Peter Block’s Community: The Structure of Belonging

Happy Lunar New Year!

I will not be able to blog substantially on a new idea, so I’ll dig out interesting things I’ve read from the past. This comes from Peter Block’s book, Community: The Structure of Belonging. From pages 30 and 31, he lays out a strategy for community transformation:

  • The essential work is to build social fabric, both for its own sake and to enable chosen accountability among citizens. When citizens care for each other, they become accountable to each other. Care and accountability create a healthy community. The work is to design ways to bring citizens (including formal leaders, for they are citizens) together so that they experience the “quality of aliveness” Christopher Alexander writes about. This occurs by being highly attentive to the way that we gather.
  • Strong associational life is essential and central. Associational life is the volitional aspect of community. It is how citizens choose to build connections for their own sake, usually for common purpose. These are the primary constituency for transformation. In associa- tional life, creating connectedness becomes both an end and a means. Large established systems such as business, government, education, health care, and social services are important but are not essential to community transformation. For systems, building relat- edness is mostly a means, not an end in itself.
  • Citizens who use their power to convene other citizens are what create an alternative future. A quality of aliveness occurs through change efforts that are energized by citizens and are organic or emergent in nature. A shift in the thinking and actions of citizens is more vital than a shift in the thinking and action of institutions and formal leaders. This is in sharp contrast to the traditional beliefs that better leadership, more programs, new funding, new regula- tions, and more oversight are the path to a better future. At times all of these are necessary, but they do not have the power to create a fundamental shift.
  • The small group is the unit of transformation. It is in the structure of how small groups gather that an alternative future will be created. This also means that we must set aside our concern for scale and our concern for speed. Scale, speed, and practicality are always the coded arguments for keeping the existing system in place. Belonging can occur through our membership in large groups, but this form of belonging reduces the power of citizens. Instead of surrendering our identity for the sake of belonging, we find in the small group a place that can value our uniqueness.
  • All transformation is linguistic, which means that we can think of community as essentially a conversation. Then we act on the principle that if we want to change the community, all we have to do is change the conversation. The shift in conversation is from one of problems, fear, and retribution to one of possibility, generosity, and restoration. This is the new context that both creates strong social capital and is created by it.

So as Singapore celebrates the festivities, we will partake of the associational life of our society.



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