Discovering Others’ Gifts: Re-humanizing Our Communities


The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new landscapes, but in seeing with NEW EYES.

Marcel Proust

Did over 500 people just open their eyes?
Did Core Change Cincinnati just facilitate the collective BLINK of new possibilities? The weekend of February 17–19, about 500 citizens came together to reinvent the new American city for Cincinnati. Acting as a recorder of the event, what I experienced unequivocally says, “YES, I saw everyone’s eyes SPARK with New Possibilities!”

One of the process phases and themes of this event was DISCOVERY. I have been reflecting on the transformational learning of this incredible event. My hope is to write a series of articles on the numerous thoughts that emerged. This first article will focus and take a deep dive into what DISCOVERY means to me.



Core Change was historic for Cincinnati: citizens gathering to make intentional positive change to our urban core. This was an Appreciative Inquiry (AI) Summit that blended in AI process along with Asset-Based Community Development principles and A Small Group practices.

A lot of change practices are usually about development—whether it is organizational, community, or personal. This summit boldly declared that what we need… we already HAVE. If that is true, then our work is about DISCOVERY. How do we discover all the latent strengths and invisible activities that are ALREADY HAPPENING? As the writer Marcel Proust states, this is where our voyage begins…


Open Your Eyes

DISCOVERY is about what don’t we know? What’s already there and happening? How do we recognize the great acts of generosity that are occurring, recognize the work, and then celebrate it by holding it up HIGH and making itVISIBLE? A key theme of Core Change is making the invisible…visible!

By focusing on what we are paying attention to, we may be missing out on what is also happening. The act of measuring something means that we are not measuring other things. In the psychology field this phenomenon is called inattentional blindness. Simply put, what we don’t look for we don’t see.

Let’s try to experience this before trying to explain it. Try this exercise. Look at the picture below and describe what you see.

Most people typically see a cliff ridge with trees on top sitting at a lake. Is that what you see? Now, turn your head to left (counterclockwise) and describe what you see. Do you see it? (HINT: look for a mother and child in solemn prayer.)

This exercise reveals a perspective bias that we have. We rarely ever question our own basic assumptions of whatIS. For example, in this picture we assume that the only way to look at this picture is as presented. The Y axis implies that we are seeing up-down and the X-axis is left-right. This here is the embedded and hidden basic assumption. Just by shifting our orientation and perspective (quarter turn counterclockwise), we make meaning of a whole different image. We see what ELSE IS.

This is just a metaphor for how we view ourselves, people, and communities. In society, do we unquestionably look at people as problems to be solved? Are we Fixers looking for Fixees? What if we just joined people in fascinated inquiry? How would our relationships change? What would shift if we were daily inquiring in an appreciative orientation? What if we were constantly searching for the gifts in others and around our neighborhoods?

If expectations help share our reality, then let’s learn NOT to expect anything. Let’s stay curious. Let’s stay in Discovery. When that happens, the MOST unexpected and magical things happen.


Insights on DISCOVERY

In my learning journey, here are some of my recent insights on what Discovery also means:


Discovery Is an Intention and Attitude

Expectations help shape reality. Expectations are rooted in basic assumptions. There is a dominant narrative that helps set up these assumptions and expectations. We should acknowledge that and forgive our own fallibilities. But once we realize our biased perspectives, we have aCHOICE. How do we cultivate our intention and attitude to change our orientation and perspective? This question leads us to the next insight.


Discovery Is a Shift and Reframing

Inverting our perspectives allow us to see more of the whole. In order to facilitate the shift, we need to understand the basic assumptions we have now. Understanding our basic assumptions help us to understand the borders of how we frame. If we can change our basic assumptions, we are RE-FRAMING. This gives us the power to widen our windows to a more possible world.


Discovery Is Practice and Culture

Practice is embodied in the daily activities and in the hundreds of choices we make every day. Can we seamlessly go back and forth from our image of the cliff ridge to the mother and child in solemn prayer? For example, the deficiencies are still there, but they are not as useful. Can we shift and see the Gifts more often? Faster? Intentional practice that is ritualized starts to become natural. This vigilant practice then becomes culture. With culture, we change the images and stories that become the new narrative of Cincinnati.


My Shift

As Dr. Victor Garcia declared, how do we see Youth-at-risk as Youth-with-Promise? I learned this myself at Core Change. I partially came to experience the wise musings of some of the top gurus in transformative large scale events like Peter Senge, David Cooperider, Peter Block and many others. I expected new insights and got more.

At the end of the 3 days, we had a collective reflective moment open to anyone. What I did not expect was that most of the reflectors were young. Their reflections were the most heartfelt and energetic. Their reflections were audibly the most powerful in the room. That was magic! I did not expect it, but I discovered it.

That told me two things. One, is that I also have this bias of youth not having much to contribute. Not conscious or mean, but subtle and pervasive. The second point was that once I discovered these gifted moments…I need to make it visible to others. I need to hold it up HIGH and CELEBRATE it. By changing the images and stories of the gifts, we start changing our collective mindset. What was your shift? In an upcoming article, I hope to gather more examples from participants of their moments of shift.


Seeing with NEW EYES

We have the choice and potential to change our worldview. Worldviews create the framework on how we interact with the World. It informs our orientation and our behavior. As David Cooperider reminded us, the images we envision and the words we use create our worldview narrative. Therefore, worldviews create worlds. Let’s change our narrative of our world. By changing our own worldview, we then begin to change the world. Every day that I practice seeing with new eyes and discovering different gifts, the world becomes even more beautiful.


Text and images re-posted with permission from Rex Lai. Home page photo: Core Change Cincinnati.



About the Lead Author

Rex Lai
Rex Lai, MSOD, is an organization/community development consultant working in management and training capacities in the private, public, and not-for-profit sector. He focuses on helping organizations and communities discover and unleash their untapped potential for positive change. He works collaboratively with each client to develop customized approaches that build shared ownership of lasting solutions. In his more than 15 years with the Service Employees International Union (SEIU), the nation’s largest and fastest growing union, Rex developed special expertise in campaign advocacy, community organizing, and political consulting. He earned his B.S. in Civil/Environmental engineering from the University of Illinois and his Master of Science in Organization Development from American University/NTL Institute for Applied Behavioral Sciences.

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