Community

The Structure of Belonging

Community
How can we stitch the pieces of a fragmented community together into a vibrant, healthy one?

Most of our communities are fragmented and at odds within themselves. Businesses, social services, education, and health care each live within their own worlds. The same is true of individual citizens, who long for connection but end up marginalized, their gifts overlooked, their potential contributions lost. What keeps this from changing is that we are trapped in an old and tired conversation about who we are. If this narrative does not shift, we will never truly create a common future and work toward it together.

What Peter Block provides in this inspiring new book is an exploration of the exact way community can emerge from fragmentation. How is community built? How does the transformation occur? What fundamental shifts are involved? What can individuals and formal leaders do to create a place they want to inhabit? We know what healthy communities look like—there are many success stories out there. The challenge is how to create one in our own place.

Block helps us see how we can change the existing context of community from one of deficiencies, interests, and entitlement to one of possibility, generosity, and gifts. Questions are more important than answers in this effort, which means leadership is not a matter of style or vision but is about getting the right people together in the right way: convening is a more critical skill than commanding. As he explores the nature of community and the dynamics of transformation, Block outlines six kinds of conversation that will create communal accountability and commitment and describes how we can design physical spaces and structures that will themselves foster a sense of belonging.

In Community, Peter Block explores a way of thinking about our places that creates an opening for authentic communities to exist and details what each of us can do to make that happen.

Most of our communities are fragmented and at odds within themselves. Businesses, social services, education, and health care each live within their own worlds. The same is true of individual citizens, who long for connection but end up marginalized, their gifts overlooked, their potential contributions lost. What keeps this from changing is that we are trapped in an old and tired conversation about who we are. If this narrative does not shift, we will never truly create a common future and work toward it together.

What Peter Block provides in this inspiring new book is an exploration of the exact way community can emerge from fragmentation. How is community built? How does the transformation occur? What fundamental shifts are involved? What can individuals and formal leaders do to create a place they want to inhabit? We know what healthy communities look like—there are many success stories out there. The challenge is how to create one in our own place.

Block helps us see how we can change the existing context of community from one of deficiencies, interests, and entitlement to one of possibility, generosity, and gifts. Questions are more important than answers in this effort, which means leadership is not a matter of style or vision but is about getting the right people together in the right way: convening is a more critical skill than commanding. As he explores the nature of community and the dynamics of transformation, Block outlines six kinds of conversation that will create communal accountability and commitment and describes how we can design physical spaces and structures that will themselves foster a sense of belonging.

In Community, Peter Block explores a way of thinking about our places 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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Overview

How can we stitch the pieces of a fragmented community together into a vibrant, healthy one?

Most of our communities are fragmented and at odds within themselves. Businesses, social services, education, and health care each live within their own worlds. The same is true of individual citizens, who long for connection but end up marginalized, their gifts overlooked, their potential contributions lost. What keeps this from changing is that we are trapped in an old and tired conversation about who we are. If this narrative does not shift, we will never truly create a common future and work toward it together.

What Peter Block provides in this inspiring new book is an exploration of the exact way community can emerge from fragmentation. How is community built? How does the transformation occur? What fundamental shifts are involved? What can individuals and formal leaders do to create a place they want to inhabit? We know what healthy communities look like—there are many success stories out there. The challenge is how to create one in our own place.

Block helps us see how we can change the existing context of community from one of deficiencies, interests, and entitlement to one of possibility, generosity, and gifts. Questions are more important than answers in this effort, which means leadership is not a matter of style or vision but is about getting the right people together in the right way: convening is a more critical skill than commanding. As he explores the nature of community and the dynamics of transformation, Block outlines six kinds of conversation that will create communal accountability and commitment and describes how we can design physical spaces and structures that will themselves foster a sense of belonging.

In Community, Peter Block explores a way of thinking about our places that creates an opening for authentic communities to exist and details what each of us can do to make that happen.

Most of our communities are fragmented and at odds within themselves. Businesses, social services, education, and health care each live within their own worlds. The same is true of individual citizens, who long for connection but end up marginalized, their gifts overlooked, their potential contributions lost. What keeps this from changing is that we are trapped in an old and tired conversation about who we are. If this narrative does not shift, we will never truly create a common future and work toward it together.

What Peter Block provides in this inspiring new book is an exploration of the exact way community can emerge from fragmentation. How is community built? How does the transformation occur? What fundamental shifts are involved? What can individuals and formal leaders do to create a place they want to inhabit? We know what healthy communities look like—there are many success stories out there. The challenge is how to create one in our own place.

Block helps us see how we can change the existing context of community from one of deficiencies, interests, and entitlement to one of possibility, generosity, and gifts. Questions are more important than answers in this effort, which means leadership is not a matter of style or vision but is about getting the right people together in the right way: convening is a more critical skill than commanding. As he explores the nature of community and the dynamics of transformation, Block outlines six kinds of conversation that will create communal accountability and commitment and describes how we can design physical spaces and structures that will themselves foster a sense of belonging.

In Community, Peter Block explores a way of thinking about our places 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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Meet the Author


Visit Author Page - Peter Block


Peter Block is an author, consultant and citizen of Cincinnati, Ohio. His work is about empowerment, stewardship, chosen accountability, and the reconciliation of community. Peter is the author of several bestselling books, the most widely known of which are Flawless Consulting: A Guide to Getting Your Expertise Used (1st edition 1980, 2nd edition 1999); Stewardship: Choosing Service Over Self-Interest (1993) and The Empowered Manager: Positive Political Skills at Work (1987). Peter is the recipient of the Organization Development Network's 2008 Lifetime Achievement Award. In 2004 he received their first place Members’ Choice Award, which recognized Flawless Consulting as the most influential book for OD practitioners over the past 40 years.

In 2008, Community: The Structure of Belonging was published, and his latest book, The Abundant Community: Awakening the Power of Families and Neighbhoods, co-authored with John McKnight, was released in May 2010.

He has also authored Flawless Consulting Fieldbook & Companion: A Guide to Understanding Your Expertise (2000). The Answer to How Is Yes: Acting on What Matters (2002) won that year's Independent Book Publisher Book Award for Business Breakthrough Book of the Year. Freedom and Accountability at Work: Applying Philosophic Insight to the Real World was co-authored with consultant and philosopher Peter Koestenbaum (2001).

The books are about ways to create workplaces and communities that work for all. They offer an alternative to the patriarchal beliefs that dominate our culture. His work is to bring change into the world through consent and connectedness rather than through mandate and force.

He is a partner in Designed Learning, a training company that offers workshops designed by Peter to build the skills outlined in his books. He received a Masters Degree in Industrial Administration from Yale University in 1963; he performed his undergraduate work at the University of Kansas.

Peter serves on the Board of Directors of Cincinnati Classical Public Radio and Elementz Hip Hop Center in Cincinnati. Peter is on the Advisory Board for the Festival in the Workplace Institute, Bahamas. With other volunteers, Peter began A Small Group, whose work is to create a new community narrative and to bring his work on civic engagement into being.

He has received national awards for outstanding contributions in the field of training and development, including the American Society for Training and Development Award for Distinguished Contributions; the Association for Quality and Participation President’s Award; and Training Magazine HRD Hall of Fame.

Peter welcomes being contacted at pbi@att.net.  Also visit Abundant Community website.

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Welcome

INTRODUCTION The Fragmented Community and Its Transformation

PART ONE: THE FABRIC OF COMMUNITY

CHAPTER 1 - Insights into Transformation
CHAPTER 2 - Shifting the Context for Community
CHAPTER 3 - The Stuck Community
CHAPTER 4 - The Restorative Community
CHAPTER 5 - Taking Back Our Projections
CHAPTER 6 - What It Means to Be a Citizen
CHAPTER 7 - The Transforming Community

PART TWO: THE ALCHEMY OF BELONGING

CHAPTER 8 - Leadership Is Convening
CHAPTER 9 - The Small Group Is the Unit of Transformation
CHAPTER 10 - Questions Are More Transforming Than Answers

Midterm Review

CHAPTER 11
- Invitation
CHAPTER 12 - The Possibility, Ownership, Dissent, Commitment, and Gifts Conversations
CHAPTER 13 - Bringing Hospitality into the World
CHAPTER 14 - Designing Physical Space That Supports Community
CHAPTER 15 - The End of Unnecessary Suffering

MORE
Book at a Glance
Role Models and Resources
Acknowledgments
Index
About the Author
About the Design

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Community

INTRODUCTION

The Fragmented Community and Its Transformation

The essential challenge is to transform the isolation and self-interest within our communities into connectedness and caring for the whole. The key is to identify how this transformation occurs. We begin by shifting our attention from the problems of community to the possibility of community. We also need to acknowledge that our wisdom about individual transformation is not enough when it comes to community transformation. So, one purpose here is to bring together our knowledge about the nature of collective transformation. A key insight in this pursuit is to accept the importance of social capital to the life of the community. This begins the effort to create a future distinct from the past.

• • •

The need to create a structure of belonging grows out of the isolated nature of our lives, our institutions, and our communities. The absence of belonging is so widespread that we might say we are living in an age of isolation, imitating the lament from early in the last century, when life was referred to as the age of anxiety. Ironically, we talk today of how small our world has become, with the shrinking effect of globalization, instant sharing of information, quick technology, workplaces that operate around the globe. Yet these do not necessarily create a sense of belonging. They provide connection, diverse information, an infinite range of opinion. But all this does not create the connection from which we can become grounded and experience the sense of safety that arises from a place where we are emotionally, spiritually, and psychologically a member.

Our isolation occurs because western culture, our individualistic narrative, the inward attention of our institutions and our professions, and the messages from our media all fragment us. We are broken into pieces.

One aspect of our fragmentation is the gaps between sectors of our cities and neighborhoods; businesses, schools, social service organizations, churches, government operate mostly in their own worlds. Each piece is working hard on its own purpose, but parallel effort added together does not make a community. Our communities are separated into silos; they are a collection of institutions and programs operating near one another but not overlapping or touching. This is important to understand because it is this dividedness that makes it so difficult to create a more positive or alternative future—especially in a culture that is much more interested in individuality and independence than in interdependence. The work is to overcome this fragmentation.

To create the sense that we are safe and among friends, especially those we have not yet met, is a particular challenge for our cities and rural towns. The dominant narrative about our cities is that they are unsafe and troubled. Those we label “homeless,” or “ex-offenders,” or “disabled,” or “at risk” are the most visible people who struggle with belonging, but isolation and apartness is also a wider condition of modern life. This is as true in our gated communities and suburbs as in our urban centers.

There is a particular isolation in the spaciousness and comfort of our suburbs. In these neighborhoods we needed to invent the “play date” for our children. Interaction among kids must be scheduled, much like a business meeting. On Tuesday, a mom must call another mom and ask, “Can Alex play with Phil on Thursday, at our house, say about 4? I will call if we are running late. The play date should last until roughly 5:45, to give both children time to freshen up for the family get-together at dinner.” A far cry from the day of kids walking home after school and casually seeing who they ran into.

The cost of our detachment and disconnection is not only our isolation, our loneliness, but also the fact that there are too many people in our communities whose gifts remain on the margin. Filling the need for belonging is not just a personal struggle for connection, but also a community problem, which is our primary concern in this book. The effects of the fragmentation of our communities show up in low voter turnout, the struggle to sustain volunteerism, and the large portion of the population who remain disengaged. The struggle is also the reality for the millions of people around the world who are part of today’s diaspora—the growing number of displaced people unable to return to their homeland, living and raising their children in a permanent state of transition.

Communities That Work for All

Community offers the promise of belonging and calls for us to acknowledge our interdependence. To belong is to act as an investor, owner, and creator of this place. To be welcome, even if we are strangers. As if we came to the right place and are affirmed for that choice.

To feel a sense of belonging is important because it will lead us from conversations about safety and comfort to other conversations, such as our relatedness and willingness to provide hospitality and generosity. Hospitality is the welcoming of strangers, and generosity is an offer with no expectation of return. These are two elements that we want to nurture as we work to create, strengthen, and restore our communities. This will not occur in a culture dominated by isolation, and its correlate, fear.

• • •

It is not my intent here to journalistically describe what healthy communities look like and where they exist. This is well documented. We have the success stories from Savannah, Boston, Chicago, Portland—all those places where community well-being has been on the rise over time. We have the pockets of authentic community in showcase organizational cultures such as Harley-Davidson and AES.

There is no need for more benchmarking of where the world is working. The reason is partly that we have already heard all the stories, and partly—and more important—that narratives of success give us hope and places to visit, but do not build our community. Social fabric and successful communities elsewhere cannot be imported. What works somewhere else ends up as simply another program here, which might be useful but does not shift the fundamentals that we are after.

What is needed is an exploration of the exact way authentic community occurs. How is it transformed? What fundamental shifts are involved? Too little is understood about the creation and transformation of a collective. I want to explore 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. The essence is to take a step forward in our thinking and design about the ways that people in communities come together to produce something new for themselves. By thinking in terms of a structure of belonging, we begin to build the capacity to transform our communities into ones that work for all.

The challenge is to think broadly enough to have a theory and methodology that have the power to make a difference, and yet be simple and clear enough to be accessible to anyone who wants to make that difference. We need ideas from a variety of places and disciplines to deal with the complexity of community. Then, acting as if these ideas are true, we must translate them into embarrassingly simple and concrete acts.

This means a shift in thinking that gives us clues about collective possibility. The shift in thinking is the focus of Chapters 1 through 7. Following that, we come to methodology, which many of you may consider the heart of the book. But without the shift in thinking, methodology becomes technique and practice becomes imitation.

• • •

One key perspective is that to create a more positive and connected future for our communities, we must be willing to trade their problems for their possibilities. This trade is what is necessary to create a future for our cities and neighborhoods, organizations and institutions—a future that is distinct from the past. Which is the point.

To create an alternative future, we need to advance our understanding of the nature of communal or collective transformation. We know a good deal about individual transformation, but our understanding about the transformation of human systems, such as our workplaces, neighborhoods, and towns, is primitive at best, and too often naive in the belief that if enough individuals awaken, and become intentional and compassionate beings, the shift in community will follow.

A Future Distinct from the Past

The core question, then, is this: What is the means through which those of us who care about the whole community can create a future for ourselves that is not just an improvement, but one of a different nature from what we now have?

The kind of future we are primarily interested in is the way in which communities—whether in the workplace or neighborhood, rural town or urban center—create a wider sense of belonging among their citizens.

This is why we are not focused on individual transformation in this book. Individual transformation is the more popular conversation, and the choice not to focus on it is because we have already learned that the transformation of large numbers of individuals does not result in the transformation of communities. If we continue to invest in individuals as the primary target of change, we will spend our primary energy on this and never fully invest in communities. In this way, individual transformation comes at the cost of community.

• • •

The fact that a sense of community has practical importance is probably best established in the work of Robert Putnam in his book Bowling Alone. He found that community health, educational achievement, local economic strength, and other measures of community well-being were dependent on the level of social capital that exists in a community.

Geography, history, great leadership, fine programs, economic advantage, or any other factors that we traditionally use to explain success made a marginal difference in the health of a community. A community’s well-being simply had to do with the quality of the relationships, the cohesion that exists among its citizens. He calls this social capital.

Social capital is about acting on and valuing our interdependence and sense of belonging. It is the extent to which we extend hospitality and affection to one another. If Putnam is right, to improve the common measures of community health—economy, education, health, safety, the environ-ment—we need to create a community where each citizen has the experience of being connected to those around them and knows that their safety and success are dependent on the success of all others.

This is an important insight for our cities. If you look beneath the surface of even our finest cities and neighborhoods, there is too much suffering. It took the broken levees of Hurricane Katrina to expose to the world the poverty and fragile lives in New Orleans.

A Brief Statement of the Need

I live in Cincinnati, Ohio, which like most of our urban centers can be seen as New Orleans without the flood. While it has abundant assets and irreplaceable qualities, it also has challenges that are impossible to ignore, try as we might. Wherever we live, we are never more than a short ride from neighborhoods that are wounded with disinvested buildings and populated by those who live on the margin. To not see the struggle of those on the margin, to think this is the best of all possible worlds or that we are doing fine, especially if our particular street or neighborhood is safe and prosperous, is to live with blinders on.

We choose to live with blinders for good reason. There is great attraction to the suburban, upscale rural life or to residing in “hot” places. We are constantly reminded of the allure of gated communities, quaint and prosperous small towns, nationally acclaimed golden cities. The streets we most frequently hear about in these areas are clean and busy with pedestrians, their housing a string of jewels, center city vital and alive, and neighborhoods the source of great pride.

These prosperous places, though, are only the partial story. Take it from Jim Keene, a very wise and successful public servant. He has brought his humanity and vision into the cauldron of building community as city manager for Berkeley and Tucson, and now works for an association to build the capacity of other city managers. Jim once said that for every city that prospers, there is another city nearby that is paying the price for that prosperity.

We know we have a shrinking middle class, a growing separation between the well off and the underclass. You cannot look closely at even the great cities in the world without seeing serious underemployment, poverty, homelessness, neighborhoods with empty buildings, deteriorating environment, youth hanging out on street corners day and night, and concerns about public safety.

We know about the dropout rates and deplorable conditions of our urban schools and the difficulty of achieving affordable health care for all. The list goes on. But this is not the point. The question here is not about the nature of the struggles; it is about the nature of the cure.

So the focus in this book is about community transformation; it is about both those communities and places that are paying the price and their more prosperous neighbors. For even in prosperous places, the idea and experience of community are elusive. If you look closely, you realize that the social fabric of our culture is more fragile than we imagine.

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Endorsements



“From the person who gave us the best book written on business stewardship comes the best book on how to transform the places where we live, work, and play into authentic, effective communities. Some of Peter Block’s conclusions may surprise you, but this compelling book is a must for all who love the places we call home enough to rethink our approach to building and maintaining community.”

—Dennis Bakke, CEO, Imagine Schools, Cofounder and CEOEmeritus, AES Corporation, and author of Joy at Work

“Every earnest public servant, every volunteer, every disillusioned citizen, every civic leader, and every community activist or businessperson who truly want to make their communities better should read this book. It can serve as a guide or manual, but Community at its heart is a book of questions, and Peter gently and persistently reminds us that we are the answers.”

—James Keene, President, Alliance for Innovation and Western Director, International City/County Management Association

“In this wonderfully practical book, Peter Block defines the nature of a community with manageable dimensions, creative directions, and hopeful possibilities. His methods lead us to a restoration of the joy of a genuine common life.”

—John McKnight, Professor of Education and Social Policy, and Codirector, Asset-Based Community Development Institute, Northwestern University

“Peter Block clearly identifies the essential ingredients, qualities, questions, atmosphere. and actions needed to create and build vital communities filled with possibility, generosity, accountability, and deep engagement. Outstanding in its relevance, practicality, and clarity.”

—Angeles Arrien, PhD, cultural anthropologist and author of The Second Half of Life: Opening the Eight Gates of Wisdom

“This book is more than practical advice on execution of theory; it is a spiritual primer for the building up of community and transforming hope that we so desperately need in today’s world. Peter has touched us once again in that place we call ‘soul’”.

—Clint Kemp, Founding Pastor, New Providence Community Church

“Peter’s work has become the cornerstone of how our police department has developed over the years. What we have pleasantly discovered is that the more our capacity grows to work in partnership with each other, the more our capacity to serve our community is enhanced.”

—Michael Butler, Chief of Police, Longmont, Colorado

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