Community is and must be inclusive. The great enemy of community is exclusivity. Groups that exclude others because they are poor or doubters or divorced or sinners or of some different race or nationality are not communities; they are cliques - actually defensive bastions against community.
Inclusiveness is not an absolute. Long-term communities must invariably struggle over the degree to which they are going to be inclusive. Even short-term communities must sometimes make that difficult decision. But for most groups it is easier to exclude than include. Clubs and corporations give little thought to being inclusive unless the law compels them to do so. True communities, on the other hand, if they want to remain such, are always reaching to extend themselves. The burden of proof falls upon exclusivity. Communities do not ask "How can we justify taking this person in?" Instead the question is "Is it at all justifiable to keep this person out?" In relation to other groupings of similar size or purpose, communities are always relatively inclusive...
How is this possible? How can such differences be absorbed, such different people coexist? Commitment - the willingness to coexist - is crucial. Sooner or later, somewhere along the line (and preferably sooner), the members of a group in some way must commit themselves to one another if they are to become or stay a community. Exclusivity, the great enemy to community, appears in two forms: excluding the other and excluding yourself. If you conclude under your breath, "Well, this group just isn't for me - they're too much this or too much that - and I'm just going to quietly pick up my marbles and go home," it would be as destructive to community as it would be to a marriage were you to conclude, "Well, the grass looks a little greener on the other side of the fence, and I'm just going to move on." Community, like marriage, requires that we hang in there when the going gets a little rough. lt requires a certain degree of commitment. lt is no accident that Bellah et al. subtitled their work Individualism and Commitment in American Life. Our individualism must be counter-balanced by commitment. If we do hang in there, we usually find after a while that "the rough places are made plain." A friend correctly defined community as a "group that has learned to transcend its individual differences." But this learning takes time, the time that can be bought only through commitment.
"Transcend" does not mean "obliterate" or "demolish." lt literally means "to climb over." The achievement of community can be compared to the reaching of a mountaintop. Perhaps the most necessary key to this transcendence is the appreciation of differences. In community, instead of being ignored, denied, hidden, or changed, human differences are celebrated as gifts...
We are so unfamiliar with genuine community that we have never developed an adequate vocabulary for the politics of this transcendence. When we ponder on how individual differences can be accommodated, perhaps the first mechanism we turn to (probably because it is the most childlike) is that of the strong individual leader. Differences, like those of squabbling siblings, we instinctively think can be resolved by a mommy or daddy - a benevolent dictator, or so we hope. But community, encouraging individuality as it does, can never be totalitarian. So we jump to a somewhat less primitive way of resolving individual differences which we call democracy. We take a vote, and the majority determines which differences prevail. Majority rules. Yet that process excludes the aspirations of the minority. How do we transcend differences in such a way as to include a minority? It seems like a conundrum. How and where do you go beyond democracy?
In the genuine communities of which I have been a member, a thousand or more group decisions have been made and I have never yet witnessed a vote. I do not mean to imply that we can or should discard democratic machinery, any more than we should abolish organization. But I do mean to imply that a community, in transcending individual differences, routinely goes beyond even democracy. In the vocabulary of this transcendence we thus far have only one word: "consensus." Decisions in genuine community are arrived at through consensus, in a process that is not unlike a community of jurors, for whom consensual decision making is mandated. Still, how on earth can a group in which individuality is encouraged, in which individual differences flourish, routinely arrive at consensus? Even when we develop a richer language for community operations, I doubt we will ever have a formula for the consensual process. The process itself is an adventure. And again there is something inherently almost mystical, magical about it. But it works. And the other facets of community will provide hints as to how it does.
excerpt from: Scott Peck (1987) The Different Drum.