[Hooping.org Assistant Editor Bonnie MacDougall explores the stages of community growth.]
Ahhhh, the sweet bliss. You’ve discovered the pure joy of the plastic circle. The gentle rhythms as it sweeps around your body in meditative movement, all the while working out your body by doing something you enjoy! But then… hold on… you’ve discovered that there is even more. How could it get any better? You have found a few other local people who not only hoop, but want to share some hoop space together, regularly!
At first you gather informally to share the hoop love, take in some new moves, and in time learn more about one another. The circle gradually becomes larger though as others see you hooping and want some of the natural joy that you have found. Now you’re having regular Hoop Jams and maybe even a Facebook page for your hoop group. You can feel a cohesiveness happening. The connections feel deep, meaningful and true. This group truly understands a part of you that others just don’t! They grasp the hooper in you, which is now becoming a defining factor in how you see yourself. You’ve found a place where you all belong.
With the passage of time, however, some members may come and go. While the core group remains solid, at some point in this process the language starts to change. And then one day it happens.
What is “it”? Well, that I can’t tell you because it is different for every hoop community. It might start out as simple as minor bickering over music played at the weekly hoop jam and grow into more than that. Or, a newer member within the community decides they want to start a business or begin teaching or creating a community of their own. Or, crash, two leaders within the tribe have a major falling out, leaving everyone else wondering where to pick up the pieces without getting glass in their hands. While it’s inevitable that conflict will come because we are human and it seems to be in our nature, often this change in our community is misperceived. What some might view as a problem is often an unavoidable growing pain. In communities “it” is the first stage of community growth.
Twenty years ago when I read M. Scott Peck’s book “The Different Drum: Community Making and Peace”, the first line in the Introduction had me sold. “In and through community lies the salvation of the world.” Big stuff right? Peck spells out four stages of community growth, while other experts (generally stemming from Peck’s original work) tend to spread them into five. Let’s see how they all work together.
Stage One: Pseudocommunity/The Waiting Place
The group has reached the end of it’s blissed out stage, but people aren’t quite ready to tell each other what’s what either. There may even be a feeling that things aren’t quite right, but members can’t readily put their finger on what the issue is yet. Matters that were once clear now seem muddied. People are often looking for someone to make the decisions for them. Divisiveness can be high. The big dynamic keeping this stage alive is conflict avoidance. Individual differences start to surface also stirring the pot. Once these differences are not just acknowledged, but encouraged, then the group will naturally move into the next stage. We are reminded often that, a true community is conflict-resolving, not avoiding.
Stage Two: Chaos
As chaos enters frustrations, annoyance and differences are finally being vented. It becomes literally chaotic as people try to heal and persuade through their own personal experiences. It’s the classic, “Well that happened to me one time and this is what worked…”, only hearing it from each person with equal fierce conviction that their way is THE way tends to only make things worse. Once the negative emotions flood and eventually fall away, the differences can be better sorted out. There is no more facade that things are “perfect” as in stage one. Guards are let down, people can see the real you, deep into your beautiful dirty, roots. And that is where the healthy growth truly begins.
Stage Three: Emptiness
This is probably the most difficult step in building community. In order to leave and rise above all that is Chaos, members must be willing to look at themselves deeply and leave behind that which prevents real communication. Biases, prejudices, the need for power and control, ego, the need for self-validation, superiority, all the major hang-ups that we have in life need to be discarded in order to embrace empathy, openness to vulnerability, attention, and deep trust. This does not mean that we do not have an opinion or share it. But when we do, we do it with thought and regard for others in the group. Our opinions are well thought out and versed, rather than just thrown in on a whim of emotion. This step is not only a step of transcendence for the community, but a huge place of self-growth for the individual.
Stage Four: True Community
I’ll repeat here what I said in the first stage: A true community is conflict-resolving, not conflict avoiding. Being a true community does not mean it’s all wine and roses from here on out. What it does mean is that all the hard work you’ve put in getting here makes it worth that much more. Through learning how to trust, communicate openly and authentically, express empathy, and let go of hinderances people are more able to relate to each other. There is understanding where there was once just difference. When communications get heated (and they will), they don’t turn sour, motives aren’t questioned, they are just worked thorough in time.
Hooping can just be hooping. It does not have to include a group or a community. Hey, some of us like to hoop alone and there is nothing wrong with some solitude! For many hoopers out there, however, hooping is also a place that community naturally falls into place. It can be reassuring to know that hoop community growing pains are just part of the process, and rather than getting too caught up in them, to remind ourselves of what we can do. We can love ourselves and love our community even through its awkward stage. We can be authentically ourselves and share our truth while empathically loving those around us. We can step up to the plate and be a part of the solution, rather than the problem. And we can keep right on spinning.
Authorial note: In addition to being part of the larger and her own local Hoop Community, the author spent substantial time in the mid-90′s living and working in intentional community. She has been through these stages and is witness to their effectiveness in both intentional communities as well as small group retreat settings.
Bonnie MacDougall of HavenHoopDance has been in the spin since 2002. She’s an Assistant Editor here at Hooping.org and she lives in Detroit, Michigan, USA, with her two boys. When she’s not dancing madly with her kids, she sells custom made hoops and teaches local and regional hoop dance classes and workshops.