Common Good


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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Competence is Within Reach

The starting point in every transformation is to think differently. We have used the shorthand of contrasting the system way with the community way in order to characterize the shift. It is a movement from purchasing what turns out to be dissatisfaction, to producing satisfaction. To shifting from the lens of consumption to the lens of citizen community as the core resource for a satisfied life.

Return to last week’s exercise addressing how time is spent. Consider, when in my week am I producing something that participated in the commons? And when is my consuming connected to my immediate neighbors and when is it not? Knowing where your food is grown is one thing, knowing that your purchasing habits benefit the shops along your neighborhood block is another.

Is there one thing you could do this next week to produce rather than simply consume. Consider dinner or cleaning or making artwork. Is there one thing you consume regularly that you could find within walking distance of your home? Would purchasing it there benefit someone who shares your desire for building hospitable community?

Little steps help us see anew.



McKnight, John. The Abundant Community: Awakening the Power of Families and Neighborhoods (p. 115). Berrett-Koehler Publishers. Kindle Edition.

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Redefining Time

If you ask people why they don’t do more in their neighborhood or community, a common answer is that they just don’t have time to connect their gifts and benefit from associational life. There is some truth in this. Instead of producing leisure, we are now consuming it. The consumer world persuades us to measure well-being by money, and so the bills arrive while we are buying more stuff at the mall.

… Of all the policy changes necessary to reactivate our community life and the care of our democratic society, redefining the uses of time is most important and most difficult. To make time available requires a radical shift in institutional policy and a cultural shift by neighbors who are accustomed to trying to buy a life rather than making a life. The recognition of time as valuable for families has begun to occur in fits and starts.

… W. K. Kellogg shortened the workweek to allow for more civic and family time for his company’s employees. Some institutions have adopted flextime policies allowing employees to create their own work schedules. Other institutions have established family and pregnancy leave policies. However, these are merely beginnings and apply to a minority of workers. A more comprehensive policy shift could be precipitated by governments, United Ways, or major civic associations by convening an Inter-Institutional Table… a forum for creating community-friendly policies that focused first on opening up time for families and neighborhoods to perform their critical functions. From these discussions, the Table could proceed to define and implement other community-friendly policies…

Invite a friend who shares your desire to build community to sit down and look at your calendar together. This is not an exercise in shame but one of mirroring where you could empower one another to develop new habits. Look at last week’s calendar and notice which things put your gifts the the gifts of others to work. Look for contrast between time spent consuming or producing. Notice and let go of the temptation to “fix” the other person’s sharing or to opt for shame or reframing your own calendar habits. Next, simply ask “how is my time a reflection of future possibilities for community?”  “Is there a ‘no’ I’m postponing?” or “What is the ‘yes’ that I no longer mean?” And notice how time works out in this response.

To go further, consider asking a few leaders in neighboring organizations or civic leaders if they would be interested in considering their version of a Table for promoting habits in the workplace and wider community.



McKnight, John. The Abundant Community: Awakening the Power of Families and Neighborhoods (pp. 106-107). Berrett-Koehler Publishers. Kindle Edition.

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The Price for Creating a World We Want

Discovering the gifts of our neighbors sounds easy. But because many of us live in isolation from those on our block, we become reluctant to intrude into other people’s lives. We don’t want to be viewed as eccentric, which might lead to further isolation.

In some neighborhoods, we might feel unsafe knocking on the door of someone we do not know. Whatever the situation, fear of rejection is a powerful deterrent to connection. Especially for those of us who feel more introverted.

We might think of our reluctance to approach a neighbor as similar to our fear of public speaking. For those who have chosen to overcome this fear, the shift starts when we begin to believe that people out there are waiting for us to speak. It happens when we redefine the anxiety of speaking as excitement and realize that moving toward the anxiety is enlivening, in fact a wake-up call we have been waiting for. The courage it takes to rebuild the fabric of our community is the price we pay for creating a world we want to inhabit. In the end, the way to get past our discomfort is to do it again and again and again.

These daily Common Good Readings contain a certain amount of challenge. It can seem that this work is reserved for a certain type of personality. But the work of building the fabric of the community belongs to introvert and extrovert alike, to emotionally and physical types, feminine and masculine. Think of your own type and the costs it takes to change your habits of isolation or self-preservation into habits of community and interdependence.




McKnight, John. The Abundant Community: Awakening the Power of Families and Neighborhoods (pp. 139-140). Berrett-Koehler Publishers. Kindle Edition.

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Expanding the Limits of Hospitality

In these times there are lots of boundaries being drawn and fought over relating to “us” versus “them.” Who are “we” and who are “they?” This can be summed up with the idea of welcome.

What about the outsider outside of our neighborhood?

The foreigner who lives on the other side of Halsted Street, the boundary of our neighborhood; or the person outside the neighborhood who prays on a rug five times a day; or the outsider who lives in a neighborhood where people park their cars on the lawn and repair them on the street; or the rich man who doesn’t want to live among us.

The truth is that every local community of any kind is a group of specially connected people. But the very fact of their special connection necessarily creates outsiders. An association of Labrador Retriever owners, without intention, makes outsiders of Poodle owners. And every neighborhood necessarily creates outsiders by establishing boundaries. The question is, what kind of boundary is it? Is it a boundary of superiority and exclusion, a dangerous place to approach? Or is it the edge of a place that has a welcome at the door?

The challenge is to keep expanding the limits of our hospitality. Our willingness to welcome strangers. This welcome is the sign of a community confident in itself. It has nothing to fear from the outsider. The outsider has gifts, insights, and experiences to share for our benefit. So we look forward to sharing our culture, gifts, and associations with others.

Who is one person who you could share gifts with today who is “outside” your community in one way or another? Can you invite one other person to join you …perhaps a coworker, fellow congregant, neighbor, or someone you live with? How will work together to “expand the limits of your hospitality?”



McKnight, John. The Abundant Community: Awakening the Power of Families and Neighborhoods (p. 138-139). Berrett-Koehler Publishers. Kindle Edition.

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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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