May 28, 2018 Common Good

Setting Out in the Journey from Stranger to Neighbor

It is the willingness to reframe, turn, and even invert a question that creates the depth and opening for authentic change. Questionstake on an almost sacred dimension when they are valued for their own sake. This is in stark contrast to the common need for answers and quick formulaic action…

After the invitation, there are five other conversations for structuring belonging: possibility, ownership, dissent, commitment, and gifts. Since all the conversations lead to each other, sequence is not that critical. The context of the gathering will often determine which questions to deal with and at what depth. It’s important to understand, though, that some are more difficult than others, especially in communities where citizens are just beginning to engage with one another. I present them in ascending order of difficulty, with possibility generally an early conversation to have and gifts typically one of the more difficult.

Possibility is not a goal or prediction, it is the statement of a future condition that is beyond reach. It works on us and evolves from a discussion of personal cross- roads. It is an act of imagination of what we can create together, and it takes the form of a declaration, best made publicly.

The journey from stranger to neighbor is one out of private isolation into public disclosure and shared experience. We’ll cover all 5 conversations in the weeks ahead. First, begin by imagining those you invited declaring a possibility outloud to a small group of strangers.  Imagine the momentary change in posture when curiosity, empathy, fear, and hope aren’t “left at the door” but brought into the room and discovered through authentic conversation.

This is not a quick fix… in fact when people share it will be important to listen without giving into the habit of fixing at all. Rather than being a quick fix, this is like leaving Egypt for the wilderness, a slow, courageous journey toward recovering neighborliness (be it in specific neighborhoods, workplaces, or other associations). Your work is to bravely ask deliberate questions that initiate such a journey.  But you cannot make participation happen- leadership enacts the vulnerability that you are asking from the rest of the room.

What happens in the room is up to those who are strangers to you and one another. Not all strangers are friends, but two or more can become known to one another (neighbors) when they courageously share personal possibilities. And then we’ve begun!




Block, Peter. Community: The Structure of Belonging(p. 20, 123, ). Berrett-Koehler Publishers.

Share with a friend