Brianna Menning is the Director of Community Based Learning for CFA. Click here to see the original post from June 6, 2012.
I have been reading Malcolm Gladwell’s The Tipping Point recently, and have found it fascinating for what it says about the way we are connected (if you haven’t read it, I would recommend it). There are types of people in our lives– connectors (people who know lots of people), mavens (people who accumulate knowledge and control word of mouth epidemics), and salespeople (people with the skills to persuade us when we are unconvinced of what we are hearing). I believe we need all three to make our communities successful. But, these types need to be engaged in both types of networks– online, and in-person local networks to be effective in engaging in community development and creating lasting change.
How do we create change is the bottom line for me. We need to find ways to create group dynamics where we engage one another in person, but recognize that valuable conversation takes place in a variety of formats. One of our largest deficits currently is the lack of connection within the generation gap, the socioeconomic gap, the racial gap, and within the digital divide. People can be more connected and more isolated simultaneously– and it is happening– everywhere. For all of our (relative) economic wealth, we are still missing something (read Reframing the Global Economy to Include Happiness if you haven’t yet).
How do we get people to seriously engage in their neighborhoods, in their cities? How do we take these steps to get them to seriously engage one another on a personal level? Our society functions best when we work together, but somehow that has been happening less and less. But, there is a resurgence in the desire for communal living, and care for our cities (check out this article)– this is great, as long as we aren’t simply moving the isolated, the poor, the disconnected members of society from isolation in our cities to isolation in the suburbs (continuing a cycle of “otherness” and us v. them that is unhealthy, and doesn’t lead to problem-solving.
There are real problems that need to be addressed– systemic issues that lead to generation after generation in poverty. Poverty is not just a financial status though, it can be viewed as a stamp on your forehead– as Peter Block stated, we talk about homeless people as a large group through their housing status– defining them by what they do not have– we never introduce ourselves as, “I’m Brianna, and I’m housed.”
Why do we define people by their possessions (or lack thereof)? Does this make any sense to anyone else? Why can’t we change our language and our rhetoric to address the real issues– the problems within the American Experiment that can’t be addressed by systems? The problems that need the human element to take the lead. How do we partner institutions and individuals better? How do we listen better? Listen first? Listen longer? How do we find the connectors and the mavens to connect ideas?
I want to know how we can move from the top-down, bottom-up rhetoric of today’s society, and instead move from side to side (as Frances Hesselbein explains in her book). Why is it that power is up rather than centralized? How do we allow the voices to be heard not just through the voting process, but through creating more listening sessions that are accessible to everyone, where people’s voices can be heard? How do we make sure that action is taken around these ideas? How do we make sure that the ideas aren’t only heard, but funded? How do we give power away in order to create more balance in our society?
These are the questions that I’m interested in looking at– and why I’m working on funding community connectors, to help connect neighborhoods, and ultimately, create a more just society for everyone. How are you addressing these issues? What ideas do you have for how we can continue addressing them? What’s the craziest thing you’ve thought of to address this, but haven’t yet told anyone?
Let us know here through comments, or email me (brianna[dot]menning[at]gmail[dot]com). I like sharing crazy ideas and dreaming big– it’s the only way real change happens!