Peter Block is an inspirational thinker. To quote from his website, "Peter is the author of several bestselling books. The most widely known are Flawless Consulting: A Guide to Getting Your Expertise Used (1st edition 1980, 2nd edition 1999), Stewardship: Choosing Service Over Self-Interest (1993), and The Empowered Manager: Positive Political Skills at Work (1987). Peter is the recipient of the first place 2004 Members' Choice Award by the Organization Development Network, which recognized
Flawless Consulting as the most influential book for OD practitioners over the past 40 years." In this latest work, Block has taken the word "community"
and kneaded, massaged and squeezed it into extreme flexibility, so that it can compact itself into the microcosm or expand to fill the whole world.
Reading this book took me back to my days as a community activist, when the rage was the work of Brazilian educator Paulo Freire. I was glad to note that Freire's name still crops up from time to time, along with that of philosopher E.F. Schumacher, both icons of an earlier generation of change agents. I'm intrigued to see that community action has not changed - that is, it is still hard to motivate people, and calls for constant shifts of language and even room arrangement to keep the energy flowing. Block wisely refers to America's urban centers as "New Orleans without the flood" and urges us not to become complacent just because our own lives are proceeding according to plan. There are still people in our country who are suffering and who need the assistance of dedicated activists. The distress and chaos "out there" is our responsibility.
Community is a how-to (bearing in mind that "the answer to how is yes," according to Block). It allows the potential activist to do a lot of self-winnowing - asking him/herself such questions as "to what extent are you here by choice," "what is the yes you no longer mean," and "what promises are you willing to make." This sets up any planned meeting with a greater chance of success. Block makes practical suggestions for how to plan a meeting - invite decisionmakers, money-raisers
and experts as well as marginalized people who bring important news from the field. He reminds us that we are all citizens of our country but also of our community, and we need to take that responsibility seriously. While many sincere people perceive needs and want to help, they will have to galvanize their vague aspirations and work with a collective gestalt in order to achieve concrete goals.
Here is one example of the radical way that Block approaches the issue of community building: "We need to tell people not to be helpful. Trying to be helpful and giving advice are really ways to control others. In community building we want to substitute curiosity for advice. No call to action." It is input like this that makes Block's work so groundbreaking and, among serious community workers, so popular.
In order to transform our communities, we have to be willing to transform ourselves. For some this will be relatively easy
- a quick shift in inner orientation - and for others it will require more deep trenching. In a profound sense, aspiring to improve our environment and assist our neighbors requires that we improve ourselves. That is the challenge of community and the rallying cry of Community.