Several years ago, Block, a well-known consultant and author, moved to Cincinnati, which had been torn apart by racial turbulence in 2001. He became a dedicated servant leader there, spending several hours a day working to build a sense of community and create a more cohesive, healthier city.
Community, to Block, is about membership, feeling part of something larger than oneself, feeling at home, relating to the rest of the world — and participating in, owning, and being accountable for what one creates with others. It matters not whether the community is a small group, a neighborhood, a city, a multinational corporation, a global governance organization, or any other structure. Organizing any human enterprise is an exercise in developing community.
Block has applied rigor and years of experience in honing his understanding of how people can work together to create what they need and desire, “a future distinct from the past.” He focuses on the structures of belonging, giving detailed attention to the many elements of design, location, and process that contribute to having productive conversations, gatherings, and relationships. He says, for instance, that conversations should be structured around questions that evoke not answers, but commitment, accountability, and the possibility for transformation. These include questions of invitation (not mandate, coercion, or persuasion); questions about possibilities, how we wish to live in the future (not problems to be solved); questions about ownership that lead people to accept responsibility; questions about dissent that leave space for authentic doubt and reservations; questions about commitment that evoke promises and accountability for observable results; and questions about gifts that surface what we and others can bring to the quest for a different future.
This book, as Block writes, is “for anyone who wants to be part of creating an organization, neighborhood, city, or country that works for all, and who has the faith and the energy to create such a place.”
Ultimately, what makes Block’s book, and indeed this entire category of books, so compelling to us is its basis in a world view that relies on human creativity, generosity, and people’s innate desire to work together for a better future. The stories and examples, drawn from such different places and cultures, profoundly challenge the assumptions about human nature embedded in our economic theory and, therefore, in our lives. If we are to find our way out of the problems that besiege us, foremost of which is the destruction of human capability and our faith in one another, we need to be bold enough to realize that human nature is the blessing, not the problem.
Margaret Wheatley works with organizations and communities globally to maintain capacity in chaotic times. She is founder of the Berkana Institute, which assists local communities in the Third World, and the author of four books, including Leadership and the New Science: Discovering Order in a Chaotic World (Berrett-Koehler, 1993) and Finding Our Way: Leadership for an Uncertain Time (Berrett-Koehler, 2005).
Carole Schwinn is cofounder of InGenius, a Michigan-based consultancy that works with organizations committed to bringing people together to improve the quality of life in their communities. Her work with InGenius and the Berkana Institute has taken her to Japan, India, Thailand, Canada, New Zealand, and South Africa.