Block at a Glance

By Giovanni Spezzacatena

Community is a series of repeating elements, with differences.

Community is a series of repeating elements, with differences.

A look at Peter Block’s Community: The Structure of Belonging:

Overall Premise: Build the social fabric and transform the isolation within our community into connectedness and caring for the whole. Shift our conversations from the problems of the community to the possibility of community. Commit to create a future distinct from the past.

The Context for a Restorative Community: The existing community context is one that markets fear, assigns fault, and worships self-interest. This context supports the belief that the future will be improved with new laws, more oversight, and stronger leadership. The new context that restores community is one of possibility, generosity, and gifts, rather than one of fear, mistakes and self-interest. Citizens become powerful when they choose to shift the context within which they act in the world. Communities are human systems given form by conversations that build relatedness. The conversations that build relatedness are created through associational life, where citizens are unpaid and show up by choice, rather than in large systems where professionals are paid and show up by contractual agreement.

Audiophiles: here is a 15-minute audio excerpt from Block’s book., and a more substantial 1 hour interview (mind the interviewer).

Block’s book and interviews discuss many aspects of community and leadership that focus on “possibilities”: the possibility of sustainability, of a society that cares for itself and others, of full employment of people’s talents and skills, to create stronger communities.  One very practical focus is on how our meetings can be conducted to create meaningful outcomes. Some of these seem to make so much sense, that I have become really suspicious as to why meetings are generally not held this way. Then again — looking around at all sorts of disabling infrastructure we’ve built for ourselves on every level — it does seem that the ‘full-steam-ahead’ approach has been favored over thoughtful purposefulness.

So, here are some tips on meetings in very short form that I have gathered and paraphrased from Block’s book:

  • Level the playing field: avoid the stage/audience separation. Everyone on the same level, literally. Leaders cannot allow themselves to be part of an elite group: their job is to convene and engage the community. Elevating themselves as paternalistic forces for good does them and the community a disservice.
  • Meet in a room with windows and natural light (preferably on 2 sides), with a view, with plants (real or plastic), art on the walls, swivel chairs for all, and a round table (no more than 8 ft in diameter), or similar arrangement of chairs. Make sure people can be heard (use microphones if needed).
  • Even in a large group, have small meetings with 12 people or so in each group, producing a ‘network of networks’. This way, individuals feel they can have their say, and that what they say matters.
  • Each group is facilitated by a ‘leader’, but the leader is there to keep things on track and provide a literal and allegorical “space” and not to provide a vision or example. The leader provides the space and the good question.  No one knows what the other groups have as their question.
  • Late arrivals must be acknowledged, and early departures as well– departures are a loss to the group, and as such they have to be taken seriously. Ask all participants to not sneak out but to voice their reasons for leaving. Remove their empty chair once they are gone to reduce real underlying feelings of loss.
  • Have the members of these smaller groups introduce themselves, their gifts, and why they are there to do deal with a good question. The Good Question deals with possibility and gifts: what would we like to see/do and what can I give toward this goal in terms of my gifts & commitment?
  • Think of the gathering as a work of community art; ask at the beginning of the meeting if anyone would like to recite or share a song/ joke/ poem… If the meeting concludes with a ‘document’ that can be held up or preserved, even better.
  • Provide good food at your gatherings– sharing food is so primal, and actual food (i.e. raw fruit/vegetables, pure water, juice, as local as possible) as opposed to donuts and coffee sets up a crucial aspect of community gathering. Pot-lucks are great ideas, as long as nobody feels they are excluded if they can’t cook or afford to bring food.
  • Welcome the participants with a clear presentation of why you are all there: the possibility you wish to pursue.
  • The important thing is to not dwell on the problems of the community, but on the possibility of community. The idea here is that if the community is strong, this will in itself solve what seem to be the insurmountable problems of the community. This reminds me of the fact that only weak garden plants attract the attention of damaging bugs. The creation of community through each and every meeting/gathering/association is the ultimate goal. The community’s strength and vitality will attract only good things.
  • Leave room for dissent, and handle it carefully, but avoid trying to control the world. If a person has a problem with an issue, then that should be out in the open, and accepted. Saying no to a stance is as useful as commitment. Lip service is the opposite of commitment.
  • We have as a 21st century Western society, a sort of “Expertitis” (my pseudo-word): we give up our control to experts in whatever field (and usually from outside our community), to tell us what to do.  We outsource our problems and hope for ‘big daddy/mama’ to take care of them. When ‘big daddy/mama’ invariably fails, we think that changing government will fix that problem. How about if we change and develop a community that ‘big daddy/mama’ will support… and they will, too. because it makes them look good, and maybe because they also want to be part of a bigger movement.
  • Nurture compassion. A commitment to empathy is the only way community will heal itself and survive.

I think that the points above will help facilitate a gathering that goes somewhere valuable.


1 Response to “Block at a Glance”

  1. 1 Principles for creating a cooperative local economy « Slow Coast Trackback on May 18, 2009 at 18:53
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