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The Big Answer


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Building Communities from the Inside Out: A Path Toward Finding and Mobilizing a Community's Assets

a book by John P. Kretzmann and John L. McKnight

(our site's book review)

This book is an important community tool, in that it reframes the context of community building from one in which the focus is on needs, problems and deficiencies to one in which the focus is on assets, skills and capacities. An optimistic tool, it sees the glass as half full, not half empty. Neighbors aren’t just others with childcare problems. They’re people one can form childcare co-ops with. Unemployed people aren’t idle. They’re people eager and ready to work.

This book is an optimistic tool: it sees the glass as half full, not half empty
This book is an optimistic tool: it sees the glass as half full, not half empty

Community builders need a “resource map” which lists the physical assets but also the skills and capacities of the community members, according to McKnight and Kretzman.

For thousands of years, community members have always known that they were responsible for their problems. Somehow, in the last few decades, the entitlement mentality, the victim mentality, the me-generation, and the “all rights and no responsibilities” mindset have made many citizens forget about this responsibility. This book is a tool for re-empowering people to once more be at cause in their environments.

There’s an obvious analogy here with MCs: In many neighborhoods, the problems are: Who can I get to watch my kids while I’m at work? Who will get my kids to Little League, school, piano lessons, or the mall? How can I get to my friend’s house across town since my teenager has the car? How can I afford the rates at that childcare center? How and where will I find friends that I really like and want to be with rather than just tolerate and kill time with? How can I spend all this time commuting and still give my kids any time? How can I do shopping during a commute without making my family’s dinner way too late? Who can I find who really wants to hear about my problems and has time to listen? Am I really going to have to be without social function now that I’m past 65? Etc., etc.

What is my social function now?
What is my social function now?

But in MCs, these problems are already solved by virtue of the way MC life is set up. MCs are resource-heavy, asset-heavy, talent-heavy, friends-heavy, growth (self-actualization)-heavy, happiness-heavy, and autonomy-heavy, while normal neighborhoods are resource-light, asset-unrecognized, talent-unrecognized/unused, friends-light, growth (self-actualization)-light, happiness-light and autonomy-light. In other words, the MCs overflow with resources so their members can and do get what they need, self-actualize, spiritually mature, and then usually expand their close encounters of the first (MC) kind to close encounters of the second (community) and third kind (world), building community and world with exponentially expanding personal resources.

What members don’t have and what they need are communicated on PSBs when appropriate, but since the overall MC nurturing is superb, such needs and wants are mostly about rides, tutors, childcare alternates or discussions after a child reaches his or her teen years, since his or her basic emotional security and family/social well-being is a fait accompli by that time.

Non-MC life, on the other hand, is quite a different story for most Americans: Not only do all of the above questions expose the resourceless, frustrating plight of the heroically-individualistic, hyper-independent, isolated nuclear/non-nuclear families in suburban and urban neighborhoods, but the patterns of relationships, parenting, communication and socialization are normally somewhere between seriously flawed and hopelessly inadequate.

Heroic individualist
Heroic individualist


What remained when most social tasks were exteriorized in the 1950s was the isolated ‘nuclear family,’ held together less by the functions its members performed as a unit than by fragile psychological bonds that are all too easily snapped
What remained when most social tasks were exteriorized in the 1950s was the isolated ‘nuclear family,’ held together less by the functions its members performed as a unit than by fragile psychological bonds that are all too easily snapped

Life isn’t secure, fun, satisfying or inspiring in such environments. It’s been set up as an aggregate of resourceless, isolated cocoons where most relating is virtual and done via social networking or vicarious and done though the characters on TV—a safer and less risky type of “relating” that also pretends to make up for the fact that the people you know are not that interesting or fun to be with anyway. The TV characters are more attractive, funnier, more open and even more creative than the people you know. The society is set up so that isolated captive audiences of lonely people will like TV better than real people, and they’ll watch it by the hour, responding to some of the ads by consuming in an effort to fill their inner emptiness. The MCs won’t stop consumption, but the products will more often be of real benefit to the buyers, who won’t even notice ads for unhealthy or useless products, and who spend more time with real people than with the pseudo-relationships TVs provide.

Isolated captive audiences of lonely people like TV better than real people
Isolated captive audiences of lonely people like TV better than real people

McKnight and Kretzman talk about the “village well” as the community meeting place. (This is like an MC hub at the neighborhood level, or an MC center at the community level.) They also discuss how many community meetings only involve a few leaders and busybodies, so the full range of community assets don’t get discovered, and therefore the planning of these leaders centers on perceived needs and deficiencies. This leads to a dependence on external (to the community) resources.

A community with free-flowing information will have stronger strands in its social web and deeper roots since the members know one another. But McKnight and Kretzman might want to consider the fact that when people in randomly-thrown-together communities get to know one another, they often don’t like each other (in spite of bleeding-heart liberal, collectivist theories to the contrary), and they begin to desire that they knew less about others and others knew less about them—it’s a vulnerability in the 21st century.

When people in randomly-thrown-together communities get to know one another, they often don’t like each other—in spite of liberal collectivist theories to the contrary
When people in randomly-thrown-together communities get to know one another, they often don’t like each other—in spite of liberal collectivist theories to the contrary

Planners and builders discover assets and talents and resources this way (via meetings and information exchange), but the criminally-disposed can discover resources they desire, vulnerabilities to exploit, and people to con. In the ideal-liberal world, such thinking is paranoia and antisocial, but in the real world, such thinking is not only prudent but a sign of our times. (Recall Robert Reich’s and Richard Louv’s books about secession and armed enclaves. Titles: The Work of Nations and America II, respectively.) The reason one shouldn’t give out personal, vulnerable information on the Internet is essentially the same as why one doesn’t want too high a profile as a community resource—after all, the definition of a criminal is a person who discovers and then steals or exploits others’ resources.

A criminal
A criminal

Interestingly enough, the precise opposite of what was just asserted is true in an MC. Becoming an asset and resource in a microcommunity is exactly the way to go to enjoy life to the fullest, and the more fellow members know one another and share feelings and childcare and activities with one another, the more they enjoy life, since, after all, these aren’t just random neighbors. They’re family and kin and/or friends—the latter chosen from among thousands or even millions—and they enjoy the company of every single one of their members.

So the collectivist, liberal assumptions of this book are a bit unrealistic and naïve with regards to people automatically wanting to join in with others in the community as collective resources. They often wouldn’t and don’t, and it has nothing to do with bias, elitism, prejudice or antisocial attitudes. It has to do with the honest realities about who people do and do not feel comfortable relating to. If it feels awkward, boring or pretentious, they won’t want to get involved. (The MC movement is a perfect solution for this problem. See Why Register for an MC?.) On the other hand, this book, as a community tool for asset-based community building, is right on. An asset/resource context rather than a need context is precisely the right way to build community! See Why Do We Need Communities?.

Registering for MC search and match
Registering for MC search and match