Monday, December 14, 2015

Community: The Structure of Belonging

Title:  Community:  The Structure of Belonging
Author:  Peter Block
Publication Information:  Berrett-Koehler Publishers. 2008. 240 pages.
ISBN:  1576754871 / 978-1576754870

Book Source:  I read this book because it is the base of a community program I attended.

Opening Sentence:  "This book is written to support those who care for the well-being of their community."

Favorite Quote:  "Real transformation occurs only through choice. It cannot be sold or mandated."

To understand what this book is about, understand the meaning behind the title. The author suggests "belonging" has two meanings - to be a part of something and to have a sense of ownership about something. A "community" is defined as a place to belong. To belong to a community embodies both meanings; you are a part of it, and you play an active role in its success.

The book also distinguishes between a community of citizens versus consumers. "A citizen is one who produces the future, someone who does not wait, beg, or dream for the future." On the other hand, "consumers give power away. They believe that their own needs can be best satisfied by the actions of others."  The "structure" is what this book seeks to get to. How can a community promote a sense of belonging in its citizens?

This book puts forth an ideology for transforming communities - for creating communities of citizens who are an active part of and the creators of their communities. The basis of the transformation is a paradigm shift from thinking about problems to considering possibilities. Conversations are at the heart of this transformation. The first half of the book focuses on the community paradigm, and the second half focuses on structuring conversations to transform our communities.

The book is not an easy read. It is philosophical and at times dense. The author recognizes that and provides alternatives. Each chapter begins with a summary statement. Each chapter ends with an outline of its content. Towards the end, the book has a section titled "Book at a Glance," which does just what the title suggests. It provides an outlined summary of the book. The same ideology is presented in different ways throughout the book, making the book at times repetitive. At the same time, I find myself re-reading paragraphs to make sure I understand what is being said. Again, it is not an easy read, but the ideas are relevant and important.

Interestingly, the book has some religious undertones. One of the final chapters addresses "unnecessary suffering," an idea often found in religious conversations. The author suggests using round tables in conversation - "the shape of communion" - again an idea that can be interpreted religiously. The book suggests serving healthy snacks at meetings - "bread, unleavened if you can find it, a reminder of the Sabbath." These undertones reinforce this as a book of philosophy.

The book lays out its ideology - the "what" - but is short on the implementation - the "how." As the author acknowledges, this paradigm does not lend itself to be measurable; hence, a lack of statistics, graphs, and charts to measure results. It should, however, lend itself to case studies as to how the ideas have been implemented and the results, however non-quantifiable. The book does include some examples, but they are few in number and brief in explanation.

One of the final sections of the book does present a list of "Role Models and Resources." Some of these role models are individuals who study and write about these opportunities, and some are community leaders who have implemented these ideas. Including more descriptions of the work communities are doing within the book itself would help ground its ideas and communicate them even more strongly. Done in this way, I find that more research is necessary to completely understand the use of the book's ideas.

The book is difficult to read and probably requires more than one reading. It does not really cover the implementation of ideas. However, the ideas themselves are worth reading and worth considering as communities continue to struggle with promoting a sense of belonging in all their citizens.

Please share your thoughts and leave a comment. I would love to "talk" to you.

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