President Obama, Please Read This Book
Peter Block's book Community (2008) focuses on shifting our "existing context of community from one of deficiencies, interests, and entitlement to one of possibility, generosity and gifts."
Essentially, Block encourages us to move from a focus on what is wrong toward what potential remains untapped, and from letting official leaders carry all the burden and blame to decentralizing power and spreading ownership out among the citizenry. He draws a distinction between two types of communities, the "stuck" community and the "restorative" community. The former is caught up in problems and finger-pointing and reactive over-reliance on formal leadership, and is more akin to the norms we see today. The latter, instead, revolves not around economic prosperity, political discourse or the capacity of leadership--but "citizens' willingness to own up to their contributions, to be humble, to choose accountability, and to have faith in their own capacity to make authentic promises to create the alternative future."
The question of "what we can create together," Block asserts, is found when possibility and accountability collide and intersect. "Possibility without accountability results in wishful thinking. Accountability without possibility creates despair…"
For Block, it all starts and ends with the type of conversations we are willing to have or not have. I think he's spot-on here. Take a look today at the nature of the dialogue happening at your work place, in your family, in your neighborhood, in your church or synagogue or some other non-profit with which you are involved. Is the dialogue constantly focused on what is wrong and who is to blame, or is it about possibilities to live into...and what gifts and strengths each of you involved can contribute right now?
I would love for President Obama to read Community. Obviously I have to idea whether he has or not. Block does not take any particular political stances in his writings or his talks, but certainly promotes the concept of citizens empowered to lead and determine the best courses of action rather than the bulk of our resources and decisiveness owned by governmental bureaucrats. Government is currently in "growth mode," and I am hopeful that more voices like Block's can be heard so we do not simply rely on entrenched, formal power that might choose the paths of least resistance by recycling old solutions for old problems.