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Review of On Creating A Community
in Utopian Studies Volume 6, No. 2 1995
sutopia@ymslvma.umsl.edu
 On Creating A Community: A guide for Organizations, Personal Productivity, and International Peace.
by William Polowniak, Ph.D.

Cardiff-by-the Sea, CA: Quantum Publications, 1994 xxx + 262 pp. Paperback $14.95 Hardcover $23.95

William Polowniak is an engaging author. His warmth, humanity, and professional savvy shine through on every page. The tone of the text and sources of his references indicate that this book is directed to people interested in building community, especially “New-Agers,” and to colleagues in humanistic psychology, rather than the traditional academic psychologist. The text provides three kinds of information: general material on the development of community in groups, practical “how-to” tips for fostering this development, and case studies drawn largely from the author’s own professional experience.
The general information is framed by Trust Level Theory, or High Trust Theory, developed and popularized by Polowniak’s mentor, psychologist Jack Gibb (now deceased), and extended and refined by Polowniak. Trust Level Theory maintains that the development of Trust is crucial to the development of community. Therefore, one builds community by building trust.
Trust can be fostered in small group work or large group work through various exercises described in the “how-to” information. The exercises are carried out by using the “five hidden keys” outlined by Polowniak as a five step process recommended to convenors. In the first step, each participant works alone in meditation, contemplation or silence; in steps 2-4, participants work in dyads, small subgroups and the total group; in the final step they share their feelings about their experiences in steps 1-4, meeting as a whole group in a full community meeting (117). Typically, the group experiences stages in development toward community, which Polowniak summarizes as “formation . . . , euphoria . . . , maintenance, and . . . death or transformation” (62). However, although these stages occur, Polowniak is much more concerned with community?building as a process than he is with community?building as a series of labeled stages. He  views trust?building as a process, which he describes as a movement away from fear?creating behaviors, such as reinforcing “control and hierarchy,” and toward trust?creating behaviors, such as encouraging or allowing “organic flow” (33). Seven major fear?creating and trust?creating behaviors are listed in Table 1 (33). Much of the general information and “how?to” suggestions are developed against the backdrop of the information in this table; information and exercises alike are devoted to moving group behavior and behavior in relationships away from fear, toward trust.
A refreshingly different point of view emerges in his discussion of “unproductive leadership behavior” (183). In addition to behaviors one would expect to see so defined, e.g., behaviors stemming from unresolved neuroses or ego needs in the leader, Polowniak lists several that would not normally be considered unproductive based on over 35 years of expereicne in hundreds of community?building groups. Some examples he outlines are: “facilitating . . . . Help is not helpful. Doing guided imagery . .  . clutter[s] the experience with distractions. Analyzing and diagnosis. It is best just to ‘be with’ each other. Lecturing . . . is a colossal waste of time” (187-188). He also has an original point of view on evaluation: “Evaluation alone can do more harm than anything else to reduce the productivity and sabotage community” (157).
The personal experiences Polowniak shares with readers on building community are written so as to vividly convey what it is like to work with both small and large groups in this effort. For instance, he discusses the “vacuum law of productivity” (91)— “doing nothing consciously, deliberately and responsibly— on purpose and on target” (92). Polowniak has developed his “vacuum law of productivity” with colleagues and friends from his years of experiences with groups.  Describing his efforts to apply it in one of his classes on the psychology of management, after his first session he says, “The following seven sessions were probably the most boring I have ever endured as I allowed the vacuum of non-productivity to draw in the behavior of the group” (101), readers feel the tedium he went through. Likewise, when the experience is working well, flowing, transforming, his prose draws readers right in: “There was an excitement and enthusiasm. Prejudices were dropped. . . . Friendships formed, people bonded. Classmates who seemed rigid and tense began to touch and to hug. . . . Their productivity surpassed anything I could have dreamed of.” (101.
Another plus is the variety of practical experience the author has had. He discusses applications of Trust Level Theory in various settings: churches, schools, universities, corporations, nonprofit organizations, and, perhaps most grippingly, with the military in efforts to organize life?sustaining services to 100,000 Indochinese refugees at Camp Pendleton in Southern California after the Vietnam war. Also he discusses failed experiments as well as successful ones, and explains why he thinks both the failures and successes occurred as they did.
The author writes clearly throughout the book and he uses repetition to emphasize important points. The astute reader can recognize why repetition is essential in this kind of book. General information and “how?to information are repeated for emphasis, for example and a few case studies are repeated to support topics covered in different chapters.
I would like to have seen the author discuss a few points in more detail. Perhaps he will present this in another book. I would like to see more information on how trust is built in adverse environments; whether there are differences in developing and sustaining trust in short?term vs. long?term groups (and if so what they are); and the relation of the “leader?full” group to leadership in general. Certain answered questions would provide useful information, like these: “Can community be built in corporate environments if the top management is neutral or hostile toward it? If so, how?” “How can trust be fostered in any work environment that is structured so that the same people are both in competition with each other for raises and promotions and are expected to work cooperatively with each other (e.g., in project teams, where one might try community?building)?” “How does continuity  affect group trust? For instance, are groups that will come together only for a long retreat weekend qualitatively different in important ways from those that will endure for years, such as a residential intentional community? If so, how. If not, why?” “Do ‘leader?full’ groups really have no leaders? Or do they have an informal, flowing leadership that changes according to the task or existential situation of the group?”
I felt the virtues of the book far outweigh these unanswered questions and would recommend it to anyone interested in group work and in being part of happy health groups and relationships. It has many helpful practical pointers. To all those who want more community feeling in their lives and more trust in their social relationships, Polowniak has much to offer.


 
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