Friday, August 31, 2007

Concrete Points - “Imagine all the people… living life in peace”

Chapter 5
Celebrating Assets and Creating a Vision

In this chapter Gwendolyn Hallsmith outlines what she sees as the essential elements necessary to build a meaningful community vision. She states that community vision is necessary for the creation of sustainable community systems. The first step towards creating this vision is the celebration of the community’s assets. The celebrations of what is good about the community will not only help to point out what types of systems and characteristics are successful, but also serves as a rallying point for the community. Hallsmith writes “People are generally much more willing to support the ideas and initiatives they have helped create.”

Throughout the chapter Hallsmith reiterates the importance of widespread involvement of the community in the process of the creation of a community vision. Her approach is both highly democratic and compassionate, referring to “caring for others” and “empathetic, reflective listening” as important elements in reaching this goal. Hallsmith points out many of the problems with her own suggestions with examples such as “It fails because the steering committee doesn’t really get it…” referring to the difficulties of a group carrying out a single vision.

Hallsmith concludes by giving examples of real community vision statements of several U.S. cities.

As I read Hallsmith’s ideas I can’t help but feel skeptical. The skepticism however is not because I believe people are greedy or evil or self-serving or even couldn’t be shown a greater way of doing things. The skepticism comes from the fact that what Hallsmith ultimately fails to provide a roadmap from where we are now to where she proposes we go. Hallsmith writes that “real change requires a change in behavior.” I think few will disagree with this, but how does behavior change. Does it change by being told to change or is it by seeing the advantage of change? Hallsmith outlines no means for recognizing what she sees as human needs as the basis for a community vision. She fails to include the need of leadership on the execution of a vision and how very often leadership, compromise and community involvement result in struggle.

If I am to be skeptical of Hallsmith and her ideas I must also be skeptical of others who dream of a better way of doing things, but fall short in providing directions on how to get there. It’s certainly easy to say that things won’t work because they haven’t. Certainly, the reader’s reaction to this chapter will be based on their expectations. Where I was looking less for a confirmation of where we wanted to go and more for constructive thoughts on how we want to get there, I was slightly disappointed. Still, I can’t help but hold admiration for the author in hope to create a better way of doing things. Afterall, no one criticizes John Lennon for Imagine, perhaps Hallsmith is simply a dreamer. She’s not the only one.

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