The best-selling author and consultant knows many interesting and inspiring people, and when they visit Cincinnati he makes sure to invite them to speak at one of his A Small Group monthly meetings.
Community members attend to hear the speaker share their expertise and work, which has ranged from school reform in South Africa to back-yard entrepreneurship in Hawaii, and they do hear these stories. But once they're done, Peter tells the group the real reason they are gathering, which is “to discover the same capacities among each other.”
It’s this final element that epitomizes A Small Group, a community building model that brings groups of people who are not in relationship with each other to have new conversations. Breaking into small groups, participants answer carefully crafted and facilitated questions that get to the root of accountability, commitment, their gifts and talents, and possibility.
“As soon as people talk to people they’ve never met before their life starts to change. Especially, if they talk in a certain way, which is about possibilities, about ownership and about gifts,” says Peter, adding these questions lead to action.
“People get mobilized, they begin to become more accountable to what they care about.”
The approach is based on the notion that a community is determined by its narrative; the way people speak about each other, and their community. It asks people to look for what’s working, and what talents they and others can contribute, instead of focusing on what’s not working, and the deficiencies of others, for example poor leadership, homeless people and youth at risk.
“It’s a shift to talking about the possibility as a community, it’s a shift to talk as if we as citizens are creating this community instead of complaining about what they, as leaders, are doing to this community,” says Peter.
“It doesn’t mean there aren’t problems in the community, that there aren’t homicides, and poverty, but if that’s what we choose to focus on, that’s what we get.”
A Small Group has been running for eight years, and has more than 600 people involved.
In addition to monthly conversations, A Small Group hosts intensive learning opportunities, a full-day workshop designed for people interested in bringing these ideas of engagement into their communities.
Peter says the last intensive, held several days ago, saw participants from Cleveland and other nearby regions, to as far away as South Africa.
"There is a whole movement of people building community," says Peter, adding this work is connecting him to Cincinnati in a new and rewarding way.
"I hope that people keep weaving this social fabric . . . and the narrative of our urban centres and our rural centres start to shift and people begin to see them as places where people become alive, and (that) they're useful, and they're important.”
To learn more about A Small Group, click here.
— More to Come
Community is a Way of Being, says Peter Block
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