Hi all,

This is my first post to this forum, so I'll try to keep it as short and sweet as possible:

 

I recently had the opportunity to sit at a "Connectors Table" convened by Peter Block and John McKnight.  I first heard of these guys when I was invited to hear Judith Snow speak almost two years ago.  Since then, I've gotten a crash course in community from lots of other "conspirators" (most of their names start with J's - jo, john, joe or jack - but some are named collette, hope amongst others).  They introduced me to the stories of mr. Kohler and Mr./Mrs. O'Brien and mr. Wolfensberger and Jean Vanier...and...all of a sudden...wow... I must admit, my view of my life, work, and community was blown out of the water. 

 

So the big thing is that I started understanding the importance of community...in my work, in the place I live and raise my two boys, in the everyday.

 

At one of the most recent Connector Table gatherings, john mentioned the phrase "rusty citizen."  It really struck me.  That's what I've been!!!!  That's the name.  I knew it was something, but not sure what.

 

So over the past few months, I've been working to connect with others simply by having more conversations, saying hello, inviting people to do things, and just making the effort that I've been personally lacking.  i've been talking to other people about it, too, and (surprise, right?) I'm not the only one who feels it! 

 

So I'm mad at myself for being a "rusty citizen," but the awareness of it has been powerful and positive.  I don't think I'll ever be the same, which is a good thing.  Do others experience the same awareness?  How did I get to be a rusty citizen in the first place?  Can it be avoided?  How did I snap out of it?  Am I still in it? 

 

Lots of questions, huh?  I've got about 50 stories over the past few months of my wife and I making simple efforts that have extraordinary (and usually fun!) results. 

 

So then John/Peter talked about staying local.  they want this effort to be about your block/neighborhood.  I'm doing that, and loving it.  But I've some questions:

 

What constitutes my "neighborhood?"  Can my "neighborhood" be my office?  my campus or dorm?  My church?  Dowtown?  the West side?  Online communities?  Of course, I should be a well-oiled citizen everywhere, right?  

 

If we got busy working even smaller than neighborhoods/blocks (i.e. person by person), would it have a broader impact?  So if everyone considered how they might be "rusty," then would the effect of intentionally going out of their way to be a better citizen would not only impact their relationships with their neighbors/block, but would also impact relationships in the other circles of their lives (families, cities, church, work, etc.)? 

 

(Don't tell Peter/John, but I've started branching out beyond my home!  And it's just as much fun connecting at work, around work, downtown, at the bus stop, at the grocery store, and all the other places that aren't in my immediate neighborhood!) 

 

So those are my questions.  Did I say "short and sweet?"  Sorry, but I guess that means I belong here because I've read a ton of other long posts from everyone else:)  anyway, it could have been worse...I promise!

t~

 

 

 

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Tim

In talking with a family member recently who is getting help from an established, well meaning but institution founded 'service' to establish a 'circle of friends' around her daughter I began to understand the important distinction between making connections and fostering community. The 'services' way of making initial contact with potential circle members was through text messaging. Many connections were made and a meeting is being convened. However the family member was surprised that the 'initiative' is being seen as a simple casual type exercise by the potential circle members. She is getting all kinds of confused messages back from these people who have been in her daughters life for a long time. From the outset the message is simply about connection and not about community, friendship or family.

It strikes me that the way we are making connections and the context in which they are made is important. Saying 'hello' to the people who live in our immediate environment is just human. Greeting our work colleagues with openness and politeness is only an invitation to act the same way with myself and my family. Making connections in this way is certainly preparing the ground for community building. It seems ground shifting to be making these connections (some will characterize it as downright weird! this guy saying 'hello' to us all the time) when what we've become used to is that every house where a family lives is an entertainment center in itself or a series of rooms where in each the portal for what has become known as 'community' faces outwards through the LCD screen of a laptop.

Making connections - generating a network? YES. building a community? NO. Lets not get into a situation where the word 'community' is undermined and devalued in the 21st century though over usage ("like snuff at a wake" as they say here in Ireland). The same thing happened to the word 'communication' at the end of the last century. In the same way as the misappropriation of funds in the banking sector is seen as fraud so to is the misappropriation of the word 'community' on the internet, at work and in institutions. It's fraudulent. It's presenting something as something other than what it is. I think when we use 'community' as a 'tag' for network building or connection making we soften down and neuter the raw naked power of what community is about.

For me 'community' is not about individuals working together. It's about families living together and sharing a common experience for the significant proportion of what their life is now. Community is built not around individuals connecting but by groups of people working together. I think, probably like yourself, that community building is active and collaborative. However I think that the smallest active unit is the collective 'people' - a family making an enduring community and not just the singular 'person' making casual connections.
hmmm...I get the difference between connections and community. Good point, Willie.

But you've got to crawl before you can walk, right? Don't the connections till the soil where the seeds of community can take root?

I have lots of connections, some deeper than others. Eventually, they either contribute to or generate a community (my family, neighborhood, city, social club, etc.) or they stay shallow. But they're connections, nonetheless.

I guess my point is that community and connections are different, yes, but also dependent upon each other for their existence. Personally, I wasn't even making simple connections often enough (I was being a rusty citizen), so inherently, I was precluding myself form the potential serendipity of community. I'm no expert, for sure, but I'm really excited about how much fuller my life (and all my various communities) has become in a bunch of different ways from making a concious effort to connect. I've got more close friendships, I am more involved in my church's social action committee, and my neighbors and I talk way more than we used to.

So then, would working "person by person" and raising our awareness about how we may have been "rusty" as individuals eventually create more of the kinds of communities we crave?

Oh, and by no means do I consider texting, Facebook or the Inclusion Network message board "communities." but I do see their value in connecting and contributing to the creation and support of "groups of people working together."
Hi Tim and Willie,

Great conversation, I never really thought about this before, so your conversation has help me be less rusty in my own thinking, funny sometimes how we get so used to words like connection, and community, especially in the Inclusion world. For me both at a personal level in relation to my brother Kevin who is now 46 and labelled disabled and as an Asset Based enthuasist two immediate thoughts:
1. You can have connections without community, but you can't have community without connections.
2. Quality matters, here I mean:
-Do the connections create a forum for exchanging gifts? People smile at Kevin, but too often it's a smile of charity, not the smile of an equal; as far as Kevin is concerned you can shove that one up your you know where....
-Do they broaden the circle of particpation? Kevin meets lots of people at sheltered work space every day, and on the bus to and from, but in the main they are not his friends and they do not connect him into community life in his neighbourhood or the city, so until he got what he calls a real job locally and people started to get to know him for him he lived in isolation, in a sea of smiles, head nods and rusty, half baked connections;
-Do connections build power/agency to act upon the things we care about to have a good life? Or are they just another well meaning program?
Peter Block put's it well when he says of Community:
“Community” as used here is about the experience of belonging. We are in community each time we find a place where we belong. The word “belong” has two meanings. First and foremost, to belong is to be related to, to be a part of something. It is the experience of being at home in the broadest sense of the phrase. It is the opposite of thinking that wherever I am, I would be better off somewhere else. Or that I am still forever wandering, looking for that place where I belong. The opposite of belonging is to feel isolated and always (all ways) on the margin, an outsider. To belong is to know, even in the middle of the night, that I am among friends…

The second meaning of the word “belong” is to be an owner. Something belongs to me. In our terms, to belong to a community is to act as a creator and co-owner of that community. What I consider home, I will build and nurture. The work then is to seek in our communities a wider and deeper sense of emotional ownership; it means fostering among all of a community’s citizens a sense of ownership and accountability.
(Peter Block, 2008)

All that to say the critical action in building community is not outside professional intervention, not even good local leadership, though both help if directed well, the critical action is connecting asset that before were not connected, so it's not just any old connection,it's intentional; connections that allow people to share their assets, build their power and make change happen from within their own lives, and communities on out as far as they chose.....
The place where I have the greatest hope we can find belonging and hospitable community is in the local sphere of the neighbourhood, but neighbourhoods need work like you say, we've all gone rusty, civic muscle has gotten flabby, is another favourite turn of phrase of John McKnight. But I do not think I'll ever wake up in the middle of the night feeling I belong to this NING....if you know what I mean.

Willie we'll have to meet for a pint some time!

All the best,

Cormac
Tim:
Rusty Citizenship - wonderful concept - and such a simple action response - get out the old and almost rusty oil tin - and lubricate the joints and gears. You don't have to do them all at once - and they won't all work perfectly - but a little oil (a few attempts to reconnect) - and new patterns are remembered and created. GREAT idea. keep it up.
Jack
Wow! I loved reading your post! So true... "Rusty citizen" is such a great, on the mark term. I don't have any answers... (sorry!) But I do have comments ( of course).
I believe that almost everyone has 'good intentions' but struggle to manifest them into something that can be seen, heard and felt by others. That really impact everyday, human lives, people from different heritage, culture, people with a disability, etc..... Am I even making sense??
I believe that just by being aware of it, talking about it and conscious of where to from here? makes a difference big enough to grow change...
I have come across something here in Australia that was born by somebody who also had this realisation that his neighbourhood had lost it's person to person relationship.. Check it out, It's just one way to manifest your realisation into something that has the potential to grow..
www.thesharehood.org
Renee :)
Hi Tim,

Great Post! Good questionon what is your community. Thats where I'm at right now. Defining my community. Our community is 60 kilometers long with small roads spread from the main highway. Very rural. I have a group that is brainstorming with me on how to connect this large area ( and should we be? ). Maybe it should be smaller bites? We have many individuals and associations working in isolation with no communication between each other. Big job but we've got to start somewhere. Our community lost its sense of community 20 years ago with the outmigration of businesses and "third places" in the community.
Rhonda
I've been working on this at my work, in my neighborhood and in my church, all different "communities" of mine, and I've got good stories from all three places. Here's a story from my city:

My wife (Bridget) is on a gardening kick and is using our backyard to teach our sons (5 & 2) about life, growth and conservation. She's been doing this for three years now and she's becoming a gardening nerd! She's getting us a rain barrel, she's exploring community gardening and I now know about 9,000 different uses for zucchini. She and I have worked together for the past 10 years, so she has a lot of friends who have the label of disabilities and is a wizard in supporting them.

I ran into Christine, who used to bartend at our fave place and would give us all cheap beer (A whole Fosters for $2, Renee! Can you imagine the riots in the streets if that happened there?) In catching up, she told me she had moved to Bellevue and I asked her if we could get coffee. As we chatted, she talked about her and her husband's art, her passion for pottery, and her desire to get into the locavore movement and community gardening. She said her backyard is next to some city owned property along a train track, so she thought it would be perfect for a garden and she'd be willing to water it. I asked her if she'd like to hook up with Bridget and if she would enjoy some free zucchini:)

A few weeks later, I got a call from a mother whose son is graduating high school and she is lost with what to do next. I asked her where she lived and she said "Bellevue" and we set up a coffee for the next morning. Mitchell, her son, is 18, and is a Kentucky basketball fan, so I knew right away he was a good person with sound judgment. We talked hoops and his mom told me how she's looking for ways to keep Mitchell, who has Down syndrome, active and engaged, now that he's finished with HS. He said he loves exercise and gardening and is getting a PT job this summer at a local garden center!

After coffee, I sent an email to Steve, who is on Bellevue City Council (we had coffee a few weeks prior). He hooked me up with Tom, a former Mayor who heads up the Neighborhood Association. Tom and I had coffee and he said that the Neighborhood Association has money to help with things like community gardens.

So I emailed all of these people and told them about their common interests and stepped away.

They have since met and started planning. The City people are excited and are letting them use the lot behind Christine's house, and there are about 3 other citizens who have joined the effort. And Mitch is in the thick of it!

I am thinking that, as he gets more tenure at his job at the garden center, he might become the go-to guy on the community garden team, as he could probably help score damaged but usable bags of mulch and other supplies or discounts from his job.

So I'm loving this stuff. It's a lot of fun.
A few things I'm thinking about these days:

1. I think it's important to remember: This is not work! It's a new way of being, and so there's no horizon for the work, or limitations/boundaries/requirements/etc. That takes a lot of pressure off and makes many questions about such matters moot, in my humble opinion.

2. While I see the great value in connecting citizens based on common interests, passions and strengths, I think there's particular value in intentionally including marginalized or labeled people in the connections. Obviously, good things will come of this regardless, but incorporating the talents of people at risk of marginalization is a little bonus to strive for.

3. How can this effort also be a part of educating our children? Bridget will intentionally look for ways that kids or schools can be incorporated in the community garden's future. This is something that john McKnight discussed briefly when they launched the book in June. But I think it's a critical part of it and an aspect w/ tremendous potential.

just something to add to the conversation!
t~
Haha!! Yep, That's cheap Beer!
What a wonderful and powerful story! I got excited reading it. I totally agree, it is not 'work' it is just a matter of being. Without a "hat" as such on your head, you are able to look much futher and take risks and chances that should be taken when about to begin a journey of any intention!
Well done to you, your wife,and all the other people involved in such inspiring community togetherness
Renee :)

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