Defining A Community’s Developmental Paths

Stages of Community Development

This article will have many stages that have exactly the same organization. The article will have review of theories of human developmental stages. Then it will discuss our stages one at a time. Each stage will be defined first. Then the tasks to be accomplished at that stage will be discussed. Then the resources needed at that stage will be discussed. That will be followed by an historical example that illustrates that stage in history.

There are several renditions of how groups or communities move through various developmental stages. Most of these have five stages that have a great deal in common with Freud’s stages of human development. The most quoted article in psychology circles is Shepard and Bennis (1959). In business management theory there are the famous terms forming, storming, norming, and performing.

We are less circumspect about the origins of our theory. We are borrowing most of our theory structure from Erik Erikson (1950). We believe this is permissible because of the system’s theory concept “Synomorphy.” Synomorphy means that what is lawful at one level of a system is lawful at all other levels. If Erikson’s stages make sense at the individual level then they can/should also make sense for a community’s life span.

We make two additions to Erikson’s eight stages of development. One is “conception.” Erikson doesn’t mention the formation and development of the neonate, but that is a dramatic and important part of human development. Nor does Erikson mention the stage after death. In a community, after the community had disintegrated, the remaining disparate parts are required to move through the experience of “termination.”

The Ten Developmental Stages

As mentioned earlier we have added two stages to Erikson’s original eight. We have also renamed some of the stages to make them more applicable to communities. Our terms for each stage are: (1) conception; (2) contracting; (3) authority; (4) evaluation; (5) accountability; (6) communion; (7) mission; (8) generativity; (9) integrity; and (10) termination.

A theory of community development should do two things: first it should respect that development is not necessarily linear. Here for the sake of clarity we talk about development as if it moves from one stage to the next, but that is not necessarily true. Although we might conjecture that healthy development moves linearly from one stage to the next, with each stage building on the strengths and skills discovered in the previous stage. Fate, however, plays in any developmental process. Death (or what we call termination) can come next to birth (or what we call conception). Civil War can pull the mature community that had been busily engaged in the productive mission stage (or what is our stage seven) backwards into what we think of as stage three, the authority stage. This is the stage that most resembles adolescent rebellion.

Perhaps we can get away considering our stages as a path if we imagine that path to be a circle and our circle has internal paths connecting all of the stages. But for simplicity’s sake we will describe the stages linearly and number them stages 1-10.

The second thing that a theory of community development should accomplish is that is should be able to describe the community’s functions, mood institutions and philosophy. In each stage these community elements should be different. They should reflect the developmental stage in which they exist. To this end we will first define the stage, then we will describe that particular stage’s emotion, religion, government, expectations, economy and its particular philosophical tension. This last element is a nod to Erikson. He titled each of his stages with a polarity. His first stage was titled Basic Trust versus Basic Mistrust. His second was titled Autonomy versus Shame and Doubt. To Erikson the polarity represented the individual organisms emerging critical periods versus structure of social institutions. For Erikson humans and society developed together. “Each successive stage and crisis has a special relationship to one of the basic elements of society, and this for the simple reason that the human life cycle and man’s institutions have developed together” (p. 250).

Our goal then is to adequately define each stage of community development and to predict its institutional and philosophical correlates. The reader will have to judge the extent to which our goals were accomplished. To us this chapter feels as if we have written a high school term paper. There are some good ideas here. There is an organized outline that we use to discuss them, but we have only begun to scratch the surface of what this might become. We will be satisfied just to get the discussion started with the beginning of a useful theoretical template.

Each stage presents the community with certain tasks that must be accomplished, challenges that must be met, and ordeals that must be survived in order to proceed to the next stage. To meet these challenges a community needs different sets of assets and skills to manage the different challenges that each stage presents.

To discover what these challenges were once again we turned to individual psychological theory. Freud talked about defenses that people create to protect themselves from anxiety. And the by-product of these defenses was that they imprisoned us away from our authentic selves. To be healthy, Freud contended, we must overcome these defenses.

From these assumptions analytic psychology has developed a set of defenses that therapists can help their patients identify. These defenses have been eloquently collected and described by Nancy McWilliams (1994). We do not agree with the Freudian theory of defenses against anxiety and imprisonment presented above. Rather we would suggest that what Freud and others call defenses are really natural developmental tasks or challenges that must be passed along the human developmental journey.

However, just because we may disagree with what to call these things (i.e., “challenges” or “defenses”) we do appreciate the richness of McWilliams collection and description of these what we will choose to call developmental tasks. It is from McWilliams that we gathered most of our list of developmental challenges. We parceled these tasks among the various stages where appropriate and we added a few of our own.

In our discussion at each stage we also offer a set of resources that a community needs to cope with the developmental tasks at each stage. We call these “coping resources.” These come from our common sense that the reader may consider nonsense and uncommon.

At the conclusion of each stage we will describe a period in American or world history that represents that stage.

In each stage we will describe the particular stage expression of these dimensions.

Stage One, Conception Defined

The first stage is conception. This stage represents the expulsion of a seed that by itself cannot become life. The seed of an idea hits a nurturing vessel that carries the seed. Then the idea begins to gather resources, light, air, water and the seed and its vessel join in an explosion that creates exponential growth. This, in a community, is a very exciting time. It precedes birth, but it includes the dangerous profound and exciting part of giving birth. In a community this is the stage where yearning meets vision and vision begins replicating itself in the minds of others, until the vision has a critical mass and can begin life free from the protection of a womb. This stage includes passion, desire, hunger and yearning.

There is the introduction of the idea of an “us,” a group that we can join. There is a searching for similarities, for bonding principles that people share.

Roles begin to emerge. One role at this stage is that of the initiator, salesperson, or seducer.The person who plays this role advocates being together. Another role is receptive but reluctant audience or willing participant. This role provides the resistance that creates the exciting tension in the formation of the community. This is the role of the member to be persuaded. The shared energy feels good and excitement compounds upon excitement and suddenly all parties begin to jump into water over their heads. At this moment there seems to be no limits to the possibilities.

When we are in stage one we come together with intense longing. We are hungry for something and we don’t know exactly what. We have needs that we have ignored or long postponed. We want things to change. We want a revolution in their life. We have been struggling alone for our identities as separate beings. What we are longing for now is a new merger – a connection beyond ourselves. We are willing to risk developing a new role in a community. We are staking out new interpersonal territory.

Consider a budding business. People are wanting to do something different with their work life, but they know their strengths do not compensate for all their weaknesses. So they look for people who can do what they can’t. The longing is the same. The hunger and empty feelings are the same. The arena is business. Suddenly, we believe we have found a fit, someone to fill the hole, to satisfy our longing. Inhibitions are dropped for what seems like no reason except that they just are. It’s mystical. Logic does not apply. Logic is replaced by hope. In this stage members are growing, learning quickly. Their shared discoveries are exciting. They have found in others people they can talk to, people who at long last understand and care. The fit feels right. Membership and belonging bring security and calm to members.

For this member will take risks. To hell with what others think. Here members leave their past affiliations. If it is a business community, members have found people to share a vision with. For this vision, they will risk it, leave their jobs, and take little or no pay until the venture becomes productive. The first stage is exciting and frightening. The risk reward ratio is high here. The work involves developing trust and moving through the remaining stages holding on to as much of the passion as possible. Passion is stage one’s most important product. The community will be using stage one’s passion and stage one’s memories throughout the remaining stages.

Stage One Thinking

Each stage has a certain way of addressing intellectual thought. In stage one the cortex is not often used. Thinking tends toward the magical. Logic is suspended and replaced by hope. Members believe their longing has found its satisfying source. Often a charismatic leader brings members together. Thinking is confined to two categories “them” and “us.” This thinking helps clarify boundaries. People tend to think that the leader knows.

Stage One Emotion

In each stage there is one dominant emotion. In stage one that emotion is desire/excitement. Here desire seems to overwhelm logic. Our hearts control our behavior. We compete to prove our worth. All this because we want with a capital W. We are intensely aware of what we want and less aware of what others want. Our strong desires encourage risk-taking.

Stage One Religion

Each stage has a certain way of expressing its faith. In stage one we use magic and superstition to try to explain our powerful emotions. We justify our risky joining behavior by believing that we have found a communal home and that together we are “destiny.” “We are meant to be.” We invest ordinary things and events with magical meanings. Community symbols emerge. Colors or flags or uniforms define “us.” These things become powerful symbols of community and security. They serve the same purpose as our pacifier once served or our blankie or our teddy bear. We pull them out to look at them to remind us we are a part of something and that we rest in the security of our community.

Stage One Government

In each stage a certain form of government emerges. The dominant monkey rules in stage one. This is not necessarily the man. Imagine the childhood game rock/paper/scissors. A rock smashes scissors; a paper covers a rock and scissors cut paper. Just as in that game, beauty and feminine charm often tops strength. In stage one there is very little competition for power. The power belongs to the visionary. In this stage there is too much passion to discuss something and take a vote. Here dominance is clearly established and accepted.

Stage One Expectations

Each stage creates a certain set of expectations for what is coming in the community’s future. In stage one along with magical thinking comes unrealistic expectations that we can have what we want. We believe life’s conflicts are over; that we will live happily ever after. We believe this community will be a perfect fit for us; that “somewhere there’s a place for us.” We expect for life to be easier now that we have found our place where we will belong.

Stage One Economy

In our discussion of a community’s economy we succumb to the temptation of seeing the community’s economics evolution through the history of the expansion of the medium of exchange from barter to banking. Of course as psychologists we are primarily interested in social trading. In stage one the exchanges are limited to face-to-face exchanges. This is a barter economy. There are of course, quid pro quos, but because most of them are physical and easily understood, the exchanges do not require much trust. In this stage there is usually a great deal of time spent together or time spent striving to be together. There is little outside competition for member’s attention. Therefore a barter economy is sufficient.

The social economy is limited to consensus trading (McMillan, 1997). This means that people joining the community reinforce what each other believes and thinks. For example, members may join because they all like the same music (e.g., the symphony guild) or because they believe that Jesus Christ is their personal savior and the only way to heaven (e.g., the Baptist church). The social trade is I will reinforce your reality as you reinforce mine and together we will promote the same world view. This protects “us” from the challenge of differences.

Stage One Philosophical Tension

In each stage there is a polar philosophical tension represented by two opposing positions. In this initial stage there are two opposing questions: (1) should I join? Or (2) should I protect my independence? Of course, it is stupid to join and believe that you will find happiness. This requires the suspension of doubt. But the desire is so strong that passion easily convinces the intellect with the help of magical thoughts. Once the decision to join is made the relationship moves on to the second stage.

Developmental Tasks at Stage One

Each stage has its own set of developmental challenges. If these challenges are met the community is healthy prepared to move on to the next stage. There are three major temptations at this stage that must be faced overcome or avoided. They are: (1) splitting; (2) intellectualization; (3) hedonistic narcissism.


In the beginning the community tends to see he world in two categories “good for us” or “bad for us.” People are seen as “on our side” or “against us.” At this stage to be community often idealizes those who join and demonizes those who refuse.

When members fail the community in some way the temptation is to scapegoat that member rather than to see the mistake as a collective one.

Succumbing to splitting will create a simplistic community mythology that will eventually demonize every member, because every member will eventually make some mistake. Splitting will cut the community off from people with resources that the community needs. But because these people decided not to join, the community may refuse to trade with them.

If the community does not see reality with a third category that creates shades of gray (or even new color) then the community will not be able to manage the world and life as it is, complex and beyond categorizing into one polarity.

Using the Heart and Head Together

McWilliams term for this defense is called “intellectualization.” Sometimes a community can be tested and challenged beyond its limits. When that happens the community looks for ways to avoid being overwhelmed by feelings. Cutting off feelings by engaging cognition is one way that a community has of protecting itself from frightening feelings. In such instances the only information given and received in a community have to do with facts, ideas, explanations and theory, not feelings.

Emotions are the spiritual energy that bonds people together. If a community turns them off then the juice that attracts people is gone. The community becomes dry, boring and without passion. At the conception stage passion is a community’s primary resource. The task here is to use the heart and head together.

Hedonistic Narcissism

In McWilliams’s world this is called the defense of “sexualization.” A community in the first stage tempts members to join because it will be fun, gratifying in some way. If a community advertises only its benefits without explaining the sacrifices required to join it will attract people expecting to receive and they will not be prepared to give back.

If people join to get and not to give, the community will have very little emotional depth. Soon everyone will feel exploited and used, but not cared for or known beyond the surface.

The primary task here is to inspire people to make sacrifices for the common good; to find rewards in doing what they collectively agree is the right thing to do; to make it clear that joining is not the path of least resistance, but it can be, in the end, the path that leads to honor, justice and integrity.

Resources Needed at Stage One

To meet the developmental challenges at each stage there are a set of resources that will be especially helpful. There are six resources that a community needs at the conception stage. They are: (1) shared yearning, (2) members readiness for adventure, (3) imagination to share a vision, (4) willingness to suspend doubt, (5) a projection of acceptance and belonging and (6) the ability to merge.

Shared Yearning

At stage one people need to bring to each other a shared yearning for something beyond what they can have alone. They need to speak together about the empty space they feel inside, the hunger and the unmet needs. The strength of this shared yearning is the basic ingredient to the glue that will create the bond at stage one. At later stages shared history will replace this yearning somewhat, but at the conception stage this shared passion for what might be, but isn’t yet is profoundly powerful.

Readiness for Adventure

Potential members must be ready to jump on the collective ship, to leave their past lives behind. A community invites its potential members to a new way of being and thinking. If the member becomes a part of the community something must be let go of in order to join. This may mean not having time for some old activities or friends or family. It may mean letting go of old sources of security. This is both frightening and exciting. For some it is difficult. For others it is easy to cross the threshold of membership without completely knowing what to expect.

Imagination to Share a Vision

At the conception stage there is no entity to point to and say that’s what or who the community is. There is only a vision of what could be. This means that people must be able to see in their minds eye what might be possible if they work together. Unless people can see this vision they won’t be able to join because they won’t have any clear sense of what it is that they are joining.

Willingness to Suspend Doubt

A community at this stage needs “true believers.” These are people who have the capacity to suspend their doubts and have faith that transcends reason. At this conception stage the community isn’t yet. In order to create it together, they must believe that it can be created. When the inevitable opposition comes and reasons for why it can’t be done are presented, members need to answer with faith that it can. Since no one can predict the future accurately all the time, those starting a community must put doubts aside and take a leap of faith forward together.

Projection of Acceptance and Belonging

Part of the leap of faith is that people believe that they will be accepted by fellow members. There is no reason to believe that they won’t be rejected. Therefore members need to conjure their confidence and project on to others the belief that they will be liked and that they will belong. Fear of rejection will destroy initial bonding at this stage. There is no history to use to counter this fear at conception. At this stage all members have to fight fear with is what courage they can generate to believe.

The Ability to Merge

For a community to work, members must have the skill to accommodate others, to conform to the specific needs and demands that members have of each other. This requires tolerance and the ability to sacrifice their own desires for the good of the whole. People must be able to give up the desire for complete autonomy. Members must understand that everyone has to give up some part of themselves to create a community.

If members don’t have this skill, coming together will create tension and angry explosions. A community cannot survive unless there is give and take among its members.

The Conception Stage in History

In United States history there are clear examples of the conception stage. The vision came form John Locke and John Calvin, Rousseau and others. These ideas began to grow and ferment in the American colonies when England tried to tax the colonies without giving them representation in the vote. The conception language which created the explosive growth of the notion of a new nation was “Taxation without representation is tyranny.” This idea was repeated over and over in the Federalist Papers.

Shots were fired. The rebellion of the British Colonies gathered strength. Then in 1776 the Declaration of Independence was signed and a nation was born. The United States emerged from the conception stage into the contracting stage.

Stage Two, Contracting Defined

The second stage is called contracting. In this stage a community defines itself. The excitement of stage one is replaced by caution. This is the “Oh my God what I have done” stage. All members at this stage are frightened that they may not understand what they have gotten into. Here the community sits down and makes clear the obligations, duties, rewards and benefits of membership. Members begin to read the fine print of belonging. They smile and appear happy to be on the team, but inside they are trying to figure out how this community works and what belonging is really going to cost them.

In this stage the yearning that was such a powerful part of conception meets the reality of the limits of the resources available. Members are beginning to see that they are part of something different than they imagined. This is as true of the original visionaries as it is of a new member. In this stage fate, and the environment meet the vision and the vision must change to become real. When the vision changes to accommodate the possible then everybody must sit and define what the community is. Mission statements are written or spoken. By-laws are created or re-examined. The vision is put into words that become precedents for the future.

This structure is created to contain members urge to flee. As members begin to see that the community is not what they imagined they have buyers remorse. Members’ doubts and fears are kept private. Behind their smiling faces they wonder what they have committed to. In stage two, contracting, the members make clear what the community is and is not.

Members observe how they are treated in this clarifying stage. If their fears are not addressed, if they are taken for granted, they will leave the community. The community, as it becomes real and concrete, must find roles for its members. Members must feel these roles respect their skills and desires or this will become another reason to leave.

Stage Two Thinking

The magical thinking of stage one is fragile. It is now giving way to doubt and second thoughts. The passion is wearing off, but is certainly not gone and we don’t want to lose it by voicing our doubts. Yet, we can’t seem to push the doubts out of our mind. We wonder what is below the initial vision of our community. What is beyond the words? The ideas are interesting, but we can’t help wondering how they might use them against or for us? In stage three you will find out. In stage two it is difficult enough to think these heretical thoughts, yet alone express them.

Stage Two Emotion

Fear is the major emotion. Anytime we are thinking a thought that is not politically correct or that we know is dangerous. We are afraid. We jumped in the water at stage one. In stage two we wonder if we shouldn’t have stepped in carefully one foot at a time. We are afraid we might drown. We try to cover our fear with a smile. We don’t want to lose a good thing if that is what we have, but we don’t want to be consumed by a force we cannot control. Fear and doubt are our constant companions in stage two.

Balance is stage two’s most important product. The questioning of our relationship to the community hopefully transfers the power role to people who can execute not just imagine. This transfer of power can create a better balance of power. This balance of power is important for the conflict at stage three.

Stage Two Religion

The question here is to figure out what pieces of the magic of stage one is real. It was in this stage of the development of civilization that the Jews consolidated the gods into one and decided that the only god worth worshipping was a god that did not require human sacrifices. Hopefully in stage two we discover that the symbols that should nurture our relationships represent values of respect, compassion and forgiveness. This is the time to identify false magic and to hold on to what is true and eternal.

Stage Two Government

Members begin to understand that dominance or the will of the stronger party as the governing force can destroy a relationship. There is a wish for law to rule rather than person. It was at this stage that civilization invented primogeniture so that power transitions did not destroy the clan. There is still not enough structure at this stage for a democracy or for a government that allows power to be invested in principles, values, and norms rather than persons, but the relationship is taking steps in that direction. Perhaps the dominant position has shifted once or twice and the community has learned something from the pain of these power shifts when power belonged to persons rather than principles.

Stage Two Expectations

The clear expectations of stage one are breaking down, as are the clear lines of dichotomous thoughts of “in” or “out.” Now you are not sure what to expect. Questions emerge here and that is as it should be. They will be answered in the contests that come. You see that you can’t have your cake and eat it too as you thought in stage one. You are beginning to understand that the relationship will require sacrifice, but you have no idea how much. What in stage one seemed so certain, no longer does.

Stage Two Economy

Here there is the beginning’s of a medium of exchange. The issue in stage two is trust. As the community demonstrates the strength to entertain doubt and contain ambiguity, trust emerges. The more trust the easier it is to invest value in a symbol, like the coin of the realm. Trust and the economic symbols represented by a medium of exchange builds trade which engenders more trust. In the American frontier this is when fur and whiskey were used as mediums of exchange.

The social trading of consensual trading continues on the surface at the stage. Below the surface doubts and questions are forming. Differences are emerging but are not discussed. In stage three these differences will become either obstacles or resources, but at this stage these differences are like Tulips in February. They are beginning to surface, but they are difficult to notice.

Stage Two Philosophical Tension

The philosophical tension at this stage is even more basic than in stage one where the question was “in” or “out.” That question remains but it is based on the answer to another question: Do I have enough reason to trust or do I have sufficient reason not to trust? In stage two, the doubting stage, the pendulum swings between trust and mistrust. If there is enough reason to trust, we move on to stage three where we test our decision once again. In the next stage the test will be in behavior not in internal conversations with one’s self.

Developmental Tasks at Stage Two: Contracting

There are three developmental tasks at stage two: (1) Keep the communication flow open (2) people speak desires (3) working past pretense.

Keep the Communication Flow Open

McWilliams calls this task “the defense of repression.” We call it the task of openness. There is a tendency for a community to “kill” or punish or at the very least ignore the bearer of bad news. Given the euphoria that is part of stage one it is easy for a community of “true believers” to push aside feelings that they don’t want to feel or information that would force a change in the original vision or plan.

A community survives on accurate information and courageous discussions of feelings. Dissent is a burden that a healthy community bears gladly.

Speak Desires

This task is the converse of McWilliams “sublimation defense.” Because stage two requires members to cope with a great deal of ambiguity until they figure out how the community works, members often do not speak out what they want. In this stage they wait and look for a place where they can express their desires.

Often they do not find the right time at this stage to express what they want. If members don’t add the energy of their desires into the community mix of desires, then they push their energy into resentments and passive aggressive behavior that can sabotage themselves and the community.

Working Past Pretense

McWilliams uses the term “dissociation” where we use the term pretense. At stage two members are not sure what is happening around them. So they smile and nod and appear to understand and give assent where actually they don’t. This may be necessary behavior at stage two because members aren’t sure of the community rules and norms.

Before the community can move on to the next stage “going along to get along” must stop. Members must figure out what is happening, stop pretending and honestly express their feelings and opinions.

Resources Needed at Stage Two:

These are: (1) curiosity (2) willingness to obey the rules (3) secure confident members and (4) patience.


Members need to be open to learning new ways of doing things. It’s like learning how to dance with a new dance partner. Both people need to be curious about how they will dance together. As the community begins to define itself and as members begin to learn the community’s structure, the curiosity and openness pays off both for the member and the community. Learning the community’s norms gives the community competent members and it give members a way to use the community’s social infrastructure to meet their needs.

Willingness to Obey the Rules

The Magna Carta required that King John know and obey the law. This made no man above the law. It is much easier to follow the rules if the rules apply equally to everybody. Not all communities have consistent rules and they suffer when they don’t. But a community won’t survive unless it has an authority structure to which members are willing to submit.

At this stage the community is still forming and defining its rules and roles. Members must be willing to cooperate with whatever structure emerges at this stage.

Secure Confident Members

This is an asset that is valuable at every stage, but it is especially valuable in the contracting stage. For members to merge together they must have flexible ways of thinking and acting while at the same time having a clear sense of self. This is the definition of true self-confidence. People who are both strong and flexible can accommodate as well as assert. If members are only flexible then their commitment soon becomes hollow. If members are rigidly strong they will break like glass under pressure. But if members are strong like a steel wire that bends and has integrity that brings it back to where it was, then the community members will be able to merge together and make room for the integrity of each member. At stage two where the community’s concrete is setting members’ flexible strength is especially helpful.


Probably more than at any other stage contracting requires patience. The community at this stage seems chaotic, mostly because so much is unknown. If members can be patient and yet at the same time express their opinions and feelings then the norms and rules that emerge will include their needs and accommodate those of others.

The Contracting Stage in History

The United States struggled to complete its birth. The revolution required courage and sacrifice for an ideal of a new way of life. The birth of this nation required a nurturing midwife in France, but the main work was done by the collective mothers, the thirteen states and their leaders. The contracting stage was perhaps this country’s finest moment. First the Articles of Confederation were drawn, but these were too loose to hold a country together. Then the constitutional convention was held in (1789). The framers of the constitution defined a model document supplemented by the Bill of Rights. The product of the work of this nation at this time in its history was arguably the best social contract ever written between a community and its people. The creation of the U.S. Constitution and the Bill of Rights was the end of the stage two contracting for the United States.

Stage Three, Authority Defined

Stage three is the authority stage. In stage two group norms are established. The rules of the game are defined. Stage three is where the structure created in stage two is tested. The gloves come off. The pretense of stage two is dropped. Stage two was the flight stage. Stage three is the fight stage. This is the stage of power struggles. Boundaries are crossed to determine whether or not they are real. Various roles are created and assigned. The lines of authority are drawn and challenged. Here we discover where the power lies in the community and how the community makes decisions.

Community members challenge each other and they challenge the person perceived to be in charge. Ways of resolving disputes emerge from these challenges. A working governance structure that can make decisions is tested and clarified. The question of who is in charge is answered along with the determination of a clear process of decision-making.

The rules learned at stage two are broken. The contract is renegotiated. There is a fight for autonomy and power that can destroy a community’s infrastructure. The false smiles in stage two are gone and members go for the jugular. The task at this stage is to learn from the conflicts. The conflict demonstrates the flaws of the plan defined in stage two. In stage three the community must create a decision making process that works. It must protect and change that process while empowering its members. This decision making process should be able to take in new information and with it create a decision that will be followed by the collective. Hopefully a system of justice comes from the work at this stage. Members need to know where they have power. This question needs to be answered here.

Stage Three Thinking

Imagine couples in the first three stages walking on the beach together. In stage one they would be clinging to each other talking about how much they have discovered that they have in common. Stage two couples would be close, holding hands, less talkative, but available and interested. Stage three couples would be arguing. They would not be holding hands. They might be gesturing and would occasionally be embarrassed by their sharp tones and loud voices. They would be arguing about the ways they are different, wondering why the other won’t change to be more like them. Most of the time our thoughts at this stage concern conflicts. How do I get what I want? Where can I make the decision? How do we settle this argument so that we don’t have it again? What should I say next that will win the argument? This is the stage where law and order begins. Conflict over the authority position teaches the couple that values, norms and principles should rule over persons. This is the beginning of a civil society. Warlords give way to governments. Cowboys give way to sheriffs.

Stage Three Emotion

What else, but anger? Well there is also fear when one stages one and two have failed to create a balanced, equal power base. If the power base creates equality all members are angry trying to find their place of authority. The fight for dominance leads them to the fight for transcendent values. Conflict and fighting inevitably use anger as the dominant emotion.

By now we know that we are not going to get what we expected in stage one. We are trying to fight to keep as much of the dream as we can. Each person wants the others to change. They are both disappointed and angry. If the anger transcends person and proceeds to fighting for values then stage three will produce community growth.

Stage Three Religion

In this stage laws emerge from faith. The only way to sustain a civilization or a relationship is for laws rather than persons to govern behavior. This was the stage where the Ten Commandments emerged from Judaism. In English history this is where King John signed the Magna Carta.

If a relationship is to cease having constant conflicts when differences are discovered, norms must emerge. Faith helps bring peace through law and the discovery of principles and values that transcend the relationship. Faith allows all competitors to save face and gives them an opportunity to serve something beyond their own interests.

Stage Three Government

Finally we can talk about the point of this stage. It is government. In stage one the point was feeling. In stage two it was thinking. In stage three the point is to discover decision-making tools that help us keep the peace. These tools are part of good government. They are rules that members can serve without losing any dignity, rules that serve the community, its children and its societal context. The discovery of laws of governing our behavior helps us know what to expect of one another. It helps us negotiate differences. With laws differences become tolerated. As the community progresses through the next two stages, differences become resources rather than impediments. Stage three creates civil order.

Stage Three Expectations

The magical thinking, that “happily ever after,” that came from stage one, is gone. It is replaced by the recognition that one should expect conflict. Differences, in reality, are what brought us together. We got together because one of us had a line and the other a pole. Together we could provide for our community. We should expect differences and we must have ways to deal with these differences. We cannot expect to be alike or even compatible without the help of a transcendent authority, an authority that serves the community as it serves individuals. We should expect to be challenged by the relationship to live within standards that require loyalty to one another and to laws, norms, rules and principles that govern us. The more of these there are the more we know what to expect. The clearer our expectations the better we can dance together and integrate our differences, attach our lines to our poles and catch a fish.

Stage Three Economy

In stage three we are no longer tentative. We are revolting. Conflict tests the community. Reality replaces pretense. We are no longer living in our dreams worlds. Expectations are becoming reality based. Real trust is emerging from conflict. Real exchanges are taking place.

No real trades happen when both people have the same things. Trade only comes with people with different things. Even though it is rough, real trade is happening. In civilization this is when gold and silver become a universal medium of exchange. With a universal medium of exchange there could be universal trade that was not dependent on having the exact thing I want from you when you have the exact thing I want. We can use gold to delay our gratification until you have something I want. Law becomes the basis of our ability to trust that delay of gratification is possible and gratification delayed will come. The medium of exchange is becoming more convenient as trust builds.

In this stage the differences have emerged. The community must deal with them. They can be used in what McMillan (1997) calls Complementary trades. Essentially this means integrating differenced with each member contributing their unique skills and perspectives to the advantage of the community. This is “you can sing and I can play the piano. Let me accompany you as you sing.” Together then with consensual trades the whole becomes more than the sum of its parts. In stage three the differences have emerged, but they are viewed more as obstacles then as resources.

Stage Three Philosophical Tension

Here the tension is between whether to blame the other or carry the shame yourself. The reason that this tension between blame and shame exists is because in this stage it has become clear that the original goals and expectations will not be met. Members have failed to reach their ambitions. With this as a given what do they do? Most of them defend themselves first by blaming the community or another member. After sometime of each blaming the other it becomes clear blame will not solve their problems. When the blame question becomes irrelevant transcendent laws can emerge. Decision making processes can be put into place given the respectful assumption that differences will always exist.

This cannot happen so long intellectual weapons of blame are sought and fired. Constructive decisions can only come when power creates mutual respect and mutual respect transforms into mutually agreed transcendent principles. Otherwise there is no solution.

Developmental Tasks at Stage Three: The Authority Stage

There are four tasks that need to be accomplished at the authority stage. They are: (1) Valuing truth (2) Fighting corruption (3) Encouraging personal accountability (4) Valuing the deviant.

Valuing Truth

This task covers the same ground as McWilliams “denial defense.” It has much in common with the stage two task of keeping the flow of communication open. They overlap but they are not exactly the same thing. In stage three fighting is natural and healthy (through painful and dangerous). Members must be encouraged to come out in the open with their feelings. Test their ideas in the fray. The community’s strengths will be discovered in the contest.

It is easy for members to become numb in the face of adversaries. This should not happen. Numbness at this stage will only make the community lose sight of its members and their strengths. Although members want to win and dominance is a member’s goal at this stage, the community is watching looking for what members do well and where they can contribute in the community. The community needs for everybody to speak out, compete and participate.

Fighting Corruption

This is what McWilliams calls “the defense of undoing.” At this stage members can desire dominance so much that they may lie or cheat. And when caught members may try to bribe their way out the natural consequences. If they are effective they weaken the community as a whole. The sorting out process that is the essential work of stage three and also the remaining stages becomes compromised by corruption. It is essential for the community’s well being that the contests go on and that their processes be protected from corruption. The whole community benefits when the playing field is level and rules are enforced fairly.

Valuing the Deviant

In this stage there will appear to be winners and losers. It is easy to value the winner and punish the loser. The winner may have represented the current strength that the community needed at that time. But at some other time the community may need the skills and the resources of the member who lost in one particular contest. It is important that we celebrate all contestants. It is their collective energy that brings out the best in the champion. Community champions cannot discover their strengths without contests and adversaries.

People and ideas that are out of favor at one time will likely be needed at others. A community’s strength can be judged by how it treats its members who are on the community’s margins.

Resources Needed at Stage Three: Authority

There are five important resources needed at the authority stage. They are: (1) passion, (2) empathy, (3) dedication, and (4) respect for one’s adversary.


Perhaps passion is the most important resource to the authority stage. In order to participate in the various contests for power and community roles, members must bring their passion to the struggle. Passion will inspire their best effort. Passion will help members expose their true feelings. Passion gives the contest a sense of importance and a level of intensity that makes the contest meaningful and important to the participants and the community as the audience. Without passion a contest has no honor and no heart.


Though the combatants are often to blinded by their passion to consider the feelings of others, the community needs to have empathy and compassion for those who did not win, especially for those who were hurt or wounded in the contest.

The nurture function is especially important to a community at the authority stage. So many people can be hurt here. If they aren’t cared for and cared about they could leave the community or band together as a rival community (see the story of Robin Hood).


The contests at this stage could easily degenerate into contests of persons, not a contest for the community. If winners use their strength only for the good of themselves and not as a resource to the whole, then the community becomes the resource of that person.

However, if the winners are dedicated to the community good and are willing to serve principle over person then the contest serves to strengthen the whole community. This dedication requires all combatants, winners and losers, to submit to the community’s rules and principles. This is civilian control of the military.

Respect for One’s Adversary

This is the concept of the worthy opponent. A contest is created by two masters of a skill who each ask the other to test them. The test discovers their strengths and weaknesses. It creates information that they can use to improve themselves. The better a member’s opponent the better she will become. Because of this contest and her opponent, a member will have more to offer the community.

This value is in sharp contrast to the tendency to demonize or humiliate an adversary, choosing to make them an enemy rather than giving them the respect of a worthy opponent.

The Authority Stage in History

The conflict between the states over slavery and human dignity was precisely a stage three event. The question was where did the power reside, in the individual states or in the Union. In 1865 the Civil War ended and this question was resolved. It was clear where power resided and how the United States, as one nation indivisible, would make its collective decisions.

Stage Four, Evaluation Defined

The evaluation stage is stage four. This stage and stage five, the accountability stage, overlap a great deal. It can be difficult to tease them apart. In these two stages the community is deciding whether or not to disband after all the struggle of stage three. In stage four the question is: Now that the community has defined itself and has a system for making decisions, designating roles and assigning power, now that members know how this community works and where each member stands in it, is it worth it to continue?

This is the first question that must be answered in the evaluation stage. The first three sessions taught the community a great deal. Two of the things learned in the first three stages are one, that things are not at all as members imagined them in the beginning and two, making this community work is going to require a great deal of sacrifice. At stage four members will wonder if they will get their time, effort and money’s worth? Given what hard work it will take to keep the community going, do they want to continue as members?

Here members withdraw to lick their wounds from the battles fought in stage three. The fight for dominance has been fought. There are real winners and losers. It is time to reflect on what members have in belonging to their community. What have they learned through all this pain and hard work? Do they have enough excitement for the reality, given that the fantasy is now gone? Even though the community is not what members thought it would be in beginning, has the work that the members have contributed created a feeling of attachment? Has the work created a new collective wisdom that will provide the skills and resources to be successful as a community within the now possible? And is “the now possible” going to be rewarding enough for the community to stay together?

Yes, will be the answer if members can depersonalize behavior. This means that members need to be mature adults, rather than blaming adolescents saying it is not my fault. Problems need to be solved as a collective by the community rather than through personality conflicts.

Conflicts need to be seen in systems terms. This is a difficult perspective to sell to members. If members can see their community in these terms, the community can see different actors playing different roles advocating for different important community values. Conflicts arise from healthy tension among value roles. Conflicts considered from this perspective do not cause so much harm. It is not about a person.

Members must evaluate whether their commitment contain their disappointment. Is it acceptable to members that they cannot have their way? Does the community offer members enough to compensate for the loss of what they had hoped for? Can members contain their impulses to injure others? If members can answer these questions with a “yes,” then this is the beginning of a working community.

Stage Four Thinking

In a civilization this is when institutions are formed. In American history this was after the Civil War. In the American west, when the Civil War was over, this was when the schools and churches were built, when the land became safe for women and children. The rule of law had clearly been established. Power comes from law, not people’s desire. Trade partnerships are now based on reality not dreams and projections. There is real order and that order is worth sacrificing some things for. Goodwill is emerging again after all that conflict. Transcendent principles are begetting more transcendent principles. We are moving toward democracy and one person one vote, but we are not there yet. So much has happened in stage three. This is a time for reflection and for digesting what we learned from the passion and profound conflicts that were part of that stage.

Stage Four Emotion

Sadness is the most intelligent human emotion. Members need their best sense as they reflect on and learn from the conflicts of stage three. As we grieve the losses of our stage one dreams, sadness is our dominant feeling. Grieving and letting go of those old dreams is the work at this stage. Sadness is what we feel the most of at this stage. Luckily sadness eventually bores us and after we have used its good sense to evaluate what we learned from stage three, we move on to the next stage.

Stage Four Religion

In the history of civilization this is when law, God and nation merged. This is when the Jews became God’s chosen people. In Roman history it is when Caesar became a God. In English history it is when Henry the Eighth became head of the church.

The point here is to put metaphysics in its place. Magical thinking won’t work for us. We have real work that we cannot expect magic to create. The Jews, the Romans, and the English, had nations to build and these nations needed to come before the clerics, rulers before the prophets, the emperors before the priests, the king before the pope. Our God must serve our community just as our community must serve our God.

Of course we can see the seeds planted here for the demise of these empires and even in the dissolution of our communities if they do not successfully negotiate the work at the remaining stages.

In this stage we begin to see the introduction of psychological dynamics. In the Bible this is where the story of Esau and Isaac introduces the construct of sibling rivalry and competition. Also in the Bible this is where Joseph successfully resolves his sibling rivalry with strength, forgiveness, compassion and discovery of the unconscious when Joseph gained his power by interpreting the Pharaoh’s dreams.

In this stage communities must use their faith to serve the community. They must be patient and understanding of their partner. They must use their faith to stop the blame and shame. To do this they must understand and have compassion for themselves and their mates. This requires a deeper more communal faith than the faith they have had before. This faith must help them process the sadness that comes from their failure to have their stage one dreams come to fruition.

Stage Four Government

The government at this stage is most likely to be a delegated oligarchy. Communities are moving toward democracy and decentralized power. There are particular areas of expertise. These areas are in place while norms continue to be built, rules that each party can use to argue their position, but for now until more laws and social norms are created, a negotiated peace through delegated authority arenas will have to do.

Stage Four Expectations

In this stage norms are emerging. The more norms that emerge the stronger the trust. As norms emerge the areas of individual dominance decrease and the easier decision making becomes. We can now expect that sacrifices for the community will reward us. Our investment in a relationship infrastructure improves our quality of life. Now we do not have to pretend to keep the peace. Goodwill can grow on the basis of the truth. Kindness can re-emerge, without us fearing abuse or exploitation.

Stage Four Economy

In a civilization this stage is where a nation state backs a currency. Gold is no longer the medium of exchange. There is enough trust in the nation state to use minted coins as a medium of exchange.

In a community trades are being based on truth not on exchanges of dream making. The possible and probable are what we use to bargain with. This increases goodwill and trust. Though we may not be happy with reality, we know members are loyal to their community and what it has to give them. Their loyalty is battle tested. The greater their trust, the more they can trade. In the remaining stages the goodwill that grows will only increase the frequency of our trade. In this stage we now have trade it all its human social varieties.

In social trading members are now shopping among the differences. They are imagining a complementary trade. They are evaluating whether or not they can integrate other members differences with theirs. Oh they know that a fit can be forced. Stage three proved that, but can a fit be enjoyed? Can one member appreciate the differences that another member brings? Can they together become more than they were separately? In stage four these are the questions being asked. The focus is on the differences beyond each member, that surrounds them. Can they use them? Or will they be overwhelmed by them?

Stage Four Philosophical Tension

The temptation to blame remains. The question here is whether to regress backwards into blame and into the conflicts of stage three or move forward by acting constructively, building norms and an infrastructure for decision-making. Member’s egos remain fragile. The battles have wounded them. Members can be so confused at this stage that they will not know whether blame bombs will heal us or whether they have the strength to forgive and move on. Are we strong enough to look honestly at ourselves and wonder what it would be like for anyone to be our partner? This question is the beginning of the next stage, accountability.

Developmental Tasks at Stage Four: Evaluation

There are three tasks to be accomplished at the evaluation stage. They are: (1) stay engaged, (2) promote individuality, and (3) assertiveness.

Stay Engaged

After the struggle of the authority stage it is natural for members to withdraw and lick their wounds and replenish their strength and resources. It is tempting to withdraw so far from the community’s center and to become so self-focused that members lose their sense of community. It is important for a community to stay connected to its members as they naturally withdraw to evaluate what they learned at the previous stage. McWilliams calls this the defense of infantilized withdrawal (look up)

Promote Individuality

This idea is what McWilliams termed “the defense of identification.” When the authority stage is over there is a tendency of members to mimic or to conform to the standards of the winners. This is a natural part of the evaluation stage and in some ways a healthy response to stage three because the things the winner did worked. But not everything the winner did had an impact on the victory. The uniqueness of each member need to be protected because someday the community may need their unique talents.


This is basically the same notion as McWilliams “the reversal defense.” After the conflicts of the authority stage some members are so caught in their compassion for others that they resist challenging these wounded in stage three. They spend so much energy nurturing and being careful to protect that they stop asserting themselves. They do not express their ideas, needs or desires. They don’t want to muddy the water for fear that more painful struggle will ensue.

This can become patronizing and disrespectful to the people they are trying to protect. It certainly takes a great deal of interest and excitement away from the community. The community needs to be sure that nurturing doesn’t snuff of the community’s fire and passion by encouraging all members to assert themselves.

Resources Needed at Stage Four: Evaluation

There are three resources needed at the evaluation stage. They are: (1) sanctuary, (2) compassion, and (3) investment.


Members are not ready to quit the community yet, but they are thinking about it. Even the winners of the community contests have the same question: Is all this worth it? The contests of stage three have left everyone exhausted. Members need a safe place and enough time in their retreat to answer the stage four questions. For a time the contests need to stop. Peace, quiet and reflection are needed here.


Members who lost the stage three contests are especially prone to leave the community at this stage four. They wonder if they have anything to contribute and if they do, they wonder if the community appreciates what they have to offer.

The community needs to offer them compassion and appreciation for the hard work they expanded that did not reward them with a prize. These members need understanding and encouragement to practice, rest and return with new ideas of roles they can play.


Those who lost the contest for the dominant roles have a great deal to offer the community. The community needs to invest time, energy, space and resources to these members so that they can discover the strengths they have that can create new important community roles.

The Evaluation Stage in History

What is the value of being a collective was asked two times after the Civil War. The occasions for these questions were two economic depressions. The depression of the 1890’s was finally resolved by World War I and the depression of 1929 wasn’t resolved until the end of World War II.

The Southern part of the United State was in a severe depression after the Civil War. The rest of the country joined the depression in 1890. The economic boom of resources and trade that came from the expansion of the United States from Sea to Sea was over by 1890, as was the first stage of the Industrial revolution. The railroad transportation infrastructure was complete. It would be years before the radio and electronic phase of the industrial revolution began. With the economic wounds of the Civil War came the question of: Can the people really come together other than by force? Alvin York, a farm boy from Tennessee, symbolized the thousands of Southern Americans that joined the army in the Spanish American War and then again in World War I to fight a common enemy. With World War I the evaluation stage was complete.

Stage Five, Accountability Defined

If these evaluations questions are answered in the affirmative then the community enters stage five, accountability. So the community, from the work at stage four, sees that it can exist. Members have learned from the evaluation stage that they have to play their roles and work together. Members want it to continue because they still see promise and hope for something of value, but can they really do it? Can they return? After examining themselves, can members answer that they have what it takes to play their collective roles responsibly?

Members have learned that they have a working authority structure that can contain destructive impulses and achieve resolution of disputes. They can trust their community to get things done. Members had hoped that the community could make them happy. After evaluating the realities members know what the community can and cannot do for them. Members are willing to give up their illusions of dominance and have accepted that they have a role with limits.

In this stage members are still reflecting. In stage four the question to the members was: is it worth it to remain? In stage five the question that members must answer is: can they hold up their end? Can they, without making excuses or blaming someone else, do their job? Members now are clear that the community will not become heaven on earth. It will not fix everything for anybody. Belonging does not entitle them much as it burdens them. If the community is going to give something to its members it is up to each member to work for it. It won’t just come along magically with the status of membership. If its not working for members then they know that they are responsible to make if work for them. It won’t be given to them. They are the ones that must grow and change. Their community is not a womb.

In this stage members learn that it is their job to find happiness in the community. Members must have the strength to take care of themselves, meet their own needs and still have something left over to give to their community. In stage five members stop blaming others and find the courage to require sacrifice from themselves. If the answer to the stage five questions from most of the members is “yes I can take care of myself and still I have something of value to contribute to the community,” then the community moves on to stage six.

Stage Five Thinking

In this stage thinking about blame is seen by members as a lost cause. There is no power in becoming or being a victim. Here the goal for members is to be responsible to contribute to the community, at least, do their part and understand and forgive fellow members. In this stage compassion is introduced. As members wonder what it must be like for others to work with them in the community, members begin to see that it might not be easy for their fellows. As they tell the truth about themselves they understand admit that working with them may be difficult. When members admit this they are adding compassion to accountability. At this point members are becoming responsible compassionate contributors to their community.

Stage Five Emotion

Shame is the most socially responsible emotion. Shame is the basis of love. We are naturally ashamed if we injure someone we love. Because we care we want to be accountable, to right the wrong, to reweave the fabric of the relationship we have torn.

We all make mistakes. We all hurt the people we love. A community that doesn’t have the capacity to reweave tears will have no real fabric. Shame is the basis of accountability.

When shame is pushed on members by others, who use disgust to make them feel shame, and when shame surprises members, they naturally defend against it. When this happens shame is toxic. But when members intentionally approach shame and choose shame as their path to accountability, then shame teaches and challenges and expands member’s hearts. Members find the best of themselves in stage five. They are humble, responsible and accountable. If there is one stage where community members are lovable and should be proud of themselves, it is here.

Stage Five Religion

In stage five we put in place the foundation for redemption inside a community’s faith. It begins with the concept of confession of sin. Members acknowledge to fellow members that they have screwed up and fallen short of a community standard. They are not sure that we can meet that standard. Member’s confess that the thing that is wrong with the relationship is them. They are sorry. In response to their confession they do not promise perfection but they do promise to do better. They are not sure our better will be good enough.

Here members offer their shoulders as big enough to carry the blame and take the ego blow. When blame is taken out of the community in this way the community is free to work together instead of working to find fault. Here is one of those places where it is easy to see that the development of a relationship parallels and requires the development of individual members. This sets the stage for the redemption and grace that are part of the next stage.

Stage Five Government

In stage five members are ready for representative government. They do not expect to be entitled. They understand it is not “what your country can do for you, but what you can do for your country.” They are ready to bear the burden of citizenship in their community. Members are ready to respect that other members have a right to vote and influence the community just as they do. Members are ready for “one person, one vote” government.

Stage Five Expectations

In the first two or three stages members thought the function of the community was to serve them. Members felt entitled. In this stage members’ entitlement skin has been shed for the skin of competence, mastery of the self and accountability. Members no longer expect to be taken care of by their community. They expect to use accountability to avoid the victim role and to achieve mastery over themselves. Members expect to take care of themselves and to have enough left over to have something to contribute to the community. Members expect to continue to grow and learn by being responsible for themselves, their feelings and their behavior.

Stage Five Economy

Here we have an economy that can build wealth. This is the economy of paper money. The gold standard is not required. As both people are responsible and accountable, our currency can stand alone for value. In this economy of accountability, collaboration is rewarded. Failure is learned from. What is learned from failure is the basis of the next risk members take together. Because members freely give their taxes to their community members can build their community’s infrastructure. Governments build roads, train rails, schools and medical facilities. Communities build the infrastructure for their work. The community life has an effective structure to contain and direct energy and conflict. A community is ready to work.

In the social economy the focus continues to be on the question of whether or not complementary trades can be made. Rather than being external members as in stage four, in stage five members looks at themselves. They have discussed valuable resources in the differences that others possess. They are wondering whether or not they have any skills and resources that they can use in a complementary trade.

Stage Five Philosophical Tension

The tension here is between the concepts of responsibility vs. incompetence. The question is: will members give up and use the passive defense of “I’m not good enough so I quit” or “you should fire me?” Or will members use the fact that they are not good enough as a challenge to get better? Will the community exploit members confession of inadequacy, use it against them by saying, “Yeah you are right. It is all your fault?” Or will the other members join in the introspection, confession, and accountability?

If the relationship can do the heavy lifting ego work at this stage, it will reap the brief but wonderful rewards at stage six.

Developmental Tasks at Stage Five: Accountability

There are three tasks that must be accomplished at stage five. They are: (1) return from the retreat, (2) encourage accountability and (3) no excuses.

Return from the Retreat

McWilliams uses the terms “the defense of isolation” for this developmental task. Return from retreat or isolation/detachment has a great deal in common with the task we call stay engaged or what McWilliams also calls infantile withdrawal. There is a difference. In stage four we recognized that some detachment was necessary for evaluation to take place. We just did not want the detachment to become a disconnect. Here the task is to return to the community with the wisdom learned at stage four. The wisdom learned from the evaluation stage becomes clear in stage five. And that wisdom is that members are responsible for their own happiness. They must meet their own needs. The community’s purpose was never primarily to please them. In stage four members figured out that they could survive without the community if they wanted to. It is a risk to return from this evaluation stage and try to contribute to the whole. Their contribution may be rejected. Some members will be tempted not to return. The job at stage five is to take the risk, come back, and try again with the insight that they don’t need to be rescued, and they don’t have to blame others. They return from their sanctuary with this vision of being accountable for one’s self and see if that new insight might make a difference.

Encouraging Accountability

(I don’t know what McWilliams calls this. Someone will have to look it up, but I think it is projection of blame). In the stress of contests that are part of the authority stage, shame can be quite painful. Stress can create mistakes. Facing mistakes and learning from them is one of the most important resources of a community. When members blame others for their mistakes they don’t get to learn from what happened. The pain of shame is the tuition paid for wisdom. When the community is the audience, both the member who made the mistake and the community, have a learning opportunity. It should not be wasted. A community should honor and reward members who have the courage to walk into the pain of the shame that comes from caring when one fails.

No Excuses

McWilliams uses another term to describe this task. She calls it the defense of rationalization. To avoid being accountable, community members are tempted to use their considerable cognitive skills to build walls that protect them from blame. Benjamin Franklin is quoted by McWilliams as saying “so convenient a thing it is to be a reasonable creature, since it enables one to find or make a reason to do everything one has a mind to do.”

Members can use their rationalizations to build intellectual walls that protect their isolation. At this stage it is their job to see through their walls and to return responsibly to the community work.

Resources Needed at Stage Five: Accountability

There are three resources that a community needs to cope with the challenges of the accountability stage. They are: (1) good ears, (2) courage, and (3) strength.

Good Ears

The community must listen to its members at every stage, but especially at this stage. Ears that hear and understand the feelings and needs of members will provide a bridge that will help members emerge from the retreat of the previous stage. Though caring and understanding can’t solve problems for others, it can create a climate where people can take care of themselves.


It is difficult to return from an evaluation retreat. It is easy to hold on to the victim role and blame others and demand a rescue that will never come, thus justifying one’s staying away. To give up blaming others, to give up the role of the persecuted, and see that it is each member’s job to be responsible to care for themselves, takes courage. This courage is particularly needed at stage five, the accountability stage.


To return a member must have something to bring back. Members must believe in their strength. They must have the confidence that they can take care of themselves and have enough energy, time, and money left over to give to the community.

The Accountability Stage in History

After the depression of 1929 there were many demagogues who promised to use the government to help the common man. The government created work projects to employ the masses. Huey Long and Father Coglin tried to win power by making promises to use the government to end poverty. Citizens were frightened and wanted the government to rescue them. But spending money that taxes couldn’t support did not seem to be a real answer.

Hitler and Japan gave the United States its answer to the questions of self-doubt that are part of stage five. Americans could no longer afford to look to the government to rescue them. Every citizen had to pitch in to help fight the war. Feeling sorry for themselves was no longer an option for United States citizens. Each citizen had a sacrifice to make. Women left home and went to work; young men and many women joined the army. Industry had tanks planes and guns to make. Every citizen felt the duty to buy war bonds to support the war effort. Women, who were not working, knitted bandages for the wounded. President Kennedy summarized the lessons learned from this time in the famous quote from his 1961 inaugural address: “It’s not what your country can do for you. It is what you can do for your country.” These words indicated that the United States had completed stage five.

Stage Six, Communion Defined

The communion stage never lasts long. It is a period of bliss and renewal. Many of the feelings of excitement and hope that were part of stage one are in the communion stage. The community has come of age. It is no longer petulant adolescent, blaming others, and feeling entitled or looking for a handout. Community members know their jobs and they are glad to do them. They are confident in the ability to take care of themselves and they have plenty left over to give others. The confidence and vision of the conception stage returns here.

Members have emotionally preserved through some difficult times. Their passion and spirit of Stage One has survived the buyer’s remorse of Stage Two, the rebellion of Stage Three, the dropping of the blame defense in Stage Four and the self-doubt of Stage Five. The spirit has re-emerged in Stage Six to discover a community where commitment is solid. Our fellow members can be trusted not to blame us when blame is not merited and to be accountable for their mistakes. Members emerge in Stage Six to find themselves stronger, smarter, better community members.

Members do not have to be so careful. Mistakes will be made, but mistakes will be forgiven. Because of this ability to forgive and learn from mistakes members can depend on each other. If members do not get what they need they can take care of themselves and members enjoy being needed.

The past is part of our legacy, not a resource for guilt and innocence. Old battles are over. The community knows how to heal member hurts.

There is a temptation to project unmet needs back onto the community at this stage, but members can quickly recover their strength and emotional balance. Members do not require entitlements.

In a business relationship, this would be the stage after the lawyers were out of the business, after the contracts were signed, after you fought over the decisions of exactly what the business would look like, where it would be, after you found your part of the capital and when the business began a cash flow and your first profit check was written. The real work has yet to be done, but you know you can do it together. Your commitment to the work ahead is solid now.

In marriage this stage often comes prior to the conception of a first planned pregnancy. The parties feel the marriage is strong enough to bear fruit. This confidence is empowering. There is great excitement about the conception project. The birth heralds a new beginning with new roles and new challenges in the context of a relationship that had some difficulties but offers much promise.

Stage Six Thinking

Power dominance and competition have given way to accountability, cooperation and collaboration. It is not about me anymore. It is about us. Blame/shame is not something members give to others. It is something members are strong enough to carry themselves. Member philosophy is to reflexively look for what they have to contribute rather than what do the community has that they can take. Now that members no longer expect magic, it sometimes happens. Members are not keeping score. Members want to give to others. They want to sacrifice because they enjoy contributing. Members are proud, when after they have taken responsibility for themselves they have something substantial to offer the community. As members take on their blame and responsibility and other members take on blame there is a sum now of over 100 percent. Our collective cup runneth over. It’s amazing.

Stage Six Emotion

It’s joy. Who would ever have thought that joy would resolve shame, but it does. Joy is the product of accountability just as mastery is the product of responsibility. As member’s competence grows, as they work on learning from their mistakes, members become proud that they can do this. They are proud that other members of their community can do this too. Joy comes not because members have achieved perfection, or their goal, or their destination. Joy comes because members have discovered how to grow and learn. Even though this process is painful and they feel the hurt of shame because of it, this process is a great improvement on the blaming, fighting, resentment and recriminations that can be a part of stage three. Members are happy to know that they are strong enough to handle reality and responsibility. Members are pleased with themselves that they have discovered the path of accountability that will lead them always toward improving their character and their soul.

Stage Six Religion

In stage five we implied that the community would discover something special in its faith at stage six. Confessing sins freely has created the foundation for redemption and grace. The basic requirement for experiencing redemption and grace is that members understand that they have not earned it and they do not deserve it. Otherwise how can members have meant their confession of sin and request forgiveness?

Redemption and grace come unexpectedly out of a life that expects nothing more than being responsible and accountable. If members keep up contributing their part, (mentioned in stage five) then accountability creates the setting for grace and forgiveness. Eventually grace and redemption will come to community members. As members work to be accountable suddenly the community may cross some magical threshold and members dance with their partners. They know how the other moves and the other member knows how they will move. They can take for granted their collaborative movements. Oh, what a joy to discover collaborative creativity and community harmony.

The problem is communities cannot take grace for granted. Sooner or later members will fall out of step. Members then must return to what they know will work and that is accountability and keeping score for themselves to be sure they contribute their part.

Stage Six Government

In this stage the government is strong enough to search for justice. Given that its citizens can obey the law and are accountable, the government has the luxury of fine-tuning. Laws can be adjusted so that they fit the community better. As time changes what is fair and equitable changes. This means that members need to change how they treat each other. Roles need adjusting. Assignments need re-negotiating. Precedents need to be changed to fit current circumstances.

At this stage justice is not used to make up for the past or to create special entitlements or new fiefdoms. Because the community treasures accountability, no special favor or treatment is being asked from the government. Rather members simply want the laws to help the community work so there is no undue burden on either party. Members are not expecting justice they are striving for justice.

Stage Six Expectations

Members do not expect to get it right the first time, but they do expect that they can grow and learn, practice and improve until they can get it right or achieve some acceptable approximation of right. Members expect to be responsible and accountable. They expect their work to support their commitment. Members expect their heart to support their work. They do not expect perfection of themselves. Members expect competence. They do not expect anything of their community, but that they carry most of their weight if they can and members expect to have enough to take care of the rest and ourselves. What a great feeling to have this belief.

Stage Six Economy

In this stage the community’s economy has discovered banking. Banking makes it possible to transform traders into entrepreneurs. It allows the combination of imagination, vision and informed risk to reap rewards. In stage five, accountability created the trust that would allow members to lend and to borrow knowing that the decision to lend would be rewarded with interest. Members now can borrow and expect to be held accountable for their debt. Members can ask for more than they deserve right now and other members will gladly give it to them, knowing that in the future they will be rewarded with interest.

In the context of accountability most of the time these loans will be repaid as specified. And when they are not all parties learn, grow and work until the debt is repaid and then they risk together again. In a nation such banking activity and risk taking creates wealth. In a community it creates an abundance of internal security and collaborative strength. The community will need all of this for the next stage.

The social trades in stage six are finally real complementary trades. In stage six there is a recognition that differences have been integrated. In this stage there is an acknowledgment and a celebration that the community is truly more than the sum of its parts. Our differences have become assets. Having done this now, the members have the confidence that they can do this kind of trading again. In stage seven they will have to.

Stage Six Philosophical Tension

The forces that must be balanced here are mutuality versus the self. The questions the members ask are: Am I really competent enough to take care of myself and have something left over to contribute to my community? Can I avoid the temptation to give first because I have discovered the joy of giving? Only if I continue to be responsible for myself will I continue to be a resource and deep well of strength for my community. The challenge at stage six is not to be seduced by the joy of giving so that members forget to take care of themselves. This is important because all their strength will be tested and exhausted in the next stage.

Developmental Tasks at Stage Six: Communion

Staying Grounded in the Lessons of the Past

At the communion stage there is one primary task with two parts. The primary task is to stay grounded in the lessons learned in stages four and five. The two parts are to resist the temptation to arrogance and to resist the temptation that the community will take care of all members’ needs. The first part requires humility and the second part requires accountability.

These two parts are connected. After stage five some members feel very confident that they can take care of themselves and have plenty left over to give to others. Often these folks see themselves in a star player role or as a person with an indispensable talent. This temptation to arrogance fits with the second part of staying grounded. Other members are so impressed by the newly discovered strengths and competencies of their fellow members that they develop the unrealistic notion that the community will take care of them. This leads them to regress to earlier stages when members saw in their community only the promise of nurturance and protection without seeing the burdens and requirements of duty and responsibility.

Resources Needed at Stage Six: Communion

There are three resources that a community needs at the communion stage. They are: (1) confidence, (2) celebration, and (3) reality tests.


A community needs for some of its members to have faith in the community. As members regroup to rediscover their community and themselves as members, they need to discover a collective confidence that the community is well. Their survival of the ordeals of the past, the creation of a community structure that has served them thus far should be remembered. The lessons learned should be collected. This history should inform the collective confidence at this stage.

The community must have confidence that its boundaries are secure, confidence that the pettiness of hatred, envy and jealousy that marked much of the community’s earlier development are no longer present. The community members need the confidence that they can delay their gratification. They have the faith that they will be fine even if they don’t get what they want when they want it. This faith and confidence provides the patience needed to collaborate and work together.


The community should celebrate making it this far. Games, ceremonies, art should be a product of this celebration time. The community should create symbols of their struggle, their successes and of the values learned from their history together. This requires a spirit of playfulness and creativity among the members. Celebrations require the confidence that the community is strong and at peace. The boundaries of the community are secure. It is safe to block off the streets, for example, and have a festival.

Reality Tests

The communion stage has a natural euphoria that is intoxicating. That is why this stage needs reality tests to remind members who they realistically are as individuals and who they are as a community. The community needs to remember the struggle that it took to get here and what great sacrifices were required. This helps the community stay grounded and humble, respecting the principles of duty and responsibility that helped the community get this far.

The Communion Stage in History

In the United States stage six began when the boys came home from war after World War II. But the bliss of the communion stage never lasts long. It ended with the start of the Korean War in 1950. Part of this stage was the passage of social security act. This act was one of a strong confident nation. Citizens knew that they had enough left over to provide a social net for the old and the infirm. This was a new era, a new day with war heroes who came home to participate and lead their government. And this was a proud, grateful nation that elected these men, who sacrificed so much, to positions of leadership and authority. Their strength was hard won and it was contagious. The United States felt invincible with a mission to share democracy with the world.

Stage Seven, Mission Defined

In families this is the raising children stage. The community is engaged in a shared mission that transcends personal interest. The mission gives each member of the community an important role. All members at this stage need to pay attention to the community’s news. Members attend to how fate treats their collective effort. They learn and grow together from their failures. And celebrate their successes together.

The mission provides a sense of purpose. It creates a routine and a structure that provides members with a variety of roles. Members feel needed. The mission doesn’t allow for any dilly-dallying around. It puts members to work where their skills are needed. If a member doesn’t have the skill for a task that member is relieved of that job and transferred to another where her skills fit the task. In this stage the magical spell of stage six is gone. The community is being tested and the test is so difficult that failure sometimes happens. In the mission stage failure does not mean defeat or the end. It means: “learn from it and get back up and try again” with the information gleaned from the failure.

No community mission is consistently a success. There will always be failures and crises. These events force community members to row together. Members have to trust each other. Tasks are delegated. One member covers the back of another. Each member’s strengths compensate for the weaknesses of another. The mission comes first. Members are proud to contribute.

The focus shifts from blame to helping members face life’s tragedies. As one member falls another member is there to help them up. Though things do not go as expected, thought he ship is leaking there is faith that mistakes can be learned from and community challenges can be met.

The mission changes everything. The mission’s burdens are sometimes overwhelming. The work done in previous stages has prepared the community and its members. The community must protect its spirit. Members must resist the urge to abandon ship. Members must contain their anger and their urges to blame. Members must learn from their mistakes, not take them personally and find ways to share pain and fatigue.

The demands of the mission create new roles for members. As the failures teach the community members grow their expertise and responsibilities. Members must support one another.

The mission can create a sense of purpose. It may provide generational continuity and a sense of community. The mission helps its members grow and develop sensitivity and compassion. The mission can inspire a new sense of responsibility to community members. As the mission’s journey unfolds, it creates memories that can inspire commitment to the community. The mission brings out the best in all community members.

Stage Seven Thinking

The theme of this stage is duty. The honeymoon of stage six is far behind. Members have work to do and bills to pay. It’s a good thing members can count on each other because there is much more to do here than any one person could ever do. Here there are no excuses. Consequences are no longer limited to one person. They extend onto others and into the mission. In this stage your mantra is duty and responsibility. A member’s joy is to be behind the plow and hit on all cylinders.

Stage Seven Emotion

At this stage members are confronting one unexpected event after another. Surprise leading to overwhelmed is the primary emotion at this stage. “What the___?” are words that continue to flow out of member’s mouths. Sometimes surprise is wonder. Sometimes it is awe. Sometimes it is startle and sometimes it is shock. All members know is they thought they were prepared, but they weren’t. It’s as if fate is the Joker character in a Batman movie and fate continually pops its head out from behind a building saying “surprise” as fate gives the community another unexpected bill to pay, child to rescue, partner to bailout, in-law in the hospital.

Stage Seven Religion

Here it becomes clear that faith must mean action. It is not just about what’s in member’s hearts and minds. Sometimes the spirit is empty and members still must sacrifice for the cause. And they do. And they do. And they do. And they must do, hoping that sometimes acting as if will make it so. And sometimes it does. And sometimes it takes a long time before it does. In this stage it is not about the talk. It’s about the walk. As members walk they discover strengths they did not know they had. As they walk together they learn things about their courage, good sense, and humor that they didn’t know before. They learn only what serving a mission greater than the self can teach them. The mission becomes an even richer learning experience because they are taking the same class together.

Stage Seven Government

In this stage members begin to identify with their government. As members take on responsible roles in their mission, they become the authority, the government. Members hold office. It is in this stage of individual development that people see the policeman as resource, rather than someone to avoid. In communities members have the responsibility and the burden of authority. It is not about fun. Members wear the black hat. They hire and fire and they know that power corrupts.

Because of this our communities creates checks and balances in its decision-making. Members appreciate it when their fellow members rein them in or pull them back from a potential mistake. Often communities will use three separate value positions to check and balance itself. One is whether or not it is good for the member. The other is whether or not it is good for the community, and the third is does it serve the mission. These values serve much like the three branches of government. The executive determines whether or not it is good for the moment. The legislature decides whether or not it is good for the nation as a whole. The judicial branch determines whether or not it is good for posterity by connecting community decisions to lines of precedent, projecting those lines into the future to see whether or not a law remains inside our constitutional values. In a healthy government and relationship at stage seven we are glad to be checked and balanced.

Stage Seven Expectations

A community can expect that its members will do what they promise to do. Members can be counted on. They accept their duty and keep their promises. Members can expect to protect each other. If members are not able to do what they say, they must have a good reason. Members must be able to be taken for granted and trust and take fellow members for granted.

Stage Seven Economy

In stage seven there are community corporations. Individuals invest in stock and own a company. The company can be sued but the stockholders cannot be held liable. This enables people to take risks without losing more than their investment. The invention of the corporation promoted investment and the creation of capital. Without this legal entity it would be difficult to raise money for airlines, schools, railroads, oil wells, automobile factories, hospitals, and other parts of our infrastructure.

For communities at stage seven members need to operate without fear of losing more than they invested. They can recover from a loss but not from being accountable for more than they have. This protection allows them to risk, fail and risk again. At stage seven the work is so constant and demanding that failure is inevitable. Members need the liability protection from each other. Forgiveness is always available. You won’t lose more than you put into it.

And if an investment is lost, a member can build back. This kind of taken for granted trust in one another allows the community to work, fail, recover, and build. It allows for a stock market and for symbolic wealth. Wealth is built on faith and risk. The community will need wealth for the remaining stages.

Social trading is stage seven is more complementary trading. Differences emerge in the mission stage. They are processed, evaluated and quickly put to work in a trade. In the mission stage there is little time and the community cannot afford to fight or to lose a valuable member. A place must be found. The community must use the working assumption that emerging differences provide information, perspective and resources that are needed.

Stage Seven Philosophical Tension

In stage seven the tension is between isolation and collaboration. Members are exhausted by their shared mission. They are tempted to quit. Members would love to leave the field. At the same time they feel the call of the mission and the joy of collaboration when it goes well. It is the thrill of paddling a canoe together through a level three rapid. Members want both of these things in stage seven. They want to rest and work together. The resolution of this tension will create a positive history of collaboration. This history will help in the next stage, the most psychologically challenging yet of all the stages.

Developmental Tasks at Stage Seven: Mission

There are two important tasks at the mission stage. The first is to stay focused on the mission. The second is to keep trying.

Stay Focused on the Mission

The mission is critical and dangerous for the community. Many battles are fought with the elements, with the environment and other communities. This is a collectively stressful time. It is easy to focus internally and look at what is wrong with the community itself instead of the community’s strengths and the critical tasks in front of the community. It is important to keep the community’s collective eye on the ball.

The reader might recognize this is a combination of two of McWilliams’s defenses, somatization and conversion.

Keep Trying

McWilliams calls this “the defense of turning against the self.” Others use the term “self-targeting.” In the mission stage failure and mistakes are inevitable. But this is not the time for shame and learning. This is a time for acting. Blaming members in the community or blaming the community, as a whole will only sap a community’s strength.

At this stage what happened and who did it is not as important as what do we do now. In this stage when there are times of quiet reflection and evaluation, they should be used for problem solving, not for blaming and indicting.

So when a mistake is made the task is to get up and face the mission and maintain the community’s best effort.

Resources Needed at Stage Seven: Mission

There are four resources needed at the mission stage. They are: (1) a collection of the strengths gained in the previous stage, (2) faith in the community, (3) stamina, and (4) down time.

Collection of Strengths

At stage six the community reflected on its work and what it achieved in previous stages. It had a shared vision, guiding principles, an authority structure, and committed and responsible members. The community will need all these things in the mission stage. The mission stage often contains a series of crises. The community needs all its assets and strengths available to manage its mission.


At the mission stage there are moments when there is no time to teach or explain. Members have to do their part and take for granted that others are doing theirs. This requires faith in fellow members, faith in the community’s leaders and faith in the whole community.


The tasks of focusing on the mission and keep trying require commitment and stamina. The community has to “keep on keeping on” if a mission is to be successful. Giving up is not an option. A community in this stage needs staying power.

Down Time

Having discussed stamina and staying power, it is essential that members have some relief and rest. They need to cover for one another to make room for vacations, time away from the mission. When possible, the community as a whole should take time off to relax and rest.

The Mission Stage in History

In United States history the mission stage began with the Korean War and continues to this day. The mission was to establish Pax Americana. The major world leaders prior to the United States were the British who created Pax Britanica until their empire collapsed. Prior to the English the most memorable dominant nation with such a mission was the Roman Empire, which established Pax Romana.

The mission of the United States was different from that of Rome or Britain. They were establishing colonies, giving the British citizen or the citizen of Rome more status than any other person. The mission of the United States was to empower people by sharing with other countries democratic principles and the meaning of human rights to create a world where all people are assumed to be created equal.

In this mission the primary adversary of the United States has been the Soviet Union. When the Berlin Wall fell the United States seemed to have accomplished its mission. The United States had lost wars in Korea and Vietnam but each time it learned something. It continued to believe in the basic principles of democracy and human dignity and the Soviet Regime collapsed in the face of its success.

The United States has much yet to accomplish. The United States wants to knock down trade barriers and empower the people of the world with the blessings of free trade and human rights. Hence it is still in the mission stage. Who knows how long this stage will last.

The more noble a community’s mission, the longer the mission stage will last. Centuries are likely to come and go before all people have basic human rights. As Americans we might hope that our country’s mission will remain this noble. From this point forward we will use English history and then perhaps Roman history to represent stages eight, nine and ten.

Stage Eight, Generativity Defined

In stage eight the community sees that the mission is accomplished. The original goal and its various amendments along the way has been reached. The reason for being together in the beginning is no longer. Here the jazz singer, Peggy Lee’s question is asked: “Is that all there is?” This can be a time of depression. The strong needs and yearnings of stage one are gone.

This is what happens to a corporation when its leaders declare that the business is mature. It means that it has accomplished the purpose of creating a structure that can meet the constant demand for its product. It also means that its stock price stops growing. If a new mission that involves growth and change doesn’t emerge the company changes from an exciting demanding environment to a cautious, conservative bureaucracy that aims at preserving rather than growing creating and becoming.

This is a time of collecting memories, telling stories and making art emerge from the past. The sense of urgency and importance has left. The community searches for a new reason to be that is consistent with its prior mission.

The answer comes to the community in the form of ideals that they were serving in the community’s old mission, the transcendent values that connected their sacrifice to universal good. When these values are discovered, a community at the generativity stage has found a sort of meta-mission. That mission is to pass along what was learned from their collective experience of conceiving, defining, fighting, reflecting, accounting, consolidating and working. Teaching and nurturing becomes more important than becoming, growing or acquiring. At this stage giving away power becomes the focus of a community’s energy, rather than gathering power.

This is what Gail Sheehy calls the sub-total stage. The final tally is not yet in sight, but the community can sense that there is an end over the horizon. With the mission accomplished there is not as much cohesiveness to hold the community together.

The community must find a new purpose that builds on its history. More work for the sake of power, dominance, wealth or notoriety seems shallow. In stage eight work must have meaning beyond building more.

The community had a purpose. It played an important role, but that purpose has been achieved and the old role is not there anymore. The community feels its age. Rules and norms are becoming stiff and antiquated with time. The community seems passé. Though members might not speak this out loud, they wonder if they have lost their effectiveness.

For the community to rally the troops at this stage there must be a good reason. The old reasons that appeal to members’ personal interests are hollow and will not inspire action. The reason must relate to transcendent values, to ideals that will outlast Camelot. If the community cannot find such a reason to be, it will disintegrate quickly.

Once a new transcendent goal is found and the community glue has been reset, members have particular tasks they need to do at this stage. They need to offer support to one another. At this stage members can easily be overcome by self-doubt, depression and despair. The community needs to be a safe place for renewal and acceptance. Members need to offer one another affirmation and respect. They need to believe in their community and in each other.

There is no place here for a defensive ego, or blaming. Aging has created enough shame and fear without our fellow members piling on more. Members need compassion and understanding from one another. Members need to cheer on one another. They need to brag on and recall memories of past achievements.

In addition to offering support members must be able to receive support.

Members are tempted to close down here and to rebuild old defenses. It is easier for members to close out others than it is to let others in at this stage. Members need the strength to accept help and support from fellow members.

The choice of a new mission that serves a transcendent human value makes all these tasks easier. Without such a transcendent organizing principle, there will be no wind in the community sails.

History has taught the community and its members that they have energy and passion. They have the capacity to define a community together. They have developed the skills needed to contain destructive impulses. They have put aside destructive blaming and they have collaborated effectively together. Surely their experience will count for something here, especially if the goal is to give power to other and bless human values.

Stage Eight Thinking

In this stage power is not what the community can build next. It is what the community can give away. Competition, building wealth, becoming powerful – that’s been done by this time. At this stage power does not come from strength or position or dominance. It comes from dignity. From the perspective in a community’s history, the object is to give, to contribute to something beyond itself and its members. It’s not about the mission anymore. It’s about sharing, discovering, values that transcend temporal existence. This stage is the opening salvo in task of facing mortality.

In a relationship this might be our first inkling that we may divorce. Or it could be when we realize that the death of, first one of us and then the other will end the relationship. Dominance issues of the past are beginning to seem irrelevant. In a community members have permission to leave or members can take comfort in the good the community is doing at this stage.

Stage Eight Emotion

The emotion we must face at this stage is disgust. Primarily it is disgust with community and the fact that it did not accomplish more. There is disgust that the community now seems irrelevant in the larger world. It feels as if the community has been marginalized. There is disgust with the world for passing the community by. Disgust can turn into bitterness. The community’s job at this stage is to move beyond our disgust and avoid the trap of bitterness. Members need to encourage and support one another. The mission does not create a need for them anymore and that has to become okay.

Stage Eight Religion

The task at stage eight is to spread the faith. In the Christian tradition this is where the apostles spread the gospel all over the Roman Empire. In the Jewish tradition it is where Jonah goes to Nineveh to spread the faith. In a relationship this is where the couple chooses a cause to champion, a charity to support, a value to represent. They can only do this if they have their dignity. A couple with a bad reputation at this age is lost. A community needs pride in its history here. Members need to help one another keep the faith on several levels.

Stage Eight Government

In this stage government has worked so well that a transition of power has occurred and our party or community is its way out. The community is a lame duck, a past president. The job of the community is to understand that the office has the power, not the community of the party. The task, here at stage eight, is to serve the office by leaving it. Letting go is the only way members can keep their dignity and our dignity is our greatest resource. With their dignity intact the community can rally around their core values and become the loyal opposition.

Stage Eight Expectations

At stage eight there are few expectations. The mission is over. The glue that was the mission has dissipated. The community may have no reason to be. At this stage a whole new set of relationships is negotiated. A new contract is made. The most that can be expected of community members is to have compassion for themselves and their mates.

Stage Eight Economy

In stage eight the community is not so interested in trading or building wealth. This is not the time for proving itself. This is the stage where the community gives its wealth away. The problem is that the community is not sure whether it has anything of value and it may not know where to give it. The community economy has worked well. It has supported the community through the mission. There is energy and time and talent left to give. The community wants to distribute it to those who need it and who might value what it has to give.

In stage eight a new form of social trading is introduced. This is what we call the generative trade. This is where one generation passes on its roles, assts and wisdom to another. These are a type of what McMillan (1997) calls transforming trades. Where complementary trades use and integrate differences they do not change the individual trading partners. A transforming trade passes a skill from one member to another or exchanges skills between members. If one person teaches another how to dance this is a transforming trade. The member who learned the new skill is now changed.

A generative trade passes the transformation from one generation to another. My Aunt Selma taught me how to make her angel food cake. That was a generative trade. In a community these trades must be made so that a succession of power can be achieved peacefully, so that a community’s history can inform its future.

Stage Eight Philosophical Tension

The argument that members have with themselves and in their community is whether letting go of old roles and the old mission means giving up. Do they stop trying to contribute and stagnate or do they keep trying to generate something useful to others. If members don’t choose generativity over stagnation they will be like a tree that drops its leaves in August and September and doesn’t get to discover their full colors in October and November.

Developmental Tasks at Stage Eight: Generativity

There is one primary task at this stage and that is to stay aware. This can be a painful empty stage. Sadness can be overwhelming. It is easy to protest that things are fine when in fact the community is overwhelmed with guilt or a sense of inadequacy. McWilliams describes this as the “defense of reaction formation.” This is what happens when someone offers compassion and concern to the community when it has obviously failed and the community spokesperson, in shock, denies the failure. At this stage there is a great deal to be in shock about. The mission is accomplished. The game is over. The community has no reason to be. This is supposed to be a happy time, but it is not. These sad feelings, if not denied, will lead the community to its next purpose. And that purpose is giving away power and wisdom. There is joy in giving away wisdom to the next generation, to the community that is just emerging with a similar, yet different mission. It is the task at this stage to work through the depression of “mission accomplished” to discover the joy of the mission of empowering others.


The Resources Needed at Stage Eight: Generativity

There are the resources needed at the generativity stage. These are: (1) transcendent values, (2) generosity, and (3) willingness to comfort and be comforted.

Transcendent Values

With the mission completed what is there left for a community to do? What is and what has always been a community’s most valuable resources? The answer is: its transcendent values. These are universal principles that helped guide the community through the various stages. It is in this stage that the community reflects on what made it successful. Collecting and passing on the community’s legacy of values to others is the work at the stage. It is important for a community to focus on these transcendent values here.


With the mission accomplished gathering, storing and protecting resources is not important. Rather the task now is to share, to give away resources and information to members, non-members and other communities that can use them. What is given away at this stage can become the seeds and wombs for other communities.

Willingness to Comfort and be Comforted

In families this is the empty nest time. Children have graduated and become independent. Focusing now on acquiring and on selfish desires feels foolish. A community feels a loss at this time. Comfort and compassion is needed, but members must allow others to give them comfort. Out of this sadness of this time will come a mutual desire to give, not to the community that does not need these gifts, but rather to people and communities that are part of the outside world who do.

The comfort given and received at this stage will provide the sustenance for the task of giving power, energy, things, time and wisdom to others.

Stage Nine, Authenticity Defined

In this stage the words “institutional change” are often heard in a large communities. This means the end is near. The corporation is being merged. The church doesn’t have quite enough income from members to pay a pastor and keep up the building. The band is touring for the last time. The actors know that this is near their play’s last performance.

In this stage it becomes clear what really matters. What matters are not the heroic acts that the community did or the money it made. It was the love and communion that was shared among its members and for those served by the community. The strength and vitality of the community may be gone, but its memories are not. These memories include triumphant stories, but they also include memories of seemingly insignificant tender gestures, memories of warm smiles, hands held, tears shared.

Community stories are told. It is not important that the fish was really only that big. In fact exaggeration to emphasize the importance of a value is important to this stage. Someone needs to write down these stories and protect the community’s history.

With what little time the community has the community wants to do something that expresses who they are and what they have been together. Pretense serves no purpose now. The real truth is the only interesting subject. Who has time for anything else? So what the hell! If this is to be the community’s last hoorah then why doesn’t the community do it the way they have really always wanted to do it?

Members say what they have always wanted to say. Leaders do small acts that demonstrate their humanity.

Since the end point for the collective’s time together is near and members no longer have to resist being swallowed up by the collective, the community can become closer. The community has no real authority to coerce behavior anymore. There is no one to blame. Each member owns his or her own integrity or despair. It is easy to hold on to what is left. No one will have to hold on too long.

The task of the community is to organize what it will leave behind. The question to be answered is what are we leaving behind and to whom? Stories are repeated and collected. The community designates where its treasures are to go. The most important treasure is the gift of the community’s authentic spirit. Here the community reflects on what that is and expresses it with its last gasp. How will the flag be surrendered? Who will pass the torch?

The community does not need a great deal of things, power or money at this stage. It needs some members to have a modicum of health and strength. It needs enough money to complete what tasks there are left to do. The community needs for members to work together to collect and preserve their history.

Members need to support one another here. They know one another’s imperfections and strengths and they can give and receive acceptance with knowledge, a precious gift to any member at this stage. Members bring with them the knowledge of their shared story. They can confirm one another’s view of reality. They can reflect on the changes they have witnessed together and note their contribution to these changes.

Tasks are no longer delegated to the most competent. If the tasks are not done perfectly, it does not matter. The community is no longer characterized by defined roles. Boundaries are less necessary and less clear. Everybody who can helps.

Perhaps the community’s most essential skill at this stage is a sense of humor. Humor acknowledges frailty without giving in to it. Humor keeps members in touch with reality and with the irony of their predicament. Facing the end with humor somehow lightens the tasks of the day. Laughter diffuses anger. It counters frustrations with a giggle and a smile. It restores connections and gives hope that together reality can be face. Rather than crying this their loss members laugh. Most of all humor undoes self-righteous blaming.

In this phase community members have the capacity for post-narcissistic love. It has the serenity to pass on its blessings and the perspective to defend its history. There is a willingness for members to forgive themselves and the past. These strengths can create an atmosphere of sweetness and a sense of well-being. Here there can be an inner harmony and balance that can only come with authenticity. The community at this stage can celebrate each member’s unique eccentricities. It can support members to live these out for as long as they can. Pretending and conforming is silly at this stage.

In previous stages dignity and shame mattered. In this stage they no longer matter. Nor does it matter what caused the end. The point is that the end is coming and the community must deal with that. Every end creates a beginning for those who survive. A new community can be born from the remains of the old. But as the community ends, the community honors itself by celebrating its true self and hoping that whatever rebirth happens with what a community leaves behind that the rebirth will include the authentic spirit of what the community was.

Stage Nine Thinking

Jay Leno has an old woman who comes on as a guest on his late night television show occasionally. He calls her the “fruitcake lady.” She plays for him the role of an old crone. What she does is tell the truth to young people who ask her questions. She is funny, interesting and wise. Her power comes from telling the truth. Truth is the source of power at stage nine. Power does not belong to a person. Power comes from the truth. At this stage our power comes from being ourselves, telling our story and joining our truth with universal Truth.

Stage Nine Emotion

There is not one dominant emotion here. There is an awareness that time is short. We are afraid of many things. We have regrets and we are sad. But mostly we are tired. We are aware of how much we need to rest and how precious our energy is. We can only do so much. We can’t be depended on for hard work. We know that we are preparing for one last letting go. It would be so difficult if we weren’t so tired, but we are.

Stage Nine Religion

In Christianity this is the end time, what some call “the Rapture.” This is what theologians call the “eschatological moment.” For relationships this is the time when we need our faith. Facing facts was important as we developed our strength and our skills. We needed to understand the reality of life in order to accomplish our mission. Our faith helped us do that at each stage. At this stage we need to face the reality of death. Here the facts of life do not help. Life is where we have been. It is not where we are going.

At this stage we resort back to the magical thinking of stage one. We build our faith ships that will help in our last passage with masts of imagination and visions of those who have gone before us. We collect our stories from our past. Those are the only things that may have a chance of going with us and surviving after we are gone. We weave universal transcendent Truth into our stories so that our stories become part of the eternal. These truths will serve as a bridge to the next part of our journey.

Stage Nine Government

Government. How silly a thing is government? Without the striving and without our narcissism and without a role to play in the game what do we care about decision-making. We have no influence over whether and when we are going to die and neither does the government. Death changes all our priorities at this stage. Here we are content to leave the real life decisions to those who care about such things. We will let them do that. Our relationship’s government is not so difficult when the end is so near. We just do the best we can to support each other.

Stage Nine Expectations

There is not much left to expect. We expect that there is little time left. We expect the end is near. We do not make promises and we require few promises from our mates. The only thing we want from them and the only thing we expect is that one of us will be near the other until the end and the other will wait for us on the other side.

Stage Nine Economy

Notice the world’s richest person is rarely about to die. Toward the end we tend to withdraw from commerce. We are not so interested in trade. The intensity and frequency of our exchanges diminish. Our spheres of influence shrink. We now simply need enough of everything to get us to the end.

The social economy in stage nine is less into trading and more into annotating and collecting stories. The job of a stage nine economy is to protect its history, its values, its symbols and especially its stories. What members can get and give to each other at this stage is limited. Termination looms and there is little time. It is if the house is on fire and the valuables you gather at this stage have to do with symbols, memories and the community’s soul. The job of the community’s economy at this stage is to protect the soul.

Stage Nine Philosophical Tension

At this stage the opposing tensions are between despair and dignity. Can we find honor in our truth at the end? Can we face death with dignity? Will we go out like a sunset over the ocean on a clear day with an afterglow or will we go out hiding our face behind a cloud, unnoticed, just gone? These are the questions that remain unresolved in our minds. Time now will answer them.

Stage Nine in History

The seeds of the destruction of the Roman Empire were sown in its early stages of development. The emperors hoarded power. They never prepared for their successor. The battles that ensued the death of the emperor weakened the empire.

Instead of expanding the roles and authority into its citizens in the form of a democracy, the emperors gave citizenship away without expecting or wanting much back from its citizens. Romans were given food and entertainment. They did not have to serve in the military. Consequently Rome’s armies lost their discipline and sense of service. Rome hired mercenaries from the ranks of their enemies, weakening their defenses.

For 1000 years Rome expanded its territory. Roman armies improved the infrastructure of whatever lands they conquered. They built excellent roads. They developed water and sewer systems that saved labor and promoted health. They increased trade.

“Rome’s successful expansion also brought about its collapse. It expanded its ability to control and coordinate. Propriety ripened the principles of decay. Cause of destruction multiplied with the extent of the conquest. As soon as time or accident had removed the artificial supports, the stupendous fabric yielded to the pressure of its own weight.” Gibbon

Just prior to Rome’s fall in A.D.476 Emperor Constantine began to foresee the empire’s inevitable decline. This was Rome’s stage nine. His primary struggle was a spiritual one. He had to decide what Rome’s spiritual legacy would be. Would it be continued emperor worship and multi-theism or would it be Christianity? This was his primary focus. Ultimately he chose Christianity and that became Rome’s primary gift to world history. It was the main institution that has continued to survive in Western Civilization.

Developmental Tasks at Stage Nine: Integrity

The primary task at this stage is integration of truth and meaning into stories. The end is near there is no reason to compartmentalize the community into roles and functions. McWilliams uses the term “the compartmentalization defense” to represent this subject. Roles are not needed and there is very little to keep functioning. This is a time for a community to come together and celebrate its true essence, to be what it really is, to express what matters. This is truly a time when the whole is more than the sum of its parts. The spirit of the community that was defined here must be expressed again perhaps for the last time.

Resources Needed at Stage Nine: Integrity

There are three resources needed at the integrity stage. They are: (1) a sense of humor, (2) a myth of what death means, and (3) faith that the community’s spirit will somehow live on.

Sense of Humor

This is a time of preparing for a final letting go. The community’s strength is diminished. It is a shell of its former self. There is a great deal of playful absurdity that can be present at this stage. A community may have lost its strength, but as long as it still has its most rich capacity and that is the ability to laugh at itself, it can creatively express its essence.

Laughing makes all the rest bearable.

A Myth of What Death Means

It is a very difficult thing for a person or a community to approach death without a sense of what it means. Some communities will take refuge in the merger with the unknown. Others will develop a myth about life after death. Others will see absurdity and finality and will see facing the end as an opportunity to express their courage and their uniqueness. Without some way to imagine death and its meaning a community at this stage can sink into despair.


All people and all communities aspire to make a difference. Communities would like to think that it mattered that once upon a time they existed. A community can create many versions of life after death. The most realistic is that death of a community is final, but the community has a legacy of values, stories and art that will live on. The most fanciful is that the community will be reborn.

Whatever version a community has for life after death, it helps a community accept an end point, if it has faith that somehow it has and will participate in the eternal.


Stage Ten, Termination and Potential Defined

Erikson did not have a stage ten because death by definition is the end of life. But this isn’t exactly true of a community. A community may die, but the people who once claimed to belong to that community have work to do to accommodate and accept life without the existence of that entity.

This stage is filled with questions about what happened and what’s next. Anger and grief are natural responses to the loss. It is tempting here to be angry at the community, to say “I’m glad its over and gone.” These things are said to avoid the inevitable feelings of sadness that can be overwhelming at this stage.

What is left of the community is in the minds of those who once belonged to it. In their minds old tapes play, new imaginary conversations with the past are heard inside their heads. How they deal with their loss can determine the quality of the remainder of their lives.

Can they commit again? Do they have the courage to trust in communion with others after they have lost a community that once meant so much to them?

Memories are a mixed blessing. Memories keep them connected to what was important and at the same time these memories tie them to the past. The task is to incorporate their past into their present and future without bitterness. This is the product of healthy grief.

Going forward means that they must accept their inheritance left them by their former community. They must discover their most important legacy that the community left them. And that is they learned about their capacity to care in that community. They tested the strength and size of their heart. They discovered skills that will be useful in a new community that will challenge them to join in, be a part of, open their heart to and care about again.

Right beside death is rebirth. As a tree dies in the forest, its death creates room for new seeds to sprout and grow. As the old community passes, opportunities to make new commitments present themselves. The task at this stage is to recognize these new opportunities and have the courage to risk joining again.

Stage Ten Thinking

In a word, confused. If life is a circle and in stage one power comes from the dominant monkey, in stage ten the definition of dominance has yet to be formed. We are disoriented. We have our history. We have the skills to test reality. We understand many things, but we do not know where to be. We do not know where our power lies.

Stage Ten Emotion

Part of the reason for this confusion is that we are not sure what we feel. We know we are sad, but we have another feeling that is emerging that is difficult to admit. That feeling is desire. When we feel it we feel guilty for feeling it. We also cannot seem to find a clear object for our desire. That will have to wait for rebirth and stage one. There is an old wives tale that widows and widowers are easy sexual prey. If that’s true, it is understandable in the context of what’s happening to them in stage ten. They think that their sexuality died with their mates. When an attractive person hugs them to comfort them and they find themselves aroused. They feel they shouldn’t be, but they are. Sometimes they create a sexual event to prove to themselves that they are still alive.

Stage Ten Religion

Some couples go out together. My father’s parents did. My grandfather died first. Shortly after my grandmother followed. For such couples the issues at stage ten are resolved. But for those who remain behind this is the place where their faith’s promise that rebirth follows death is tested. Will there be a resurrection? Will desire return? Until it does we need to hold on to the hope that it will. We need our faith at stage ten to keep this hope alive.

Stage Ten Government

A new power base emerges at some point. A new person or sets of persons become part of our decision making. We have the skills to build a new government. We understand the need to respect others and give them a vote. We understand that we need worth opponents to present different ideas. We understand that we need to be checked and balanced. Consequently we can build a new government structure faster than we did in our first relationship. Hopefully we can find others who can as well.

Stage Ten Expectations

At this stage expectations is not a relevant topic. At stage ten there are none. There is no one to expect anything of. What we should ask of ourselves is that we remain open to be joined, open to new alliances.

Stage Ten Economy

We have our inheritance, but we have no trading partners. The task here is first to accept our inheritance, to take inventory on what that is. Once we have taken stock of what we have to invest, the next task is to find people to invest with. When we do this we are in a stage one economy.

The social inheritance comes form what we collected in stage nine. In stage ten the task of the social economy is to reinvest our inheritance into a new community. Take the values, the lessons learned and the skills developed from the deceased community and find a new community where these will be useful.

Stage Ten in History

The expansion of Rome made governing its empire untenable. In A.D. 323 after a civil war Constantine decided that the Roman Empire, as it was, could not be governed. He divided the empire into two parts. The capital of the Eastern half became Constantinople. The Rome half of the empire did not survive the cataclysm of the third and fourth centuries. The Eastern Empire did survive to become what was called the Byzantine Empire.

The survivors of Rome had to deal with the questions of termination. Christianity became its answer to these questions. It was the primary survivor of the Roman Empire.

Stage Ten Philosophical Tension

The inner tension of stage ten is between life and death. Do we want to be reborn in a new life or do we want to die with the old? Do we want the certainty of death or are we strong enough to embrace the ambiguity of a life again? If our answer is life then the circle is complete. Stage one has begun.

The Developmental Tasks at Stage Ten: Termination

There are three primary tasks at the termination stage. All of them involve healthy grief. They are: (1) surrender to fate, (2) accept the community’s legacy, and (3) take the old into the new.

Surrender to Fate

The emotion of hope that was so helpful in the first stage is not helpful here. Hope for rescue, or an extension of life, when the reality is that life for the community is over, will only trap former members their own purgatory. The stories, rituals, traditions and art that were the old community can remain. These can help former members hold on to the memories and the spiritual values of the community and still accept that the community is no more.

Many former members are tempted to cover their sadness and hurt with rage, denouncing the community and blaming it for the problems that they face now. This is what McWilliams calls “the displacement defense.” It is important that former members get past blaming and rage in order to go forward.

Accept the Legacy

Many former members refuse to accept the gifts that came from the death of the community. If they can’t have the community that they once had they don’t want to acknowledge the gifts that they received from being part of it. It is too painful to remember and to care for what they lost. This, of course, is part of the process that is required in accepting one’s inheritance. Again ritual, traditions and symbols can help former members accept their legacy.

Take the Old into the New

At this stage it is easy for former members to hold on the their weak helpless feelings. Stubborn resentment that holds on to the past can be a way to avoid the future while creating the illusion that the member is loyal, strong and dedicated.

Other former members might allow themselves to be stuck in self-pity, holding on to their pain and suffering as if it is all that they have left of the community that they loved. They may pretend that they are too weak and helpless to deal with change.

In reality the only way for the spirit of a deceased community can live on is to be carried on into new communities by the old community’s former members. They must tell the stories and pass on the rituals and traditions developed by their former community. The Christmas tree is an example of the Christian traditions merging with the Celtic traditions. The spiritual values of the deceased community can have new life if former members are open to watching themselves become part of a new beginning. This is what happened to the Judeo Christian culture when the temple of Jerusalem was destroyed and the Jews dispersed throughout the Roman Empire. Seeds of the Judeo Christian culture were planted all over the world.

Resources Needed at Stage Ten: Termination

There are three resources needed in the termination stage. They are: (1) friends, (2) strength to cope without the community, and (3) time to grieve.


Losing one thing doesn’t mean that former members have lost everything. Having good friends helps former members remind themselves that they have other strong hands to hold that help define them and connect them to meaning. Former members need friends with shoulders to cry on who understand and care. They need friends with whom they can imagine new beginnings, friends who respect the values that former members bring with them and friends who will include these values in shared projects.

Strength to Cope Without the Community

In stage five hopefully members learned that they were responsible for their own happiness. If they got that lesson at stage five then they can use it here. This confidence can help them face their loss and accept their legacy. It will help them feel their sadness without fear that it will overwhelm them. At stage five they knew they could have left the community. They simply chose not to leave. Now that the community has left them they can remember the strength they had to take care of themselves with or without their community.

Time to Grieve

It is a worthless former member who lost her community and doesn’t feel sad. Loving requires courage because all of us sooner or later lose everything we loved. Sadness and grief is a tribute to the community that the member cared for and to the grieving member who has the courage to care.

But to grieve we must have a protected time and space where our sadness is not exploited or judged as a sign of weakness. Taking this time and using it well will prepare former members to accept their inheritance and to carry it forward into new beginnings.

Having time to grieve is not one long period. Grieving is not a continuous process. Grieving is a collection of moments across time. People need breaks from grief, just as they need moments to feel their sadness. Grieving may never be over for some. But healthy grief does not inhibit new beginnings. Healthy grief weaves the values derived from the former community’s history into whatever new commitments former members make.



I do not want to write this now. Perhaps someone else would like to take a shot at it. There the things that we need to say that we haven’t yet said. One is that these stages are not arbitrary. We have no clear precise thresholds between stages. In fact it is hard to distinguish between stages four and five. The second thing about stages is that just because a community reaches a higher stage doesn’t meant that it won’t often regress back to previous stages. George Carlin, a seventies comedian, once did a routine demonstrating how a fifty year old could act like a five year old. “Once we pass an age,” he said, “we can always go back to it.”

The third thing is that these stages exist for a community as it evolves and for new members as they join with a community.

Some communities can skip a stage or stages. They can go from stage one to stage seven, but this will make stage seven almost impossible.


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