Renowned author and facilitator outlines framework for building community
Camille Jensen

VANCOUVER —  In front of the approximately 250 people attending Peter Block’s Everyone Belongs workshop, Lori Underwood stood up to issue a challenge: let’s use these powerful ideas and build community.

The host family services co-ordinator was one of several posAbilities staff members attending the Oct. 6 workshop that outlined a framework for building community by Peter, a renowned author and facilitator.

“A lot of his ideas resonated really well with me,” says Lori, who recalls being an open slate for the event, not knowing Peter’s work beforehand.

She says she felt compelled to issue the challenge and ensure the ideas received the attention they deserved in her organization, and beyond.

The workshop demonstrated key principles Peter says are instrumental to building community: welcoming strangers, focusing on people’s gifts and engaging in conversations you haven’t had had before.

Peter Block presents ideas on building community.

“If today isn’t an example of its intention, than it’s just talk,” said Peter Block at the start of the day.

“We have the capacity to live in community, but we have to create it every day. It’s not just where (we) live, it’s a way of being.”

Squamish and Coast Salish First Nations groups, as well as a local gospel choir shared their gifts of song and dance throughout the day.

Participants were asked to break from the traditional conference framework of sitting in rows to form small groups, which Peter says is the unit of transformation. Sitting with strangers, participants were asked to answer three different question sets progressing through a series of potentially transformative conversations.

“All transformation is linguistic,” said Peter. “What’s the means by which to create a future that is distinct from the past? The means is to engage people in conversations they haven’t had before. Old, predictable conversations are a defence against reform.”

Jim Hauck, a posAbilities team manager, says in addition to Peter’s humour and honesty, it was the compelling question sets he appreciated most, and can be used in his professional and community work.

Jim Hauck prepares to draw his experience from the group conversations.

“The questions were quite powerful,” recalls Jim. “I think they are really valuable, in terms of building relationships and engaging people.

According to Jim, the best outcome from using the questions would be empowering people to “take the risks that they need to and stand up for what they believe.”

A final attribute mentioned by Peter for building community is focusing on people’s gifts as opposed to their deficiencies. Referring to this as “gift-mindedness,” Peter says we need to ask ourselves what are we good at, and what do we love to do?

“At some point in my life I’ve got to come to terms with my gifts and it’s much more frightening than coming to terms with my deficiencies because I know how to handle my deficiencies,” says Peter, who adds once we discover our gifts, our lifetime work is sharing them.

“If you want to change the world, walk your block, knock on doors and ask ‘Is there anything you know how to do that you’d be willing to share with other people in this neighbourhood?'”

Peter Block’s workshop is based on ideas presented in Abundant Community and Community: The Structure of Belonging. To learn more about Peter’s work, click here.

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