This post was originally published by John McKnight and Peter Block on April 26, 2012 at www.abundantcommunity.com. Click here to see the original post.
Abundant communities start with making visible the gifts of everyone in the neighborhood—the families, the young people, the old people, the vulnerable people, the troublesome people. Everyone. We do this not out of altruism, but to create the elements of a satisfying life.
When we and our neighbors know of each other’s gifts, new community possibilities emerge. For example, the community can play an important role in rearing children and helping them to learn about their own abilities and what it means to be a contributing member of society. . . . By naming and exchanging our individual gifts, capacities, and skills, we open new possibilities to the family and neighborhood.
The Power of Our Gifts
When we choose to make visible the gifts of those around us, we discover several things.
First, working together we begin to take creative responsibility for our families and our lives. We begin to make our neighborhood safer, healthier, wiser, richer and a much better place to raise a family. Instead of feeling alone and overwhelmed by our family dilemmas, we begin to connect with other parents, children, youth and senior by extending our families. We feel the comfort, help, pleasure and tangible support from those surrounding us.
Second, as we share our gifts, all kinds of new connections and relationships are created. We cross lines once drawn between youth and adults, seniors and juniors, the frail and the able. We become a competent community, a group of specially related people.
Third, we begin to understand the limits of money. Our community inventions usually cost little to nothing, and yet they become treasures. We see that you can’t buy more safety, health, wisdom or wealth. But together we can create them. We feel less burdened financially and less dependent on outside institutions. We are finding the citizen way.
Fourth, as we create a future together, we find a new kind of trust emerging. Our neighbors become people we can count on. And they count on us. A profound sense of security begins to emerge.
Fifth, we feel powerful. We find our own way, and that sense of power leads us to hold celebrations, acclaiming our successes while recognizing our frailties and those among us who have passed away.
Finally, we begin to create a history together. We can tell our story. We know how to join in educating our children. We have learned how to engage our old people. We write our own story, and we would love to share it with your neighborhood because we also can learn from your way.
The Power of Associations
Gifts become useful when they are connected to the gifts of others. Connected gifts create associations. Connected citizens are in association and create associational life. This certain kind of connecting is the key to creating abundance in community.
In Democracy in America (1835, 1840), Alexis de Tocqueville was one of the first to recognize that our associations were central to our democracy. Voting, he observed, is vital, but it is the power to give your power away—that is, to delegate your will to a representative.
An association, on the other hand, is a means to make power rather than giving it away. This new associational tool involved using these community powers:
- The power to decide what needs to be done. This power is not delegated to experts. It is based upon the belief that local citizens, connected together, have the special ability to know what needs doing in their community.
- The power to decide how we could do what needs to be done. Here again, local knowledge is the basic expertise.
- The power to join with one’s neighbors to do what needs to be done.
The association is the tool that allows us to produce the future we envision. A citizen is a person with the awesome power to determine and create a common future. And so it is that the association makes citizenship possible. It empowers us because neighbors can decide what needs to be done and how it can be done—and, of greatest importance, they are the people who can do it.
In associations we are not consumers. We are not clients. We are citizens with gifts and the power to make powerful communities.
~John and Peter
John McKnight is emeritus professor of education and social policy and codirector of the Asset-Based Community Development Institute at Northwestern University. He is the coauthor of Building Communities from the Inside Out and the author of The Careless Society. He has been a community organizer and serves on the boards of several national organizations that support neighborhood development.
In addition to The Abundant Community, co-authored with John McKnight, Peter Block is the author of Flawless Consulting, Community, Stewardship and The Answer to How Is Yes. He serves on the boards of Elementz, a hip hop center for urban youth; Cincinnati Public Radio; and LivePerson. With other volunteers, Peter began A Small Group, whose work is to create a new community narrative and to bring Peter’s work on civic engagement into being. Peter’s work is in the restoration of communities and creating systems that restore our humanity. He is a partner in Designed Learning, a training company that offers workshops he has designed to build the skills outlined in his books.
The Club Is Not the Club (Peter Block)
Powering America (John McKnight)
Excerpt adapted from “Awakening the Power of Families and Neighborhoods,” Chapter 6 in The Abundant Community, pp 119-126.