i have just [finally] finished reading ‘Community’ by Peter Block.
It has taken me a while – and i did sneak in a three-day reading of Neil Gaiman’s ‘Anansi Boys’ just as something a little quicker and lighter – but it was overall a good and thoroughly challenging read and i feel like it has inspired me to think differently about a number of things.
The book ‘Community’ is included in the pack of books we were given to read as part of the Partners for Possibility year that i am doing, where i am walking alongside Mr Fuad Viljoen, headmaster of Lavender Hill High School as we both seek to listen and learn and grow together and see how that influences the school as we do. It is a really good read, but unlike ‘The Art of Possibility’ which i zipped through fairly quickly, this one took a lot more effort [and some rereading of sections and paragraphs] as it was a lot to think about.
In fact, i just realised that i already shared one post of my earlier reading experience of this book over here. So this post will be some quotes from later stages in the book…
The book sells itself with this back cover blurb:
‘Peter Block offers an alternative to the increasing economic, relational, and ideological divides in our culture. To achieve a deeper sense of connection and belonging, we need to change the narrative from one of deficiencies and entitlement to one of possibility and generosity. This is how community is crated, and Block shows how it’s done with examples from neighborhoods, towns, and cities around the United States. To bring transformation into every day life, Community outlines six conversations that create shared accountability and shows how to design systems that foster that sense of belonging.’
What’s interesting is that a number of key concepts in the book resonated deeply with a number of the values we hold at Common Change [which, if you haven’t heard about it, is about small groups of giving that seek to make a collective difference in the lives of people they care about – check it out!] The idea, mentioned above, of starting at a place of abundance and not scarcity as well as the invitation to seek the wisdom of the group, and small groups are a core element of Block’s vision of community.
This is a book with a decent number of folded-over page corners [a collective GASP from the book lovers and librarians reading] which, to those who know me, know that it means there are multiple ideas that i found helpful and worth thinking more about as i journeyed through this book.
A lot of the book has to do with reimagining systems and structures and ways we do things. A huge part of this challenge is that it always finds itself up against the “But it’s always been done this way” mindset which holds so many of us captive.
One of the aspects Peter speaks a lot about is the kinds of questions we ask, which is one of the best lessons we learned in our time in the States: Ask better questions! This is the kind of thinking that can transform both individuals and organisations:
‘We can generalize what qualities define great questions, and this gives us the capacity not just to remember aa list but also to create powerful questions of our own.
A great question has three qualities:
It is ambiguous. There is no attempt to try to precisely define what is meant by the question. This equires each person to bring their own, individual meaning into the room.
It is personal. All passion, commitment, and connection grow out of what is most personal. We need to create space for the personal.
It evokes anxiety.All that matters makes us anxious. It is our wish to escape from anxiety that steals our aliveness. If there is no edge to the question, there is no power.’
[Community, page 110]
Gifts and Space
There is an excellent section in this book which talks about how spaces influence meetings – so people sitting in rigid pews will respond differently to a circle of chairs where people face each other for example; a situation where the leader has control over the mic on the stage vs a space where three handheld minds circulate around the room changes the dynamic; a stage where someone is physically higher than the rest of the group affects the power dynamic and so on – i won’t quote that section cos you should get hold of the book! But it challenges the way you meet and make decisions and share power.
A lot of the conversation is around gifts and what is present in the room as opposed to what is missing – too often we begin at the point of ‘What is absent?’ and try to move our way towards it rather than acknowledging what is present and seeing what might happen if we used those things. This section explains it so well:
‘Authentically acknowledging our gifts is what it means to be inclusive or to value diversity. Judith Snow, a powerful voice in the disabilities world declared that the purpose of here life was to eliminate the language of disabilities from our vocabulary. She stated in an email to me: “My deepest desire is to make the world safe for people whose abilities and contributions are generally unrecognized.” She created a world where no one is known by, is labeled with, or takes their identity from their disabilities, only from their gifts. This is in no way a denial of our limitations, just a recognition that they are not who we are. I am not what I am not able to do. I am what I am able to do – my gifts and capacities. Judith was a peson who had control of here mind, her voice, and her fingers. She was supposed to die a teenager, but chose to go in her sixties. Still too soon.
The point is that an alternative future, and the communtiy that ushers it in, come into being when we capitalize on our gifts and capacities. Bringi the gifts of those on the margin into the center is a primary task of leadership and citizenship.
The distinction here is straightforward between gifts and deficiencies.’ [Community, page 147]
i hope that has helped whet your appetite for a book that requires a bit more focus and concentration but which has ample reward. Ideas that will help you towards the kind of transformation that can start to shift spaces, groups, and even communities.
If it has, please head along to my first post and catch a few more choices passages over here.
Also consider getting hold of your own copy of Community by Peter Block and i would suggest The Art of Possibility as a worthwhile companion piece.