The Abundant Community
By: John McKnight & Peter Block
READ: February 2017
Summary: This is a powerful book that examines and challenges the foundations of our consumeristic culture. The authors keen insights probe into the tenets of capitalism and how that has shaped and continues to influence our community culture. I found myself resonating with most of what they wrote and yearning for something different...a return to a community of abundance and cooperation. The authors also get into how to reshape our local community into one of abundance. It easily earned 9/10 and would have been 10/10 if they'd spent a bit more time on the writing style. It was a bit hard to read at times, but because of their writing, not because of the ideas. Highly, highly recommend.
Chapters: 1. The Limits of Consumption 2. What Did We Lose and Where Did it Go? 3. The Effects of Living in a Consumer World 4. The Abundant Community 5. Community Abundance in Action 6. Awakening the Power of Families and Neighborhoods 7. The Power of Connectors
“All elements of satisfaction grow out of an abundant community:
1. Our neighborhoods are the primary source of our Health
2. Whether we are Safe and Secure in our neighborhood is largely within our own domain. –The number of neighbors we know by name and how often we are present and associate with those outside our house.
3. The future of our earth-the Environment-is a major local responsibility.\
4. In our neighborhoods and villages, we have the power to build a resilient economy.
5. We are coming to see that we have a profound local responsibility for the food we eat.
6. We are local people who must raise our children.
7. Locally we are the site of care.” –pg. 2-4
At the heart of the movement are three universal properties:
1. The Giving of Gifts – The gifts of individuals within the neighborhood are boundless. We must call them forth.
2. The Presence of Association – In association we join our gifts together and they become amplified.
3. The Compassion of Hospitality – We welcome strangers because we value their gifts and desire to share our own. Pg. 4-5
The Shift from Citizen to Consumer
“A consumer is one who has surrendered to others the power to provide what is essential for a full and satisfied life.” pg. 7
Consumers also go by the name client, patient, student, audience, fan, shopper, etc. pg. 7
The authors seek to move people from individual/spectator to community. pg. 7
Chapter 1 - The Limits of Consumption
“The essential promise of a consumer society is that satisfaction can be purchased.” pg. 9
“One social cost of consumption is that the family has lost its function. It is no longer the primary unit that raises a child, sustains our health, cares for the vulnerable, and ensures economic security.” pg. 9
“The second social cost is that, in too many cases, we are disconnected from our neighbors and isolated from our communities. Consequently, the community and neighborhood are no longer competent.” pg. 9
“When we use the term community competence, we mean the capacity of the where we live to be useful to us, to support us in creating those things that can be produced only in the surroundings of a connected community.” pg. 10
“A competent community provides a safety net for the care of a child, attention and relatedness for the vulnerable, the means for economic survival for the household, and many of the social tools that sustain health.” pg. 10
“…Consumerism is its effects on the isolation and loneliness that is clearly common in our suburbs and our cities.” pg. 11
“The question is how to make sense of the poignancy and disconnectedness of their lives. What they are telling us about is a culture created and sustained by a system or institutional way of life. A system life is a way of living that is not our own but one that is named by another. To live a system life is to live a managed life, a life organized around the products, services, and beliefs of systems.” pg. 13
“Culture is composed of the ways that a people have developed to survive in a particular place.” pg. 15
One foundation of consumer society is the idea of keeping the consumer dissatisfied. pg. 17
The effect of consumer society is that the family and its local community have no real functions. pg. 18
“…Strong local community is not a luxury, it is a necessity.” pg. 19
“When there are ‘thick’ community connections, both child development and school performance improve.” pg. 21
“In the consumer ecology, the word ‘care’ has been coopted by systems: businesses, agencies, and governments….There is a key distinction, the difference between care and service.” pg. 24
Chapter 2 – What Did We Lose and Where Did it Go?
“So, while this discussion is a critique, it is not a criticism or judgment of any of us who are encased in modern life.” pg. 26
“The marketplace in this way promises what it knows will not be fulfilling. This defines its counterfeit nature—trying to make something appear to be gratifying or satisfying when it is not.” pg. 27
“We even talk of the child as a ‘product’ of the school and of the administrators, counselors, teachers, and curriculum specialists as operating what we call a school system. In this way, we start early the migration of the child from citizen to consumer, from family and community life into system life.” pg. 28
“This strategy [that satisfaction can be purchased] depended on a set of ideas that might be called the sanctification of needs. We made the leap from being citizens to being consumers in a culture that successfully sold the idea that a satisfied life is determined first by defining and promoting needs and then by figuring out how to fulfill them.” pg. 28-29
“Systems are designed to create scale. Scale in turn requires consistency, control and predictability.” pg. 29
“One more task of management and systems is to maintain control by taking uncertainty out of the future, which is essential to fulfill the promise of consistency and scale.” pg. 29
“Predictability and the absence of surprise are the foundation of institutional life.” pg. 30
“Uniformity is both a strength and bane of systems. While we benefit in many ways from a predictable product or service, it also takes the joy of diversity and variation out of our lives.” pg. 30
“What happens in system life is that we become the system that we inhabit. We become replicable. We are interchangeable parts. It is the industrialization of the person.” pg. 31
“Institutionalization is to take the personal out of a structure in order to maintain continuity….to institutionalize means to depersonalize. In this context, depersonalize means not just “Don’t take this personally’, it is code for
‘ We don’t need the unique you anymore.’” pg. 32
As a result, there’s no longer any need to develop relationships, since we’re only here to produce together. In system life, we have no need for what is unique and personal about us…the essence of what builds relationships. pg. 32
“If consistency is the system’s strength, then the cost to our humanity is a system’s weakness. The impossibility of intimacy. Or relatedness. That’s why what is most personal lives only in the world of family and community. Systems and their management believe that personal relationships will distort what’s good for business.” pg. 32-33
“The tenacity and commitment of systems to a culture of impersonality and the person-as-object is so ingrained in their nature that attempts to humanize the culture are separated off, or actually discounted…” pg. 34
“Every system makes some effort to create more community within its culture. Every system invests in training. ON the surface, it sounds good to develop people. Training is a noble effort to put a human face on the system for its members and even customers. It tries to give the appearance of hospitality, kindness, and other properties of family and community. Beneath the surface, though, most system training is a packaged tool to promote better management and more effective control and predictability.
What most training does is enforce the mindset and worldview that what you are is not enough and someone else knows what is best for you. As soon as management offers a training program-on diversity, customer service, managing difficult conversations, whatever-it means that management knows and employees don’t. [This is paternalistic in nature] Management has something in mind for its people.
The system’s employee development program is not a path to freedom and self-expression, the keys to human development; it is a process that converts the uniqueness of every human being into something more standardized and controllable.” pg. 34
“It [illustrating the scale of shoes] is the sacrifice of comfort and uniqueness for the sake of more (affluence) or fashion (identity).” pg. 35
“Of course, what we have done with our shoes, we have done with our souls, our consciousness, and our culture.” pg. 36
Converting Care into Service
“What was a condition of being human is converted into a problem to be solved.…care becomes commodified, then reduced to a curriculum so it can be categorized, taught, and then certified.” pg. 36
“The competent community treats troubles as a condition. They cannot be solved. However, they can be accepted, and the person is valued for their gifts that build our community.” pg. 38
“In each case [whether it’s health, psychology, education, horticulture, child care, etc.], the system way is to elementalize, curricularize, and manage.” pg. 39
“Systems can create the illusion of providing health, safety, comfort, and the like, but theirs is a counterfeit promise. In fact, all they can deliver is order, consistency, and the cost value of scale.” pg. 43
“A big difference between the institutional and community space is that community is built around the recognition of fallibility. Institutions are built around the elimination of fallibility – the ultimate quality-control project.” pg. 43
“The institutional counterfeit of compassion and support is a two-part package: first, the spin of optimism backed up by a purchase, and second, the denial when it does happen.” pg. 44
Chapter 3 The Effects of Living in a Consumer World
“When community becomes commercialized and care becomes professionalized, life is hollowed out.” pg. 46
Core Beliefs of Consumerism:
1. The good life is achieved through purchasing power.
“It rests on the belief that it is our production and consumption that create life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness….All the more perfect to consume what you have produced….What you do becomes who you are.” pg. 47
2. To Acquire the power to purchase, we must follow a certain way of life—they system way. “To succeed in this consumerist world, most of us are destined to life a system life—by definition a managed life.” pg. 48
3. If you live by the system way, it becomes who you are. Though we work more and more and have way more gadgets designed to make life easier, “the productivity increase has accrued purely to the benefit of the system, in spite of ever-growing ability of non-people to produce stuff.” pg. 49
The Cost to Society
1. Nature is Marginalized
2. Dissatisfaction is successfully marketed.
3. Care for the Whole has Disappeared
4. We are Slaves to Debt.
“What’s more, our dependency on the marketplace devalues the nobility of human existence. We treat raising a child as a project for the schools and coaches; we treat aging and death as problems to be fixed, rather than as natural, unavoidable events. In doing so, we neglect thinking about how to live fully.” pg. 50
The Cost to Neighborhoods
1. Devaluation of the Personal “A community is a place where you can be yourself. The institution causes me to lose myself—to be replaceable or to be called a ‘case’.” pg. 55
2. The Loss of Care “Gifts don’t need to be trained into us, they are inherent.” pg. 56
3. The Lost Satisfaction of Neighboring “Hollowness is produced by the way we deal with being alone…. Hollowness is the lack of resources or competence to deal with aloneness….Real satisfaction, as opposed to counterfeit satisfaction, is a collective occurrence. It can only occur through our relatedness, our associational life, our neighbors, and our community.” pg. 57
“When the family is no longer the primary provider of child care, health, income, safety, care for the vulnerable, it loses its capacity for wisdom and support.” pg. 58
“Few things impact the family and community competence more than the construction and requirements of the workday. The institution has needs for low-cost labor, long hours for productivity, and willing compliance. The family and the community require time, energy, and space to associate. Who wins?” pg. 59
“Another price we pay for living in a consumer world is that we end up purchasing experiences rather than actively producing them. We have become spectators.” pg. 60
“Boredom is a symptom of living in a consumer world. Entertainment and consumption are its cure….This means that I become sedentary, passive. The competence to be with myself has disappeared. I do not know how to love my world and have it be enough. When I say that I am bored, the truth is that I have become boring. This is reinforced by the system world’s demand for repetition and predictability.” pg. 61
Chapter 4 – The Abundant Community
“An abundant community is not organized in the system way—there is no interest in consistency, uniformity, and replaceable parts.” pg. 65
“An abundant community is marked by a collective accountability that can be created in relationship to other people.” pg. 65
The Tenets of Abundance: pg. 66
1. What we have is enough
2. We have the capacity to provide what we need in the face of the human condition
3. We organize our world in a context of cooperation and satisfaction
4. We are responsible for each other.
5. We live with the reality of the human condition.
“Two things occur when community competence springs from these beliefs.”…
1. Competent community is the likely means of preventing the dissatisfaction that the marketplace says you have.
2. Competent community builds the power to provide for themselves what systems and consumerism would have us to purchase. pg. 66-67
3 Properties of a Competent Community: pg. 67
1. Focus on the gifts of its members
2. Nurture Associational Life
3. Offer Hospitality, the welcoming of strangers.
“An abundant community creates the re-personalization of people.” pg. 69
“A competent community is a place where I can be myself by sharing my unique gifts and revealing my unique sorrows. It is where one fully emerges as one of a kind, which some call individuation.” pg. 69
“Making our gifts and sorrows explicit makes them available for sharing. The range and variety of the sorrows we bear gives us the fuel for community and connectedness.” pg. 69
“Gifts need to be named and exchanged, not only to create competent community, but also to create a functioning family.” pg. 70
“We know that in communities, people have diverse values and visions. These differences in competent community space are valuable. The system world calls for alignment where differences are a problem to be solved. We also know that in communities that are not functioning well, differences are a great source of conflict.” pg. 71
“Associational life begins with a group of people who are drawn together for some reason, and that reason is what makes it work.” pg. 71
“Families and neighborhoods become abundant and functional again when they invest enough in each other that gifts, association, and hospitality become commonplace in the collective. This invisible structure of community’s properties is created when citizens come together to produce something.” pg. 73.
“The power of associational life is that money is taken off the table. It’s all about ‘We do it,’ not ‘We buy it.’” pg. 74
Paradox of how to become organized without losing the organic. “Associational life is essentially self-chosen order. Open space. System life is essentially imposed order. Closed and bounded space. A self-organizing group is build and focused on people’s gifts, whereas a managed system is built and focused on needs.” pg. 74
“Hospitality is the welcoming of strangers.” pg. 78
Hospitality is a confident signature of abundant community. When you aren’t confident then you feel separate and threatened, so you can’t be hospitable. Hospitality comes from trust and engenders trust. It’s missing in a world of scarcity.” pg. 79
“A community forms when people have enough trust that they can combine their properties and capacities into gifts.” pg. 79
“Systems use relationships to produce products and services. Associations create relationships for their own sake. This has the effect of bringing forth the properties of kindness, generosity, and the rest.” pg. 81
“…Community life is an organic process, one that arises from what is needed now, not one that is produced from the existing structure.” pg. 81
Chapter 5 – Community Abundance in Action
“The capacities of an abundant community are kindness, generosity, cooperation, forgiveness, and the acceptance of fallibility and mystery.” pg. 84
“Generosity is to make an offer for its own sake, not its exchange value….It conveys a sense of the bountiful, lavish, copious, and abundant.” pg. 85
“Systems treat generosity as naïve.” pg. 85
“…the definition of cooperation is ‘For me to win, you must win.’ Or if winning is not the point then, ‘For me to prosper and find satisfaction and peace of mind, then you must prosper and have peace of mind.” pg. 86
“The consumer culture shortchanges the idea of cooperation….We believe that we have to beat somebody to win, and that is the point, the purpose. Competition is a celebration of scarcity.” pg. 86
“Competition rationalizes our dissatisfaction. It keeps us wanting more. Cooperation is the belief that there is enough for each of us.” pg. 87
“Fallibility is part of the human condition, and therefore a reality of the relational world….They [institutions] do not know what to do [with fallibility], because they are designed to last forever. They act as if they are immortal and they are not. So failure, sorrow, and frailty threaten their mythology of eternal life.” pg. 89
“Mystery is the answer to the unknown. In actualizing its abundance, a community welcomes mystery, for that is a catalyst for creativity….Systems are organized around the desire for certainty, science, and measurability….We submit to the consumer culture for the illusion of safety….The price we pay for this is our aliveness. The reason we need art in all its forms is to grasp the mystery of our lives…” pg. 91
“In communal culture, everything is personal, neighbors know me by name, I am valued, I have gifts to offer the community….Three other traits of an abundant community are worth noting: the way it treats time, allows for silence, and values storytelling.” pg. 92
“Perhaps the most important marker of an abundant community is to treat time as if we have plenty.” pg. 92
“Once upon a time, the argument for automating home life was leisure; now it is about productivity. Busy-ness—a more accurate way to spell business. Let’s get down to busyness.” pg. 93
“Inviting stories is the single biggest community building thing we can do, especially when the stories we tell are stories of our capabilities, what worked out.” pg. 96
“Poverty, on the other hand, is not just the absence of money; it is also the absence of a belief in a future.” pg. 97
“Powering the family through a day in the consumer society is exhausting—and never really satisfying.” pg. 106
“The abundant community is therefore the purpose of democracy. It allows us to be citizens once again, knowing that we have the power to define our own possibilities, decide what choices reside in our own hands, and choose our own future.” pg. 111
Chapter 6 – Awakening the Power of Families and Neighborhoods
“The culture of community is initiated by people who value each other’s gifts and are seriously related to each other.” pg. 117
“Associations are important because if we want to wean ourselves away from our dependence on the consumer economy and lifestyle, associational life gives us one powerful means to do this.” pg. 129
Chapter 7 – The Power of Connectors
“The key to becoming a competent community, then, is simply a matter of intention—an intention to enhance the spirit and culture of connecting.” pg. 133
“…the key words for our community are invitation, participation, and connection. We each need to become great inviters, like a host or hostess, opening the door to our community life. Our goal will be to have everyone participating, giving and receiving gifts. And our method will be connection—introducing the newly discovered gifts to the other neighbors and associations.” pg. 138
For more visit www.abundantcommunity.com