) or not, the rest of us need people.

One of the challenges of being with people is knowing how to do it. Who hasn't at some point in their life been surrounded by other people but felt totally isolated? Perhaps it's been merely a strange cultural setting, or not knowing the language, or feeling inadequate to the particular situation. Sometimes the people are in fact hostile toward us for some reason or other. I remember from my adolescence one of those "If you had one wish, what would it be?" conversations, when it was clear to me that my wish would be to be able to talk myself into—or out of—any situation. (I never got my wish.) What I really wanted was to be in social situations in which I didn't have to be afraid. What I really wanted was intimacy.

It takes practice, of course, and most of us learn enough to get by at the level we usually find ourselves. And our learning typically takes the form of learning the rules and roles of particular groups. Eventually, we come to feel relatively at ease, whether it be on the street corner or at the cocktail party or in the board room. Until that eventuality, we clutch or we fake it or we make jokes to cover our discomfort. We feel wary and defensive.

But what of these groups in which there are not supposed to be any rules or roles? Usually, we simply don't believe it, and spend a good amount of effort trying to discover what they "really are." In the community building workshops put on by the Foundation for Community Encouragement (FCE) begun by M. Scott Peck and others, the facilitators expected that the experience would begin with a period of politeness and testing of the waters. "Pseudo Community" they called it. Some years ago a friend referred to the same process as "circling," as dogs and other animals often do when meeting strangers. The tails may be wagging, but the senses are alert. The guard is up.

Getting to Scott Peck's "true community" is often arduous. It's a process of discovery, for the most part, discovery of the safety of the environment and discovery of our own ability to fit in (to say nothing of our desire, as we learn about the other people involved). There are skills involved, some of which we may have already at our disposal and some of which are specific to that situation. Learning to make "I statements" instead of commenting on behavior or assumed characteristics of others. Refraining from judgmental statements. "Owning" our own feelings, instead of blaming others for them. Avoiding giving advice, unless it's asked for.

Implied in all these skills and "rules of engagement" is a point of view, a stance, a frame of mind—what Scott Peck calls "extraordinary respect." It's the basis for trust, which Jack Gibb built into a whole philosophy of group behavior. We're all in this together, and each of us, with all our diverse backgrounds and personalities, is to be honored equally. If we disagree about something, you and I are on a level playing field: either of us might be closer to the truth. "Winning" is to lose touch with the relationship. And the relationship is what's really important.

And the thing that draws us together, with all our differences, is the need for relationship, to be in the emotional company of others. Only when we are clearly convinced of our basic equality, only when we each bask in the extraordinary respect of the other, can we create true community.


Barbra Streisand's song, "People" goes: 
People who need people,
Are the luckiest people in the world.
. . .

M. Scott Peck wrote The Different Drum about community building. (See "Community" in this Web site.)

Jack Gibb wrote Trust about being with people in community. (See "Community" in this Web site.)

Donald Skiff, February 10, 2001

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