Written for Paradise Post, Hakalau, HI
Early this year while scrolling through my usual volume of email messages, there was one that caught my attention. It was from Peter Block, writer-speaker-consultant, who lives in Cincinnati, Ohio. Peter, as some on the Hamakua Coast might remember, visited and spoke to a gathering at Akiko’s Buddhist Bread and Breakfast several years ago. He had come to vacation in Kona, one of his favorite places in the world, after publishing “Community: The Structure of Belonging.”
Peter shared the ideas of his book with the audience gathered at Akiko’s. As it turned out, his ideas inspired more than a few people including David Bennett, Publisher of The Paradise Post, who was moved by the ideas to acquire a newspaper to start the Post. These recollections popped up and raced through my mind as I looked at Peter’s email.
“What’s Peter into now?” I wondered staring at the subject line. It read “My New Book.” Seeing that, I flashed back to October of last year when I received a survey from Peter’s publisher. It was a title survey to a book Peter was involved in. The publisher asked to react to a lengthy list of titles.
I don’t remember what my responses were, but seeing the accompanying transcript I could see that the title chosen was “The Abundant Community: Awakening the Power of Families and Neighborhoods.” A great title, I thought, that gives hope in these difficult and challenging times that call from us a new response to change. The subtitle too gives hope in the possibility of reclaiming the inherent “power to do” in families and communities that got buried or lost in a culture that says a satisfying life can only be purchased.
John McKnight, the co-author, is not a newcomer to the subject of community. McKnight has long been an observer and builder of communities. His book “The Careless Society: Community and Its Counterfeits” is acclaimed for its discovery that the way public entitlements are structured immobilizes recipients from becoming productive self-acting citizens. I digress here only to amplify the observational powers McKnight brings to his current work with Peter Block. Their combined strengths speak loudly in “The Abundant Community.” Together, they incisively analyze our power failure in present day citizenship caused by the seduction of consumerism and provide alternative responses to reclaim citizenship from what saps our power to act as one.
Peter and John make it clear that our drive to find “satisfaction through consumption” has profound implications that we do not realize.
One significant social cost is that the family has lost its function. It no longer is the primary unit that raises a child, sustains health, cares for the vulnerable, and assures economic security. The growth in consumption has caused the family to lose much of its purpose, and its usefulness is compromised. We expect, for example, the school to raise our children. We deliver our children in the morning and pick them up later in the day: “Same day service, just like the laundry.”
A second social cost is that we are disconnected and isolated from our neighbors and community. Communities have ceased to be useful to us. A community that’s useful to those living in it operates as a supportive space important to a family to fulfill its functions and help create those things that can only be produced in the surroundings of a connected community.
Peter and John say that the space the family and community were designed to fill has been sold and is now empty. Of course, the costs of the consumer way of life have been discussed for some time, but what is not typically connected to the conversation about consumerism is its effects on the isolation and loneliness that is clearly common in our suburbs and cities.
What can we do? We begin by becoming aware that a satisfying life cannot be purchased. By removing the blinders consumerism has placed over our eyes, we will see as Peter and John do that “the limits of satisfaction come from the fact that current marketplace-service economy and its systems and institutions provide answers to ‘problems’ that are in fact the human condition. The real cost of systems is the dependency they create on illusory answers. System answers, even if they do seem to satisfy, are addictions because system satisfaction has such a short shelf life.”
Abundant communities are alternatives to market place-service economy driven communities where the operative belief is “happiness can be purchased.” Instead, an abundant community operates on a different set of beliefs. “The Tenets of Abundance,” they say, are: “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, and 5. We live with the reality of the human condition. Sorrow, aging, illness, celebration, fallibility, failure, misfortune and joy are natural and inevitable. Life is not a problem to be solved or services to be obtained.”
Abundant communities that develop competencies based on these beliefs prevent dissatisfactions which the marketplace says you need to address and they also build within the family and neighborhood the power to provide for themselves much of what consumerism would have you purchase.
“The Abundant Community: Awakening the Power of Families and Neighborhoods” provides an excellent easy-to-follow blueprint for bringing into being abundant communities. It’s good reading that will be an indispensable desk reference for anyone interested in building communities that work in our times.
Check it out. Peter’s and John’s new book hit the book stores this June.