Comments, In Focus, Needle's Eye

Is ’emptying’ a realistic means of achieving peace?

In his book, A Different Drum, Scott Peck argues that the idea of ’emptying’ is an essential prerequisite to peace in any ‘community’.

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Nigel Pocock

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With major possible catastrophes, such as global warming and pollution, common cause and open discussion free of power struggles, is absolutely vital.

Peck’s argument is that all groups, if they are to achieve ‘community’ (by which he means a trusting and open social group, whether of governments or of people meeting in a village hall, who have facilitative leadership, not tyranny) – must pass through four stages, namely, pseudocommunity, chaos, emptying, and finally community.

‘Pseudocommunity’ is when a group is characterised by formal politeness and etiquette. In working past this ‘nice’ formality, chaos ensues, as individuals and/or interest groups then attempt to convert others to their viewpoint as the only true one.

Finally (if a group gets this far) emptying of the desire to ‘convert’ appears, replaced by a desire to listen and understand. This is the beginning of community, says Peck.

This is a recommendation for a leadership style that pushes power away towards others, in order that their prosocial gifts and abilities can be realised. This will mean different things at international, national and micro levels of ‘community’.

There will be arguments about what is ‘prosocial’, and long and short-term benefits. An openness of sharing these arguments, without hidden agendas, will lead to genuine listening and hence emptying of the desire to control others.

This style of leadership is not weak leadership, but the reverse. It is so, precisely because it is so much easier to be proscriptive and authoritarian.

Pluralistic societies, both in terms of ethnicities and in terms of highly specialised skills, are very complex; they require much very hard work if a broad and genuinely sympathetic consensus is to be realised.

Listening to others, following an emptying of the desire to control, may indeed lead to better solutions to problems at both micro- and macro-level. Listening removes false, entrenched, individual and national myths. In this, problem-solving is improved, cognitively and socially, and integration occurs.

The Great War ended in a railway carriage. Hitler forced France to surrender in the self-same railway carriage. Railway carriage thinking – in water-tight compartments – damages both individuals and societies, and prevents progress by inhibiting new synthesis of ideas, and constructive criticism.

The answer is to go outside, empty oneself of the desire to control, to be open and real with others—often difficult, even at the cost of pain—for genuine community.

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