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 avoiding all disagreement. This attempt – this pretense of community – is what I term “pseudo-community.” It never works.
In pseudo-community a group attempts to purchase community cheaply by pretense. It is not an evil, conscious pretense of deliberate black lies. Rather, it is an unconscious, gentle process whereby people who want to be loving attempt to be so by telling little white lies, by withholding some of the truth about themselves and their feelings in order to avoid conflict. But it is still a pretense. It is an inviting but illegitimate shortcut to nowhere.
The essential dynamic of pseudo-community is conflict-avoidance. The absence of conflict in a group is not by itself diagnostic. Genuine communities may experience lovely and sometimes lengthy periods free from conflict. But that is because they have learned how to deal with conflict rather than avoid it. Pseudo-community is conflict-avoiding; true community is conflict-resolving.
What is diagnostic of pseudo-community is the minimization, the lack of acknowledgement, or the ignoring of individual differences. Nice people are so accustomed to being well mannered that they are able to deploy their good manners without even thinking about what they are doing. In pseudo-community it is as if every individual member is operating according to the same book of etiquette. The rules of this book are: Don’t do or say anything that might offend someone else; if someone does or says something that offends, annoys, or irritates you, act as if nothing has happened and pretend you are not bothered in the least; and if some form of disagreement should show signs of appearing, change the subject as quickly and smoothly as possible – rules that any good hostess knows. It is easy to see how these rules make for a smoothly functioning group. But they also crush individuality, intimacy, and honesty, and the longer it lasts the duller it gets.
The basic pretense of pseudo-community is the denial of individual differences. The members pretend – act as if – they all have the same belief in Jesus Christ, the same understanding of the Russians, even the same life history. One of the characteristics of pseudo-community is that people tend to speak in generalities. “Divorce is a miserable experience,” they will say. Or “One has to trust one’s instincts.” Or “We need to accept that our parents did the best they could.” Or “Once you’ve found God, then you don’t need to be afraid anymore.” Or “Jesus has saved us from our sins.”
Another characteristic of pseudo-community is that the members will let one another get away with such blanket statements. Individuals will think to themselves, I found God twenty years ago and I’m still scared, but why let the group know that? To avoid the risk of conflict they keep their feelings to themselves and even nod in agreement, as if a speaker has uttered some universal truth. Indeed, the pressure to skirt any kind of disagreement may be so great that even the very experienced communicators in the group – who know perfectly well that speaking in generalities is destructive to genuine communication – may be inhibited from challenging what they know is wrong...
In my experience most groups that refer to themselves as “communities” are, in fact, pseudo-communities. Think about whether the expression of individual differences is encouraged or discouraged, for instance, in the average church congregation. Is the kind of conformism I have described in the first stage of community-making the norm or the exception in our society?
...Often all that is required is to challenge the platitudes or generalizations. When Mary says, “Divorce is a terrible thing,” I am likely to comment: “Mary, you’re making a generalization. I hope you don’t mind my using you as an example for the group, but one of the things people need to learn to communicate well is how to speak personally – how to use ‘I’ and ‘my’ statements. I wonder if you couldn’t rephrase your statement to ‘My divorce was a terrible thing for me.’”...
Once individual differences are not only allowed but encouraged to surface in some such way, the group almost immediately moves to the second stage of community development: chaos.
excerpt from: Scott Peck (1987) The Different Drum.