June 22, 2018 Common Good

Order in Service of Desire

Order is created in various ways: by systems in self chosen community.

The system way is an ordering for the purpose of somebody other than the people producing it. The community way absolutely depends upon whatever is produced being what people want to produce. Community structure is based on desire; the system way is based on third-party interests and needs analysis.

Self-chosen order does have its challenges. People who hear about self-organization say, “But what if people don’t want to do such and such?” The honest answer is that it will not get done. Then they say that someone has to do it, and they do it themselves. This is how an organic process works. No one claims that a community system is efficient. The question is, are we willing to live with some failure—that the banner did not get put up, the newsletter was three days late—in service of keeping people connected and accountable for fulfilling their own desires?

And what are we going to do anyway, fire people? Volunteerism was never designed to be efficient, only satisfying. Systems were never designed to be satisfying, only efficient. If productivity and low-cost results are our main purpose, the community way will frustrate us.  [But frustration is not a reason to abandon that way]…

This is not an argument against structure and order, just about how they are produced. What we are talking about, in taking the path to community competence, is changing our relationship to order. Community has a unique relationship to order. It creates the minimum that is needed. In systems, the first thing we do is create more order.

Think about your community—be it an association or neighborhood. What frustrates you about the structure? How might you find ways to honor the relationship to order that minimizes your control while still calling forth desire and commitment?



McKnight, John. The Abundant Community: Awakening the Power of Families and Neighborhoods (p. 76,77). Berrett-Koehler Publishers. Kindle Edition.


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