THE DIFFERENT DRUM Community Making and Peace By M. Scott Peck Simon and Schuster. 334 pp. $16.95
Having done well, or at least sold well, with "The Road Less Traveled," M. Scott Peck might have followed with "The Road More Traveled." He's on it with this new offering, in eight-lane enthusiasm for his expansive belief that "in and through community lies the salvation of the world. Nothing is more important."
Every beater of every world-saving drum starts with that. Then, after announcing that her or his drum is the unique one, a pair of prose drumsticks is found to pound the message into willing ears. It's Peck's pounding -- his enthusiasm of discovery -- that replaces the kind of reflectiveness and thought demanded by the subject. He's a salvationist selling certainties, not a thinker seeking elusives.
Peck, as an Army physician from 1963 to 1972 and then a psychiatrist in private practice until 1983, believes that "most of us have never had an experience of true community." He offers himself as an exception. His "first real taste of community" occurred in his Quaker high school near Greenwich Village in New York City. Peck had transferred from Phillips Exeter Academy, where "the pressures for social conformity were enormous." At the Quaker school, there were no cliques, no outcasts and "everyone was respected."
Peck's next community experience occurred in 1967, when he was one of 12 Army health specialists at a Marin County, Calif., weekend group therapy session. It was rare togetherness: "We were focusing on our interrelationships 75 percent of the time. There were major periods of depression, resentment, irritation, and even boredom during the experience. But these were interspersed with joy ... It was the joy of community ... Seeking joy in and of itself will not bring it to you. Do the work of creating community, and you will obtain it -- although never exactly according to your schedule. Joy is an uncapturable yet utterly predictable side effect of genuine community."
The third community was in Okinawa two years later. Peck, chief of psychiatric services for some 100,000 military personnel on the island, met weekly with a dozen health workers that the Army called "psychological technicians." In the Tech Group, Peck felt "camaraderie and creativity." The fourth experience was in 1972 under the direction of a psychiatrist during a 12-day "sensitivity group" exercise at the National Training Laboratories in Bethel, Maine. "Four times," Peck writes, "I had been a member of a group of different people who loved one another in a sustained fashion. It might never happen to me again. But I did have a dim sense that it could be a replicable phenomenon. And ever since knowing that a group of very different people loving one another was potentially repeatable, I have never been able to feel totally hopeless about the human condition."
Without doubt, Peck's four experiences were moments of emotional sharing. But were they long enough, or introspective enough, to give Peck the qualifications to explore -- with any kind of depth -- the meaning of community?
Regrettably, no. The regrets are for Peck's not pulling off in a book what he so earnestly and honestly is pulling for in life, the ideal that Dorothy Day wrote about: "We have all known the long loneliness and we have learned the only solution is love and that love comes with community." How, when and why it comes are mysteries that Peck is unable to penetrate. In recent years, he has been on the circuit conducting "scores of community-building workshops." It's to be wondered what such genuine communitarians as the Amish, Cistercians, Mennonites or Catholic Workers in their houses of hospitality think of a former Army psychiatrist darting about the landscape with that kind of gig. Unrootedness marks the approach of Peck. An authority on community ought to be someone who has led or been part of a bonded group.
None of this is to mock the efforts of Peck, only to question his qualifications for advancing himself as either a theorist or practitioner of creating communities. The one prolonged examination of a community involves a monastic group, "the Order of St. Aloysius." It reads well, except the order is fictitious. Peck cooks it up as a composite. No live reporting is done.
As an experienced psychotherapist, Peck is credible when he examines the national soul and finds it empty. Where once the United States had a "healthy pride of identity," a "sense of arrogant superiority" now marks our nationalism. As an example, he cites the "certainty of our own government that it knows what is best for Nicaragua." In another area, he argues persuasively that "one of the more bizarre aspects of our American culture is that we somehow expect and think that career military people are proponents of peace." The former Army physician writes: "To expect a career military person to want peace and not war is to expect that person to be a saint."
On American culture and behavior, Peck is valuable and needed as an iconic voice. On the subject of community, though, he is a dabbler. Others -- Dorothy Day, Peter Kropotkin, St. Benedict, Teresa of Avila, Gandhi -- wrote lucidly and powerfully about community. Their writing came out of their living.
The reviewer writes a syndicated column for The Washington Post Writers Group.