Community: The Structure of
Belonging (book summary)
by Andy Breeding
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6. The Questions
The five conversations for structuring
belonging are possibility, ownership, dissent,
commitment, and gifts.
Since all the conversations lead to each
other, sequence is not that critical.
Create conversations in ascending order of difficulty,
with the possibility generally an earlier conversation
and gifts typically one of the more difficult.
There are three elements of a
The distinction that underlies the question.
An admonition against advice
and help in favor of curiousity.
The question itself, stated precisely.
7. The Invitation
Invite people who are not used
to being together.
The elements of the powerful invitation
Name the possibility about
which we are convening.
Specify what is required of each
should they choose to attend.
Make the invitation as personal as possible.
Be clear that a refusal carries no cost.
1. Overall Premise
Build the social fabric and transform the
isolation within our communities into
connectedness and caring for the whole
Shift our conversations from the problems of
community to the possibility of community.
Commit to create a future distinct from the past
2. Operating Guidelines
Social fabric is created one room at a time,
the one we are in at the moment.
It is formed out of the questions "Whom do we
want in the room?" and "What is the
conversation that we want to occur"
The key to a new future is to focus on gifts, on
associational life, and on the insight that all
transformation occurs through language.
Each step has to embody a quality of aliveness,
and strategy evolves in an organic way.
The essence of creating an alternative future comes
from citizen-to-citizen engagement that constantly
focuses on the well-being of the whole.
We have all the capacity, expertise, and financial
resources that an alternative future requires.
The small group is the unit of transformation and
the container for the experience of belonging.
4. The context for a
The existing community context is one that markets
fear, assigns fault, and worships self-interest.
The new context that restores community is
one of possibility, generosity, and gifts, rather
than one of fear, mistakes, and self-interest.
The existing context supports the belief that
the future will be improved with new laws, more
oversight, and stronger leadership.
Citizens become powerful when they choose to
shift the context within which they act in the world.
Communities are human systems given form
by conversations that build relatedness.
The conversations that build relatedness most often occur
through associational life, where citizens are unpaid and show
up by choice, rather than in large systems where professionals
are paid and show up by contractual agreement.
The future hinges on accountability that citizens
choose and their willingness to connect with each
other around promises they make to each other.
Citizens have the capacity to own and exercise power
rather than defer or delegate it to others.
8. The Inversion of Cause
We reclaim our citizenship when we invert
what is cause and what is effect.
Citizens create leaders, children create parents, and
audience creates the performance. This inversion
may not be the whole truth, but it is useful.
The inversion creates conditions
where we can shift from
A place of fear and fault to one of
gifts, generosity, and abundance;
A bet on law and oversight to one on social
fabric and chosen accountability;
The corporation and systems as
central, to associational life as central;
A focus on leaders to a focus on citizens;
Problems to possiblity.
11. Leadership and
Leadership that engages citizens is a capacity
that exists in all human beings. It is infinitely
and universally available.
Transformation occurs when leaders focus on
the structure of how we gather and the context
in which the gatherings take place.
Leadership is convening and
held to three tasks;
Shift the context within which
Name the debate through
Listen rather than advocate,
defend, or provide answers.
3. The Power of the Small Group
Each gathering needs to become an
example of the future we want to create.
The small group is the unit of transformation
Large-scale transformation occurs when enough small
groups shift in harmony toward the larger change.
Small groups have the most leverage when
they meet as part of a larger gathering.
The small group produces power when diversity of thinking
and dissent are given space, commitments are made without
barter, and the gifts of each person and our community are
acknowledged and valued.
5. Questions are more
transforming than answers
The skill is getting the questions right
The traditional conversations that seek to explain,
study, analyze, define tools, and express the desire to
change others are interesting but not powerful.
Questions open the door to the future and are more powerful
than answers in that they demand engagement. Engagement
in the right questions is what creates accountability.
How we frame the questions is decisive. They
need to be ambiguous, personal, and stressful.
Introduce the questions by defining the
distinction the question addresses, namely what
is different and unique about this conversation.
We need to innoculate people against advice
and help. Advice is replaced by curiousity.
9. The conversations
The possibility conversation
The distinction is between possibility and problem
solving. Possibility is a future beyond reach.
The possibility conversation works on us and evolves
from a discussion of personal crossroads. It takes the
form of a declaration, best made publicly.
The questions, What is the crossroads you are
faced with at this point in time?, What declaration of possibility can you make that has the
power to transform the community and inspire you?
The ownership conversation
It asks citizens to act as is if they are
creating what exists in the world.
The distinction is between
ownership and blame.
The questions, For an event or project, How valuable an experience (or project, or
community) do you plan for this to be?, How much risk are you willing to take?, How participative do you plan to be?, To what extent are you invested in
the well-being of the whole?, The all-purpose ownership question, What have I done to contibute to the very
thing I complain about or want to change?, The questions that can complete
our story and remove its limiting
quality, What is the story about this community or
organization that you hear yourself most often telling?
The one you are wedded to and maybe even take
your identity from?, What are the payoffs you receive from holding on to this story?, What is your attachment to this story costing you?
The dissent conversation
The dissent conversation creates an
opening for commitment.
When dissent is expressed, just listen. Don't
solve it, defend against it, or explain anything.
The primary distinction is
between dissent and lip services.
A second distinction is between dissent
and denial, rebellion, or resignation.
The questions, What doubts and reservations do you have?, What is the no or refusal that you keep postponing?, What have you said yes to that you no longer really mean?, What is a commitment or decision that you have changed your mind about?, What resentment do you hold that no one knows about?, What forgiveness are you withholding?
The commitment conversation
The commitment conversation is a
promise with no expectations of return.
Commitment is distinguished from barter.
The enemy of commitment is lip
service, not dissent or opposition.
The commitments that count the most are
the ones made to peers, other citizens.
We have to explicitly provide support for
citizens to declare that there is no promise
they are willing to make at this time.
Refusal to promise does not cost us our
membership or seat at the table. We only lose
our seat when we do not honor our word.
Commitment embraces two
kinds of promises, My behavior and actions with others., Results and outcomes that will occur in the world.
The questions, What promises am I willing to make?, What measures have meaning to me?, What price am I willing to pay?, What is the cost to others for me to keep my
commitments, or to fail in my commitments?, What is the promise I'm willing to make that
constitutes a risk or major shift for me?, What is the promise I am postponing?, What is the promise or commitment I
am unwilling to make?
The gifts conversation
The leadership and citizen task is to bring the
gifts of those on the margin into the center.
The distinction is between gifts and deficiencies or needs.
We are not defined by deficiencies or what is missing We
are defined by our gifts and what is present.
We choose our destiny when we have the courage to acknowledge
our own gifts and choose to bring them into the world.
A gift is not a gift until it is offered.
The questions, What is the gift you still hold in exile?, What is something about you that no one knows?, What gratitude do you hold that has gone unexpressed?, What have others done in this room done, in
this gathering, that has touched you?
The important thing about these questions is that
they name the agenda that creates space for an
alternative future. The power is in the asking, not in
10. Designing physical space
that supports community.
Physical space is more decisive in creating
community than we realize.
Most meeting spaces are designed for
control, negotiation, and persuasion.
We always have a choice about how we rearrange and
occupy whatever room we are handed.
Community is built when we sit in circles, when there are
windows and the walls have signs of life, when every voice can
be equally heard and amplified, when we all are one level--and
the chairs have wheels and swivel.
When we have the opportunity to
design new space, we need the
Reception areas that tell us we
are in the right place and are
Hallway's wide enough for
intimate seating and casual
Eating spaces refresh us and
Meeting rooms designed with nature, art, conviviality,
and citizen-to-citizen interaction in mind.
Large community spaces that have the
qualities of communal intimacy.
The design process itself needs to be an
example of the future we are intending to
Authentic citizen and employee
engagement is as important as good