Meeting Peter Block (second from left) together with Andy Stoll (second from right) and Mike Fleisch (on the right) – Cincinnati August 2018

Yesterday I had the amazing opportunity to meet one of my biggest community heroes: Peter Block, author of “Community: The Structure of Belonging” (just out in a second, revised edition). Peter’s work has shaped my thinking and overall approach to building communities in profound ways. So you can imagine how excited (and nervous :-)) I was about meeting him in person. I so enjoyed the conversation and our time together flew by, leaving me inspired and hoping to spend more time together in the months and years to come. I have copied my raw notes from the meeting below.

A bigger takeaway & homework

I had one major takeaway that I’m still chewing on. When I told Peter about my work, trying to help community builders across the globe to build more meaningful communities, his main feedback was: “gather, don’t train“. The way I understood him was: the most important work we can do, is not to provide community builders with better tools or training, but rather to co-create a space of belonging, a space where they don’t have to fight the good community fight by themselves, where they are not doing the work in isolation, but in the company and with the mutual support of other people who believe in the power of community. A safe, caring space for community builders.

This really hit me. Because this is exactly the advice I give other people all the time. I see so many organizations and communities focus on problem solving, while under-appreciating and under-investing into their relationships. Relationships trump everything else. Yet whenever I tell people that, I sense strong hesitancy. People feel like simply focusing on relationships isn’t enough. Not enough to make a real impact. And funny enough, it turns out I might be doing the exact same thing myself. Damn.

I will need to reflect on this with more time and space, and figure out how it translates into our actual work. With our work at the Together Institute, the Community Canvas and our attempts documented here on this blog to “decode community”, we have started to gather community builders, but we have done it as a second priority. What if it were the other way around? I do believe that there is value and need to help community builders build more meaningful communities, and open-source tools and frameworks are an important part of that. But what if relationships and a sense of belonging truly trumped everything else? I’d be grateful to hear your all thoughts!

Thank you Mike Fleisch for making this meeting happen – very grateful!

 Other, unedited notes from meeting with Peter

  • “The private sector can heal our disconnected society by caring for the common good”
  • Mondragon Corporation, largest cooperative in the world, doing projects in Cincinnati. They have 86% success rate at starting new businesses.
  • Most important question to ask a group: “It’s important that you’re here today. Why did you choose to show up today?”
  • “The simplicity of community is the hardest thing”
  • “An important part of community building work is to confront people with their freedom”
  • The importance of storytelling, cultural narrative and community. Most of media is obsessed with negative news, who tells the stories of what works in our communities?
  • 12 minutes are all humans need to connect with another human
  • “It took me 3 books to realize that I could write”
  • “If you’re interested in the future, you can already find it in the present. Just ask yourself: where does it already exist now?”
  • The butterfly function in Open Space, important as cross pollinator between different groups