Common Good

Reader

This Reader is an expression of Common Good, a vision for an alternative way, rooted in the act of remembering anew, the significance of place, and the structure of belonging. Whether you come at this from a place of economics, social good, or faith, we hope these reflections help orient your day in fresh, provocative, courageous ways. And most importantly, we hope these lead you into the sharing of gifts in particular communities—into co-creating a common good.
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Overlooked Gifts

While we all have deficiencies and problems, some of our neighbors get labeled by their deficiencies or condition. They are given names like mentally ill, physically disabled, developmentally disabled, youth-at-risk, single mom, welfare recipient, cranky, loner, trailer court person, immigrant, low income.  

All of these people have gifts we need for a really strong community. And many of them desperately need to be asked to join and contribute. Their only real deficiency is the lack of connection to the rest of us. And our greatest community weakness is the fact that we haven’t seen them and felt their loneliness. We have often ignored or even feared them. And yet their gifts are our greatest undiscovered treasure!

Therefore, the Connectors’ Table needs to pay special attention to the people at the edge, the people with the names that describe their empty half rather than their gifted full half. The connectors are motivated by the fact that historically, every great local community has engaged the talents of every single member. For the strength of our neighborhood is greatest when we all give all our gifts.

This means that the key words for our community are invitation,participation, and connection. We each need to become great inviters, like a host or hostess, opening the door to our community life. Our goal will be to have everyone participating, giving and receiving gifts. And our method will be connection—introducing the newly discovered gifts to the other neighbors and associations.

Take a piece of paper and write the words: invitation, participation and connection. Now reread the initial list of neighbors often overlooked in our community and organizations. Can you list one person whom you could invite into a social group or association? Can you find one person who might welcome the invitation to participate more deeply in your neighborhood or work? And can you think of one individual who you might offer a new network, or relational connection to, for whom this would then open other possibilities?

 

 

McKnight, John. The Abundant Community: Awakening the Power of Families and Neighborhoods (p. 138). Berrett-Koehler Publishers. Kindle Edition.

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The Power of Connectors

 

One way we can begin to discover the power of our families and neighborhood is to invite the local connectors to come together and share their successes and ideas by forming a Connectors’ Table. They can then discuss questions like, what new connections of neighbors and associations would make a better neighborhood? Who are the people with connector potential who could be invited to join the Table? Are there senior connectors at the Table? Are there teen connectors involved?

This core group can become initiators of a new community culture as they consciously pursue the connective possibilities they envision. To begin, people at this Connectors’ Table can identify the gifts and skills of all the neighbors—the gold in the community treasure chest. They can ask four simple questions of each neighbor as they identify the neighborhood treasures:

  • What are your gifts of the head? What do you especially know about—birds, mathematics, neighborhood history?
  • What are your gifts of the hands? What do you know about doing things—baseball, carpentry, cooking, guitar, gardening?
  • What are your gifts of the heart? What do you especially care about—children, the environment, elders, veterans, politics?
  • What clubs, groups, and associations do you and your family belong to or participate in?

This is the conversation that begins the process of connection, which is what gives people the alternative to look outside the family for satisfaction. We could say that connection is the antidote to consumption. It begins with identifying the neighborhood treasures waiting to be given.

Take some time today to think of a connector or three that you could invite to lunch and explore these four questions.

 

 

McKnight, John. The Abundant Community: Awakening the Power of Families and Neighborhoods (pp. 134-135). Berrett-Koehler Publishers. Kindle Edition.

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Choosing to Be In Relationship

In our culture of institutions and systems (some generative and some harmful) we are tempted to feel stressed by all the demands on our time, and overwhelmed as doing good. We attempt to conserve energy by withdrawing, and end up feeling alone, issolated, and become even easier prey for those less-than-generative systems that would like to plug us in as lonely, lost, consumers. To resist this we need others who help us remember that we are not alone, not an overlooked cog in the machine.

To choose to participate in associational life means you choose to be in a more formal relationship with a group of people. You want to be with them for your own interests. Few associations come together to do a social good. For people to do a real social good, they come together for some other reason and do a social good out of their peripheral vision. Otherwise, it is a system.

We can be grateful for those systems that fight for a cause, and join them with intention. However, take the time to consider what other associations you have and how they nourish possibilities. Friendship develops into association when it has a consistency, when we invite inquiry and challenge, and when it requires intention to participate.

For activists, clergy, and community leaders especially, our lives can fill up with system commitments and we miss the beauty of associations that can simply integrate a social good into life “out of their peripheral vision.” Perhaps it would be worth celebrating and “re-upping” with one association that helps you do just that— a place that is not always ordered or controlled, but nevertheless builds into your sense of belonging to others.  If you are stumped by this challenge, consider asking someone you know well if they see this gap or opportunity in your day-to-day. Often our passion and focus can keep us blind to the larger picture.

 

McKnight, John. The Abundant Community: Awakening the Power of Families and Neighborhoods (pp. 71-72). Berrett-Koehler Publishers. Kindle Edition.

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Associations Use Consistency and Boundaries to Set Intentions

As we read earlier:

Associations are a primary place in community where individual capacities get expressed.

Continuing:

 If I want to manifest my kindness or generosity, and I want to do it in a collective way, then I create or join an association. Association is a structural property of a competent community. It is the aspect of community that is repeatable; it has continuity and membership. Otherwise, it is a meeting. If you and I want to have breakfast together, good. If we want to ask two friends to join us and have breakfast every month, then we are an association. You can tell who is in an association. It has a boundary.

What meet-ups are repeatable in your life? How do these regular or boundaries, friendships, or associations, help build momentum and impact to characteristics you value? Does meeting once a year to camp with families help you bring local possibilities to life? Does joining a cohort of neighbors help you proliferate kindness beyond what you practice in your home? Does meeting with colleagues for breakfast help you keep generosity at the center of your work?

And going a step further, do those who expect these regular meets come to feel a sense of belonging because you all keep them up? Celebrate this sense of community today. And if you feel a longing for this why not make a short list of possible communities to join or form, and start by inviting others.

 

McKnight, John. The Abundant Community: Awakening the Power of Families and Neighborhoods (pp. 71-72). Berrett-Koehler Publishers. Kindle Edition.

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Associations Make Citizenship Possible

On America’s adoption of the Declaration of Independence, it is helpful to ask what independence is used for. Continuing our discussion on associations, we see how they activate citizenship in ways that systems (such as government) cannot.

An association… 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.

As you celebrate with friends and family, note the ways that association life calls forth the freedom to freely join neighbors in deciding what and how to do what you are passionate about. Is there a particular friend or community hero who makes such association-life possible for you? Maybe a call or a card, or sharing a cool summer drink would be a way to help them know this.

 

McKnight, John. The Abundant Community: Awakening the Power of Families and Neighborhoods (pp. 125-126). Berrett-Koehler Publishers. Kindle Edition.

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