The Four Conversations that Build Community
2011 - A Guest Post by - Jack Ricchiuto
Based on Instructions from the Cook (2008 DesigningLife Books) (http://sustainableswcolorado.org/sites/default/files/FreeInstructionsFromTheCookeBook.pdf)
Community is the quality of connections among people who share a common purpose, place, past, or perspective. Building community means building the quality of these connections.
When there are high quality connections in a community, people know each other, share with each other, and engage each other. People know each other's stories and talents, They share their talents and time with each other. They engage each other in doing together what they cannot do alone.
When we build community, people and organizations move from isolation, fragmentation, and win-lose competition to greater degrees of hospitality, trust, and collaboration.
Not everything that happens in a community builds community. We can build all kinds of commercial and residential developments, education and social institutions in ways that leave people as isolated, fragmented, and competitive as ever.
Community building is not about empires built by people with authority, influence, or wealth. It's what happens when we have the four conversations that have the power to create deeper and wider connections among people in the community.
Community is about the degree of connection not the scope of consumption. It happens when people move from self-interest to mutual-interest.
In the Dream Space conversation, we talk about what we would love to be possible in our community 20 years from now. It is a description of what we want rather than speculation about what might be. We dream in order to see the present possibilities more clearly and to create a community of passion. The depth of our passion is always equal to the length of our vision.
In the Small Acts conversation, we talk about what small experiments can move us in the direction of our dreams. These are projects that are possible given the resources and opportunities we have. They are the small acts we can do without permission or validation by the majority in the community. They realize parts of our dreams that are possible in the present. Over time, thousands of small acts in a community make the impossible possible every time.
In the Gifts conversation, we talk about the talents and resources we have at the table. Our gifts are what we are willing to invest without necessarily having return for our investment. They are the gifts that can make our small acts possible. The more we engage our gifts together, the more we can do together what we cannot do alone. The origin of the word "community: is "gifts together."
In the Invitation conversation, we talk about who else in the community we can invite to join us in our small acts. They are people who have gifts that can make our small acts possible. They are people we know well, people we know of, and people we can be introduced to. They complement our talents and resources in ways that make our weaknesses and deficiencies irrelevant.
There are also four conversations that keep communities stuck. We call these the "shadow" conversations.
In the Problem conversation, we talk about what we don't like and don't want. We talk about our complaints and grievances. The problem with problem conversations is that they have no power to help us create a future different from the past. They only have the power to maintain the status quo because they postpone our dreaming and engaging in the small acts to make our dreams more possible.
In the Permissions conversation, we talk about how we can't take action until we win enough community affirmation and support for our dreams and small acts. The need to have consensus becomes a postponement of our small acts in the short term and dreams in the long term. Small acts by definition do not require the agreement of many, only the actions of a few. The majority may rule, but all great things have always come from the courage of small group.
In the Deficiency conversation, we talk about our weaknesses and constraints. We talk about what we lack instead of what we have to make small acts possible. When we focus on our weaknesses and constraints, we give ourselves excuses for postponing possible actions on our dreams. We make it less possible that we engage the time and talents we have to do what we can to create what we want.
In the Blame conversations, we talk about people whom we hold responsible for our problems, lack of support, weaknesses, and constraints. We blame others in order to maintain our innocence. Blaming, though relieving us of the guilt of responsibility, postpones our dreaming and engaging in making our dreams possible. It maintains our position as victims, denies our gifts, excludes the gifts of others, and effectively maintains the status quo that ultimately becomes the deterioration of the community.
The more we initiate and invite the four conversations that build community, we build connections among people in the community. The success stories we create and tell attract more gifts to the community because people seek communities where positive stories thrive. This is what sustains the renewal and growth of the community.
The conversations need to happen across backyard fences, in public spaces and public meetings. They need to happen in organizations and among leaders in the community. They need to happen wherever people are gathered by mandate, plan, or accident. They need to happen whenever we want to connect people in new ways.
The simple power of these conversations is that anyone can initiate them and invite people into them. It requires no power, position, or permission to invite people into conversations about dreams, small acts, gifts or invitations. Building community is everyone's possibility the moment we embrace our freedom to do so.
If you want to discuss the above ideas, please post in the Four Conversations forums to build community?