Tag Archives: abundant community

INTERVIEW WITH PETER BLOCK

Peter Block is a well-known consultant and best-selling author. Two of his recent books – Community: The structure of belonging and The Abundant Community  – focus on how we participate in, and create, healthy vibrant communities.

I had the pleasure of interviewing Peter about how we understand and enact community within the framework of our lives that exist in place-based communities, taking into account the complexities of our simultaneous allegiances to multiple communities. Peter also offers a reflection on his personal experiences with community.

How do you think we can benefit from taking a break from our home communities? For example, retreating to conferences, taking part in long-term residential educational programs, or by simply choosing to live in another community for a specific period of time?

Conferences and educational intermissions are places for reflection. Place where thought is valued. Time slows down to a natural speed. Priceless, regardless of content or keynote speakers. Living in another community is also priceless. It opens us to the stranger, which we need to wake up again. It is the antidote to the dulling and life consuming effects of like-mindedness.

Your work emphasizes place-based or neighbourhood communities. Do you see a role for online communities? How can we best imagine the possibilities for online media to contribute to, or create, community?

Online is romanticized community. It offers logistical advantage. So it ranks up there with the phone call, the mail, and the automobile. It is an easy way to know where we are meeting. It does nothing to insure or support the quality of relationship that community rides on. It suffers from a lack of accountability and touch. It most often becomes the substitute for community.

What can place-based or neighourhood communities and institutional communities (e.g. schools, workplaces, etc.) learn from each other?

Every place has a story and needs to produce its own narrative. It is useful in the act of creation. What sharing does for us is give us faith. Benchmarking is built on the promise of enhanced methodology, but all transformation has to ultimately be customized.

In your experience, what is the best example you have seen of youth contributing to community building?

Children, along with music and food and art, are the ultimate connectors. We need them in the room all the time, especially teenagers. They bring energy and passion into the room, plus they are not easily fooled. The best example is Elementz, a Center for Hip Hop and Respect in Cincinnati, Ohio.

What was the most powerful experience in building community in which you were personally invested?

First, starting a business at too young an age was life changing. Risky, interdependent, all on the line, strict measures that could not be denied, hard decisions to stop what was not working and asking people you cared about to move on. Had to show up. Second was my decision to become a citizen of my city, Cincinnati. To care about it. To act as an owner. It was not so much building community, as it was to join and find my voice in it, regardless of outcomes which have been very elusive. Ultimately led to the belief that all the youth in the city are my children, all of the difficulties in the city I have a hand in sustaining. All there is in the end is faith in each other despite evidence to the contrary. We live in a period of growing fear and fundamentalism, and community is our best, and maybe only, response.

INTERVIEW WITH JOHN McKNIGHT

John McKnight is one of the best-known figures in community development in North America. He has conducted research on social service delivery systems, health policy, community organizations, neighborhood policy, and institutional racism. He currently directs research projects focused on asset-based neighborhood development and methods of community building by incorporating marginalized people. He is the co-author of the best-selling Building Communities from the Inside Out, which describes an approach to community building that has become a major development strategy throughout the world. More recently, he co-authored The Abundant Community, which focuses on building healthy families and communities.

I had the pleasure of interviewing John about how we understand and enact community within the framework of our lives that exist in place-based communities, taking into account the complexities of our simultaneous allegiances to multiple communities. John also offers a reflection on his personal experiences with community. Watch for an interview with Peter Block, co-author of The Abundant Community, in my next post.

Many people feel like they belong to several communities simultaneously (school, neighborhood, religious, ethnic, linguistic, and so on). Given that you place an emphasis on the importance of building relationships in neighborhoods, what are your thoughts on this?

I’m especially interested in neighborhood relationships because neighborhood is a space where most of us live our childhood. Being an adult often means that we become mobile and lose a sense of place. If we are interested in how a “village raises children,” a neighborhood and the relationships of neighbors become very important.

What can place-based or neighorhood communities and institutional communities (e.g. schools, workplaces, military units/bases, etc.) learn from each other?

We live our lives in two kinds of groups. One is groups that are held together with money – business, government and not-for-profit institutions. The other kinds are community groups that are held together by care, concern and commitment. Institutions need to learn how to support rather than command and replace community groups. The reason is that there are all kinds of functions that only community groups can perform. These are the functions that you can’t pay for. Therefore, if they don’t perform their unique functions, our institutions can only provide a counterfeit alternative, such as, service rather than care, medicine rather than health, schooling rather than wisdom, etc.

In your experience, what is the best example you have seen of youth contributing to community building?

Modern Western civilization developed a unique belief. It is the strange idea that the best way for young people to be prepared for adult citizenship is to keep young people with young people. This peculiar notion has many names – school, youth programs, youth organizations, etc. These are our ways of segregating young people by age and paying someone to raise them. As a result, our young people have very little experience in community building because they have very little contact with productive adults in productive settings. They enter adulthood largely incompetent in terms of experience with productive citizenship.

The alternative would be to structure our communities so that young people are constantly with adults who are active in their community and productive in their vocations. Unfortunately the examples are few and far between because we have committed ourselves to the idea that age segregation is a good thing. And the more of it the better. “We need more youth programs and youth workers and teachers and child psychologists.”

Much of your work emphasizes the social integration of people who come from different backgrounds. You have said that it is “our obligation to always ensure that the door is open.” How do we ensure that everyone feels equal ownership to the door, or that everyone’s door is equally open? In other words, how can we best address the inevitability of uneven power relations?

When I think about the importance of keeping the “door open,” it doesn’t seem to me to be a question about power. It is a question about hospitality. Hospitality is, classically, the welcoming of a stranger. It is a feeling that you have a relationship with people you don’t know. And, why would you have this kind of a feeling? Because, the stranger has come from over the horizon and knows about places you’ve never been, knows stories you’ve never heard, and tells you poems that light up your life. If your door is closed, you live an arid life. So, a good life depends on an open door. I suppose you could say that a good life depends upon whether you have the power to welcome people.

What was the most powerful experience in building community in which you were personally invested?

I left Ohio and went to Northwestern University in 1949. At that time eighty percent of all the students there belonged to fraternities and sororities. The goal of these Greek organizations was to “pledge” people who were like themselves. I can remember hearing a young woman in a sorority say of another woman, “She just isn’t a Pi Phi type of girl.” Their understanding of community was assurance of similarity and like-mindedness. They seemed the most boring people in the world to me and I despaired of living their way. Shortly after I arrived as a freshman, the University opened an International House, primarily for students from other countries. I had the good fortune of being admitted to that House. There, every relationship was the discovery of a person who had come from over the horizon and knew places I had never known, told me stories I had never heard, and taught me magical poems. I’m not sure I learned much in my classes, but I know that our House was the most powerful learning and community building experience of my life.