Something almost mystical, certainly mysterious occurs when citizens sit in a small group, for they often become more authentic and personal with each other there than in other settings. Designing small-group conversations is so simple that it rarely receives the attention and importance it deserves. After we finish giving speeches about the virtues of our neighborhood and city, we love to elaborate their problems.
Talk radio and TV are the visible barometers of our attachment to the context giving primacy to problems. Our love of problems runs deeper than just the joy of complaint, being right or escape from responsibility. The core belief from which we operate is that an alternative or better future can be accomplished by more problem solving.
Community: The Structure of Belonging
This context—that life is a set of problems to be solved—may actually limit any chance of the future being different from the past. The interest we have in problems is so intense that at some point we take our identity from those problems. Many of the strongest advocates for change would lose their sense of identity if the change they desired ever occurred. To shift to some other context, we need to detach ourselves from the discussions of problems.
One payoff for believing that problems and the suffering in our cities are the inevitable products of modern life and culture is that it lets us off the hook. We displace or assign to others certain qualities that have more to do with us than with them. This is called projection, an idea most of us are quite familiar with.
The essence of our projection is that it places accountability for an alternative future on others. We project onto leaders the qualities or disappointments that we find too much to carry ourselves. We project onto the stranger, the wounded, the enemy those aspects of ourselves that are too much to own. Most simply, how I view the other is an extension or template of how I view myself. This insight is the essence of being accountable.
To be accountable is to act as an owner and creator of what exists in the world, including the light and dark corners of my own existence. Some of us make a living off of their deficiencies. We study their needs, devise professions to service them, create institutions dependent on the existence of these deficiencies. All done with sincere intent and in the name of virtue. It substitutes labeling for welcoming. This isolates the most vulnerable. They become objects. Their proximity stands in the way of our compassion.
And until they change, we need to stay distant and contain them. This diverts us from the realization that we have the means, the tools, the thinking to create a world we want to inhabit, and to do it for all. This means that the essential aspect of the restoration of community is a context in which each citizen chooses to be accountable rather than entitled. Accountability is the willingness to care for the whole, and it flows out of the kind of conversations we have about the new story we want to take our identity from.
It means we have conversations of what we can do to create the future. Entitlement is a conversation about what others can or need to do to create the future for us. Restoration begins when we think of community as a possibility, a declaration of the future that we choose to live in. This idea of a communal possibility is distinct from what we commonly call an individual possibility.
Community is something more than a collection of individual longings, desires or possibilities. The communal possibility has its own landscape, and its own dynamics, requirements and points of leverage. In the individualistic world we live in, we can congregate a large collection of self-actualized people and still not hold the idea or experience of community. This question of what we can create together is at the intersection of possibility and accountability. Possibility without accountability results in a wishful thinking. The future of a community then becomes a choice between a retributive conversation a problem to be solved and a restorative conversation a possibility to be lived in.
Restoration is a possibility brought into being by choosing that kind of conversation. This public conversation creates a larger relatedness and transcends a simply individual transformation. What these have in common is the movement from centrism and individualism to pluralism and interdependent communalism. This shift has important consequences for our communities. It offers to return politics to public service and restore our trust in leadership.
It moves us from having faith in professionals and those in positions of authority to having faith in our neighbors. It takes us into a context of hospitality, wherein we welcome strangers rather than believing we need to protect ourselves from them. It helps us to leave behind our penchant for seeing our disconnectedness as an inevitable consequence of modern life and moves us toward accountability and citizenship. Copyright by Peter Block. This is one of three free promotional stories from Issue Sixteen. No products in the cart. Search for:. Newsletter Signup. Times have changed.
This story is from Kinfolk Issue Sixteen, available here. Issue Sixteen: A Taste of Home. Food Issue A Cup of Goodwill. Spitting Hairs. Knowing Me, Knowing You. Life Lessons: Parenting. Primary Focus.
NCDD Resource Center » Community: The Structure of Belonging
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Quantity: Minimum Order: 25 copies per title Must be purchased in multiples of 25 copies. List Price:. Publisher Identifier:. Retail Price:. Overview The expanded and revised edition of Community tackles the hysteric rise of isolation and fear in a digitally interconnected world. As a response to the increasing violence in our culture, the widening ideological divides, and the growing gap in economic well-being, there is greater awareness that a deeper sense of community is desperately needed. We still believe community is built with better messaging, more persuasion, and social events for people to get to know each other better.
In this new edition, Block draws on a decade of putting these ideas into practice to emphasize what has worked and extract those thoughts that were nice but had no durability. He explores how technology, instead of bringing us together, has driven us into more isolation. And encouragingly, Block insists this is really simple, once we decide it is essential. He offers a way of thinking that creates an opening for authentic communities to exist and details what each of us can do to make that happen.
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