a book by Paul Born
(our site's book review)
Paul Born founded the very successful charity Tamarack Institute for Community Engagement in 2001 with philanthropist and business leader Alan Broadbent, and he wrote Deepening Community in 2014. He is internationally recognized for his innovative approaches to community development. Born is an activist and motivational speaker who travels in the United States, in Canada, and around the globe sharing his message of how we can deepen community, work collaboratively to achieve a collective impact, and, in the process, change the circumstances of those in need. This community development approach not only aids those in poverty, but those whose need is not food or money or shelter but community itself.
His book gives the reader a clear picture of why we need community, what happens if we don't have it, how it can create joy, giving and meaning in the lives of those who have it, and even how we can create community where none exists. Most people in the U.S. don't really know or care about their neighbors, preferring to keep relations superficial but friendly. Most people feel they are too busy for community involvement. Some people create neighborhood associations for safety, but Born convinces us that deepening community is a deeper goal that produces not just safety but a whole raft of other benefits as well.Childcare is by far the most prominent motivater for relating to neighbors. Parents see other kids in their neighborhood and right away see childcare potentials: you watch mine sometimes and I'll watch yours sometimes. Busy parents cannot afford to overlook such possibilities. Also, they want to meet and check out the kids their own kids are playing with—or might wish to play with. They may simply pay this family to babysit their kids while they work. Some mothers form babysitting co-ops where care is free and they get to know the mothers and kids of others who find the rising costs of childcare (daycare, nanny, homecare home, babysitter) to be more than they can deal with. Does any of this represent true community? No, but it is surely a first step. However, busy schedules seem to dictate that these pragmatic childcare issues are about as far as people take things. No deepening community efforts evolve.
Born has a better idea. Make the effort to really get to know the neighbors on your street, relate to them, give to them, care for them, be there for them when they're in need or sick, have meals and parties with them, join with them in doing things for the needy or disabled, and deepen your community in all ways.
Born's book is very thought provoking—it cannot help but precipitate a bit of introspection in the reader, who will find himself or herself evaluating both his/her relationships and his/her community. This in itself makes it a good book. His stories are touching, his points well made, and his insights deep. He's a community development guru and he's made a big difference in hundreds of thousands of lives.
He gives a chart about the three types of community: shallow community, fear-based community, and deep community. The dysfunctional approaches to community are shallow community and fear-based community, and the healthy approach to community is deep community where true bonds and relationships are formed. Shallow community is more or less the pretense of community, characterized by token gestures of friendship ("like" someone on Facebook, visit a couple of friends monthly, being hedonistic and self centered, focus on entertainment and escapism and virtual life, avoid neighbors, indulge oneself in consumerism. Fear-based community is joining with others against others. "We are right and they are wrong. We must stop them." This is win-lose community about hate, dismissal, rejection, and fear—even violence. Gated communities are "we against them" places.
Deep community is forming strong relationships, creating true bonds and caring relationships. Celebrate and party together, sometimes eat together, take care of each other, kindness, understanding, compassion, generosity, etc. Born says "Share a belief that creates a benefit for all, act together for the benefit of all. An absence of 'they' or 'them.' As we care for others, our caring for each other deepens." Interestingly, he mentions "In our neighborhoods, when we look out for one another’s children" and yet he is talking safety, not childcare. This is merely a part of neighborhood watch actions to him. As mentioned, childcare is by far the most prominent motivater for relating to neighbors in the U.S. Parents see other kids in their neighborhood and right away see childcare potentials: you watch mine sometimes and I'll watch yours sometimes. Here we are referring to both safety and childcare. Only once in the book does he even recognize the huge lack of affordable childcare by saying "For parents, it [caring for each other] may mean belonging to a co-op to share child care with other parents." (Co-ops are free since the parents themselves do the childcare, which gets scheduled. Free is all some families can afford.)
He's a very gregarious person who has found that caring for others makes him happy. Many people in caring professions have learned this lesson as well. Born gets more than he gives in the act of giving. If only everyone was like Born. But—alas!—they are not. Not even close. This high degree of socialization with neighbors is a lot more than most people feel they desire, for reasons covered below. While Born is an extrovert, lots of people are introverts. While Born is a joiner, many people are not. Born seems like the poster child for collectivism—a liberal urge disparaged by conservatives. But he isn't. He is merely a benevolent socializer and community advocate. His book is the poster child for benevolent community development. Hillary is right that "it takes a village to raise a child," but both she and Born are talking about true communities where neighbors communicate and act as resources for each other at least for childcare if not for socialization, although the latter is preferred as well.
The primary entity with individualism is the individual, but the primary entity for collectivism or some types of socialism is the group. But Born seems not to lose himself in the group (cults, communism, KKK) so much as find himself in the group, which explains his sociable nature. Socializing makes him happy.
Neither Marxism's rigid collectivization nor capitalism's ruthless individualism are stable ideologies for the 21st century and neither will work to support viable community designs for effective modern living. The 20th century showed that collectivism is utterly corrupt from the ground up, so we need to replace the collectivism-individualism comparison with a socialism-individualism comparison or even a welfare state vs. individualism comparison.
China, Denmark, Finland, Netherlands, Canada, Sweden, Norway, Ireland, New Zealand, and Belgium are the most socialistic nations in the world today, but the Scandinavian "socialism" is actually social democracy, a system in which the government aims to promote the public welfare through heavy taxation and spending, within the framework of a capitalist economy. This is what the Scandinavians practice, and they're all doing quite well, with many of them beating U.S. educational, health care, social security and welfare systems all hollow.
The huge income gap between the 1% and the 99% has become unpalatable to most
Unfortunately, our young do not value democracy very highly—1 in 6 approve of authoritarian rule
A recent YouGov survey found that U.S. voters under 30 actually have a higher opinion of socialism (43 percent in favor) than they do of capitalism (32 percent in favor). Sixty-six percent of these young people say corporate America "embodies everything that is wrong with America." This is because the 1% is royally screwing the 99% and they're fed up with being screwed, having no job prospects unless they join the military and risk their lives to support the elites' empire building adventures overseas. The huge income gap between the 1% and the 99% has become unpalatable to most, and the big corporations shipping jobs offshore has left college grads with burger flipping jobs.
The big corporations shipping jobs offshore has left college grads with burger flipping jobs
Bernie Sanders almost beat Hillary in the primaries—he's a true populist, a man of the people, and a "democratic socialist" (but really a social democrat, NOT a socialist at all). People are tired of elites that pretend to care about the people while picking our pockets and pushing us into wars the people do not want. People rejected Hillary because she was Obama 2.0 in a skirt. A hawk, like Obama and Bush, she had pushed political correctness too far, and she seemed ready to aid everyone BUT the white, male working class hero, who voted for Trump in droves.
People are tired of elites that pretend to care about the people while picking our pockets—shaking us down like an inner city local protection racket
Born seems like a true populist, a man of the people, and a social democrat like Bernie. Denmark, renowned for its bicycle culture, is officially the happiest country in the world, according to the World Happiness Report Update 2016, and Born's love of groupism and socialization has been very fulfilling to him and he seems happy like Denmark's people. (He is a Mennonite community member and Mennonite church member whose parents were previously living in Ukraine until WWII oppression made them escape to Canada in fear. The folks in his church in Canada were close and supportive—instilling community values used later in his community work and writing. He learned a lot during that time about the ideal of living a simple life with others. His book encourages us to do the same. But of course the vast majority of Americans have a very different background and our media has succeeded at addicting us to consumerism, not community.)
The vast majority of Americans have a very different background than Born and our media has succeeded at addicting us to consumerism, not community
"I believe that today the onus is on us to define community, to choose community, to make community." This is Born the activist trying to help us conquer inertia. But he couldn't be more correct. Of course, in today's America, community is very often experienced as a remote (cyber) reality while childcare concerns are necessarily a local reality. IRL F2F community is shallow and defined as the street and area where we live, not the people we love and care for locally—which is the Born way (not surprising, given his people's past experiences).
Let us cogitate upon the core question being raised here: Do we wish to expend the time and effort it would take to reach out to OUR CURRENT NEIGHBORS and create such caring relationships and bonds that they become an intimate, trusted, loving part of our lives? If the answer is yes and we really do see that type of potential in our current random-chance-selected neighbors, then we say go for it and see how far you get. Born is much more socially aggressive than anyone we know and perhaps anyone you know. But according to his inspiring book, he seems to have the social magic touch. He seems to be able to make a social silk purse out of a social sow's ear. You learned long ago that these randomly selected neighbors are not just different from you but are mostly into very different things than you are, all in all seeming to be not very compatible with you (hence that great interest in finding people with compatible interests online on social media, which is easy to do).
Few of us have the social magic touch Born has—could it be that not only isn't he preaching to the choir, he's trying to preach to people who skipped church that day?
Now, Born sees no issue with this seeming incompatibility—it will make them interesting, challenging, and people to learn new things from, new ways and ideas and cultural values. His huge desire for socializing is greater than his fear of social rejection, failed relationships, or making a fool of himself or even appearing desperate. But few of us are like that. Few of us have the social magic touch he has. Few of us want to try to get people we are not really compatible with to become something they're not, like putting a square peg in a round hole. We are happy he is such a magician that he is pulling this trick off. It sounds like he'd end up talking as most neighbors politely listened to him rattling on about stuff they don't care much about, and then he would end up pretending to listen as his neighbors were rattling on about stuff he didn't care much about. Most of us are too busy for such pretenses and we would find such experiences more shallow and frustrating than our current shallow community experiences where at least we are following through on real desires and talking/chatting/texting to our best cyberfriends. Perhaps these randomly selected neighbors will be enjoyable to get closer to in a very small percentage of neighborhoods, but this will be a rare exception.
Few of us want to try to get people we are not really compatible with to become something they're not, like putting a square peg in a round hole
Born is doing great things, tells wonderful stories, and has helped hundreds of thousands of people, but perhaps he is trying to teach people how to build a modern automobile (very few could do it or would want to) rather than telling them where they can buy one!
We're saying all this because we, too, have a better idea than the shallow or fear-based communities now prevalent. We, too, have a community deepening idea. But rather than relying on developing prodigious community building talents—the social magic touch, if you will, we rely only on what the American public has already demonstrated their talents for: social networking and finding compatible friends who they occasonally like so much they decide to meet irl and f2f. As mentioned, childcare is by far the most prominent motivater for relating to neighbors in the U.S., and the idea of free childcare and free elder care and no cars needed for getting to friends or childcare will be immensely popular, so in MCs your kids will finally get the quality of childcare they deserve.To learn what our plan is like, check out the following: MC movement, frequently asked questions, MC pictures, MC novel, MC handbook, MC summary, MC—why it is needed, and Why Do We Need Communities?.
A neighborhood before MC enhancements
A neighborhood after MC enhancements