Beware of the Pseudo-Community: 3 Tips to Build True Community!

In one of my favorite movies The Truman Show, Jim Carrey nails the lead role as Truman – a person who is unaware his life is being captured on a hidden TV show.  An interesting exchange occurs between two characters who know about this deception:

  • Mike Michaelson: Christof, let me ask you, why do you think that Truman has never come close to discovering the true nature of his world until now?
  • Christof: We accept the reality of the world with which we’re presented. It’s as simple as that.

Can you imagine growing up like Truman did in a community where all the people were more concerned about TV ratings than him as a person?  Can you believe the deceit and masterful trickery involved by those closest to him who were not really concerned about his growth or the true building of that community?  Can you imagine the creators of the show creating a community that was self-serving and building on lies and pretenses?  While this story may be a far-stretch from reality, there is a reality of leaders creating the same type of fake community that needs to be avoided or corrected immediately.

In his book A World Waiting to be Born, Scott Peck outlines four stages of community building: Pseudo-Community, Chaos, Emptiness, and True.  At the central core of any organization, the leadership in building community is vital.  While many leaders pride themselves in building practices to create a sense of community, they miss the mark in three critical areas which halt them from moving away from a Pseudo-Community.  The Pseudo-Community is a stage of pretense.  The group may pretend or act as though they have built a True Community, but relationships are artificial and the real needs have not been addressed.  Leaders in a Pseudo-Community tend to mask or avoid the critical areas of need.  In an effort not to make waves, hurt feelings, or break friendships, leaders may cover up, defend, or create factions.  While strategies or actions are implemented in an effort to bolster the development of community, the true needs of the community are not addressed or avoided altogether.  In order for leaders to move to a True Community, three essential tips are provided for reflection:

  1. Leaders create an equitable environment.
    1. In a Pseudo-Community, leaders have “favorites”.  Rather than create an equitable environment for all members of the community, leaders have and promote cliques – which are evident in the community.  While it is human to build deeper relationships with some over others, leaders need to check themselves in how these relationships may negatively influence decisions on behalf of the community, may appear to others in the community, and may make others feel.  When leaders create an equitable environment, all members feel comfortable to approach the leader with ideas and true relationships can begin to occur.  In addition, decisions are made based on what’s best for the community rather than a few individuals.
  2. Leaders develop systems for open and honest communication.
    1. In fake communities, leaders may pride themselves on their communication skills. While hundreds of emails, meetings, and interactions may occur, leaders in a Pseudo-Community avoid the real issues or people which may be hindering the progress to True Community.  Adaptive practices and strategies for dialogue may even be used to promote open and honest communication in some forums, but if not practiced at all times, and against the hard issues, honest conversation may be halted.  When this occurs, members of the organization sense honest feedback isn’t warranted and stop giving it.  As a result, members say what others want to hear to avoid the trouble or hassle.  In this case, leaders obtain invalid feedback.  Leaders striving for a True Community need to create systems and check their beliefs and assumptions from critical members on the validity and reliability of communication they are receiving.  In addition, leaders need to identify and reflect on the core, root needs rather than the symptoms.  Finally, leaders need to make decision and provide feedback to the community transparently to encourage continued dialogue in the future.
  3. Leaders promote the community. 
    1. Leaders tend to be self-promoters or only care about certain individuals in a Pseudo-Community.  In addition, although the community may have a mission statement or vision, if it is not real and evident among all members, starting with the leader, the Pseudo-Community will continue to exist.  When this occurs, members only care about themselves or others around them; not the community as a whole.  As a result, fractures in the communities split in cliques making it impossible to create one community.  The ultimate destruction are members who lack empathy for one another.  In building True Community, leaders needs to ensure there is a clearly communicated and owned mission and vision among the members.  Then, with this articulated, the leader can promote community-building as a whole.

In a True Community, problems and disagreements still occur.  But it is how the members treat each other and focus on the right work which separates this community from a Pseudo-Community.

“In genuine community there are no sides. It is not always easy, but by the time they reach community the members have learned how to give up cliques and factions. They have learned how to listen to each other and how not to reject each other. Sometimes consensus in community is reached with miraculous rapidity. But at other times it is arrived at only after lengthy struggle. Just because it is a safe place does not mean community is a place without conflict. It is, however, a place where conflict can be resolved without physical or emotional bloodshed and with wisdom as well as grace. A community is a group that can fight gracefully.” ~ M. Scott Peck

Finally, as Jim Carrey’s character Truman once said, “Good morning, and in case I don’t see ya, good afternoon, good evening, and good night!”


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