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The Big Answer


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The Abundant Community: Awakening the Power of Families and Neighborhoods

a book by John McKnight and Peter Block

(our site's book review)

We Have Become Consumers and Clients, Not Citizens and Neighbors

John McKnight is emeritus professor of education and social policy at Northwestern University and is cofounder and codirector of the Asset-Based Community Development Institute. He is the coauthor of Building Communities from the Inside Out and the author of The Careless Society. John serves on the Board of Directors of numerous community organizations including the Gamaliel Foundation and The National Training and Information Center.

Peter Block is an author and consultant. His work is about empowerment, stewardship, chosen accountability, and the reconciliation of community. He’s the author of Flawless Consulting, Stewardship, The Answer to How is Yes, and Community.

Community
Community

We need our neighbors and community to stay healthy, produce jobs, raise our children, and care for those on the margin. Institutions and professional services have reached their limit of their ability to help us.

The consumer society tells us that we are insufficient and that we must purchase what we need from specialists and systems outside the community. We have become consumers and clients, not citizens and neighbors. John McKnight and Peter Block, in The Abundant Community: Awakening the Power of Families and Neighborhoods, show that we have the capacity to find real and sustainable satisfaction right in our neighborhood and community.

The consumer society tells us that we are insufficient and that we must purchase what we need from specialists and systems outside the community; we have become consumers and clients, not citizens and neighbors—but we can do better!
The consumer society tells us that we are insufficient and that we must purchase what we need from specialists and systems outside the community; we have become consumers and clients, not citizens and neighbors—but we can do better!

Reweaving the Social Fabric

The Abundant Community: Awakening the Power of Families and Neighborhoods reports on voluntary, self-organizing structures that focus on gifts and value hospitality, the welcoming of strangers. It shows how to reweave our social fabric, especially in our neighborhoods. In this way we collectively have enough to create a future that works for all. And many questions about the challenges posed by sustainability and growth are answered.

This book shows how to reweave our social fabric, especially in our neighborhoods
This book shows how to reweave our social fabric, especially in our neighborhoods

The Abundant Community: Awakening the Power of Families and Neighborhoods challenges the conventional wisdom about what you and I can do as citizens to shape our future. It offers concrete examples of what citizens can do and have done by drawing on resources in their families and communities.” —David Mathews, President, Kettering Foundation

The Abundant Community: Awakening the Power of Families and Neighborhoods is the basis for health and happiness in any society. A must-read.” —Quentin Young, Chairman, Health and Medicine Policy Research Group, and former President, American Public Health Association


What We Need Is Here

“‘What we need is here.’ That line from a Wendell Berry poem sums up the theme that runs through this vital and timely book. The Abundant Community: Awakening the Power of Families and Neighborhoods is a treasure. And it can help us recover the treasures hidden in plain sight within and among us, renewing ourselves and our democracy as we go.” —Parker J. Palmer, founder of the Center for Courage and Renewal and author of A Hidden Wholeness, Let Your Life Speak, and The Courage to Teach

“Don’t wait for a politician, scientist, infomercial, or lottery ticket to come to the rescue. Read this powerful book, The Abundant Community: Awakening the Power of Families and Neighborhoods, and help yourself, your neighbors, and your planet to satisfying and sustainable solutions found only in community.” —Jim Diers, former Director, Seattle Department of Neighborhoods, and author of Neighbor Power

Our desire for an abundant community arises out of a personal awakening,

  1. To create a culture made by our own vision
  2. Seeing the abundance we have
  3. Knowing that the power of what we have grows from creating new connections and relationships
An abundant community is characterized as one where each person recognizes the giving of gifts, the presence of association, and the compassion of hospitality. The Abundant Community: Awakening the Power of Families and Neighborhoods is a transformative experience, one that can help launch a new movement. McKnight and Block call this movement Asset Based Community Development or ABCD, for short. The book's message created both hope and a way forward, although it's a way that has more generalities than specifics.

The authors get into what we need to do to create a more satisfied life and it is often in our own neighborhood and community
The authors get into what we need to do to create a more satisfied life and it is often in our own neighborhood and community

Buying Stuff Has Failed to Create Happiness—Now What?

"This book discusses the negative effects we are experiencing due to the fact that we are a consumer society. Buying things does not make us happier. The authors get into what we need to do to create a more satisfied life and it is often in our own neighborhood and community. Even though they discussed 'community' on a broad level, many of the suggestions and stories can be applied in my neighborhood community. I especially like the idea of people sharing their skills and interests (gifts) with their neighbors." —An Amazon reviewer

One especially insightful reviewer said that "At times, the authors’ zeal for close-knit community life comes across as overly romantic and may run the risk of oversimplifying the social and economic forces of modern life in order to stress the limitations of consumerism. The authors’ fierce belief in the capacity of community to heal and provide for itself runs in stark contrast to the predominant scholarship that finds communities almost incorrigibly deficient. And perhaps my hesitation with such an optimistic community narrative is symptomatic of the endemic cynicism of professionalism identified at the outset of the book. Indeed, it seems the power of The Abundant Community is not to provide an accurate, or even an entirely realistic account of community, but rather to inspire confidence—to shake the skeptical and guarded American citizen suffering from public paralysis out of the grip of consumerism and into action." (Source: Books Worth Reading – The Abundant Community: Awakening the Power of Families and Neighborhoods, by Alexandra Robinson, The Kettering Foundation)

The authors’ fierce belief in the capacity of community to heal and provide for itself runs in stark contrast to the predominant scholarship that finds communities almost incorrigibly deficient: 'let the experts do it'
The authors’ fierce belief in the capacity of community to heal and provide for itself runs in stark contrast to the predominant scholarship that finds communities almost incorrigibly deficient: 'let the experts do it'

Other Authors' Takes on Consumer Society Downsides

Wilson Bryan Key tells us in Media Sexploitation that "We have, in a very real sense, sold out our individualism and freedom in return for a handful of baubles while we play-acted at being free individuals. . . . It is not difficult to conclude that man has done a superb job of conspiring unconsciously against finding out about himself." Marketers exploit our repressed needs for love, sex, recognition, identity, status, et al. Man doesn’t run his life; his life runs him. He’s not at cause; he’s at effect. He’s told what he needs and wants in a way that pushes his buttons that relate to struggles to be loved during childhood, insecurities and fears about his or her attractiveness, hygiene, independence, manhood or womanhood. He’s vulnerable to advertising because he’s insecure in his being, other-directed (see The Lonely Crowd), and easy to manipulate by yanking the chains of his insecurities. All this represents the liabilities of consumer society living.

Consumer society dwellers are easy to manipulate by yanking the chains of their insecurities
Consumer society dwellers are easy to manipulate by yanking the chains of their insecurities


McKnight and Block are trying to free the slaves (us) to become something more than mindless consumer suckers with senseless indulgences that dominate our existences and waste our life spans—instead, they point to sustainable solutions found only in community
McKnight and Block are trying to free the slaves (us) to become something more than mindless consumer suckers with senseless indulgences that dominate our existences and waste our life spans—instead, they point to sustainable solutions found only in community

Another McKnight book is Building Communities from the Inside Out: A Path Toward Finding and Mobilizing a Community's Assets—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.

Focus on communities' assets, not their deficiencies: the glass is half full, not half empty
Focus on communities' assets, not their deficiencies: the glass is half full, not half empty

In The Healing Web: Social Networks and Human Survival, Marc Pilisuk and Susan Park tell us that in family network therapy, there is no intervention that uncovers the needs and individual pathologies and then uses agencies to address these situations. Instead, there are network therapists that try to educate a community to help itself, based upon it’s strengths, which is the opposite of the deficiency identification context.

In The Web of Life: Weaving the Values That Sustain Us, Richard Louv notes that: “The cultural and political mistake of the ‘70s and ‘80s was the assumption that institutional or personal renewal could be accomplished without connection to community or to the next generation. . . . Across the country you can sense the emergence of the culture of renewal. It may not win, but it’s growing, steady and sure.”

In America's Promise, Don Eberly wisely points to the advantages of asset-based community development, building on the existing assets in neighborhoods—as opposed to coming from a deficiency perspective where the entire context is about needs, problems, deficiencies—which often leads to a futile search for funds when outside money sources are drying up daily. He welcomes the character movement that realizes, like our Founders, that unless this is the foundation you build on, your social structures will topple or rot. A nation full of people with a victim mentality who can talk about nothing but their rights and entitlements isn’t a nation of good character.

The Founders realized that unless character is the foundation you build on, your social structures will topple or rot; but we are NOT building our society on character
The Founders realized that unless character is the foundation you build on, your social structures will topple or rot; but we are NOT building our society on character

What the Authors Get Right

In The Abundant Community: Awakening the Power of Families and Neighborhoods, McKnight and Block reflect on what our culture in America has become, which is depressing, but then demonstrate that an asset-based ("abundance") community perspective is the path out of the gloom. They help with creating a context for putting people in charge of their own lives. McKnight says "We are discovering that it takes a village to do more than raise a child. It is the key to a satisfying life. It turns out we need our neighbors and a community to be healthy, produce jobs, protect the land and care for the elderly and those on the margin. Our consumer society constantly tells us that we are insufficient and that we must purchase what we need from specialists and systems outside the community. We outsource our health care, child care, recreation, safety and satisfaction." He is totally right. We needn't outsource childcare or elder care. (People who put elder cottages in their back yards or elders in their back rooms often cannot afford outsourcing elder care.) Babysitting co-ops are a good temporary stop-gap measure to deal with childcare needs, and MCs deal with both childcare and elder care.

People often cannot afford elder care so they get elder cottages for their back yards ($30,000-$45,000 once vs. $20,000-$90,000 yearly for elder care)
People often cannot afford elder care so they get elder cottages for their back yards ($30,000-$45,000 once vs. $20,000-$90,000 yearly for elder care)

The authors say "Health, safety, environment, economy, food, children, and care are the seven responsibilities of an abundant community and its citizens." They seem like food co-op runners that grow food in gardens and have DIY block safety patrols, according to the way they assign many of the above tasks to neighborhoods, since the "system" is something they disparage as alienating and disempowering. "Let the experts handle it" is the exact opposite of what these authors wish to do. "Let's become local experts ourselves and have a well-functioning neighborhood and community and life" exemplifies their attitude. "Care cannot be provided, managed, or purchased from systems" is a mantra all over our website. Kids and elders should be cared for by people who love them. You cannot buy love. Exactly.

The authors say that our culture informs us that a satisfying life can only be purchased. It lets us know that in the place where we live, we don’t have the resources to create a good life and that we must find the expertise from marketers and professionals. They disagree. So do we. In this book, McKnight and Block show us examples from education, law enforcement, grief care and health care to demonstrate how our consumer model of dealing with these concerns fails repeatedly, when a community approach could succeed.

McKnight and Block reflect on what our culture in America has become, which is depressing, but then demonstrate that an asset-based (
McKnight and Block reflect on what our culture in America has become, which is depressing, but then demonstrate that an asset-based ("abundance") community perspective is the path out of the gloom

Where the Authors Go Off the Track

The biggest issue we have with McKnight's and Block's solution to alienation from self and other via the liabilities of living in a consumer culture is that it's all about getting closer to neighbors we often have no interest in, and vice versa. An unnatural attempt to try to drum up such interest feels just as plastic as becoming a victim of consumerism who is not at cause, but at effect, a person who is told what he needs and wants in a way that pushes his buttons. He's easy to manipulate by yanking the chains of his insecurities. Plastic socialization in a plastic consumerist society is a plastic life—no less so because one "tries to like the neighbors." There are gregarious extroverts who will find it natural to strike up relationships with anyone and everyone, but the bulk of us would find this distasteful. We are simply more fussy and discriminating (not the racist kind!) than that and we value our time more highly than that. We are not busybodies with too much time on our hands. See Why Do We Need Communities? for a more thorough discussion of this issue that leads to better solutions.

Plastic socialization in a plastic consumerist society is a plastic life—no less so because one 'tries to like the neighbors'
Plastic socialization in a plastic consumerist society is a plastic life—no less so because one 'tries to like the neighbors'

When the authors tell us that people are discovering that satisfying possibilities for their lives are in the neighborhood, not in the marketplace, we agree and disagree. It assumes the current neighbors—the ones we are stuck with. That is not an assumption we will be willing to make. Call us fussy. We are, but so are the billions of online social network users who only friend those they are interested in and with whom they have common interests. We consider our type of fussiness—which we share with billions—to be normal and natural, and we think of awkward, forced relationships as abnormal and unnatural. Even in the small town "Mayberry"s of the past, people naturally socialized with others they liked but occasionally found themselves involved with neighbors they had no interest in not for socialization but for reasons of practicality or necessity. (I.e., fences, dogs, elderly, disabled, errands, disorderly children, and noisiness.) Randomly accumulated neighbors are about as likely to be people we have a lot in common with as randomly selected names in a randomly selected phone book.

Randomly accumulated neighbors are about as likely to be people we have a lot in common with as randomly selected names in a randomly selected phone book
Randomly accumulated neighbors are about as likely to be people we have a lot in common with as randomly selected names in a randomly selected phone book