Let's continue to build community - a new table
From an article by Strong Towns
Two years ago, Charles Marohn, founder of Strong Towns, who advocate in USA and Canada for a radically new way of thinking about the way we build our world, wrote about how most public engagement is worthless. He thinks we have oriented local government vertically, to essentially be an implementation arm of government and county policy instead of servants of urgent local needs. You can think of local public engagement as peaceful pre-crowd control. How do we provide enough opportunity for feedback and engagement so that we can say that everyone was heard, but not so much that it actually refocuses our priorities from those that we hold internally?
Is this true of the UK?
'Let’s invite people to the table' implies ownership of the table and control of who is invited. The owners of the table, through their actions, systems, and processes - through the questions they ask and the ground on which dialogue occurs - generally decide who is invited to the table.
The table metaphor is a powerful one in Christian religious practice. An “invitation to the table” is an act of service, one with no preconditions. It’s a practice that humbly accepts people where they are and demands nothing in return for that fellowship. It is at the most famous gathering at a table that Jesus, in the Gospel of John, tells his followers, “As I have loved you, so you must love one another.” He had just finished washing all of their feet, including those of the man who would hand him over to the authorities.
It’s not enough to merely send out more invitations to the existing table. If we’re prepared to truly be humble servants, if we’re ready to reorient our local governments away from the hierarchy of governments and towards the urgent needs of people within our communities, we actually have to redefine the table.
The table is not a physical object sitting in some meeting room at the Town Hall. It’s not a visioning session, public hearing, or an online form. The table is out there. It’s the streets people are struggling to walk. It’s the dangerous crossing they are forced to make daily. It’s the substandard house they occupy or the small business they are trying to start. The table is our community.
And we are called to engage with it, not in ways that are comfortable to us, but in a manner that exposes us to the urgent needs of our neighbours:
Humbly observe where people struggle
Identify the next smallest thing we can do to address that struggle
Do that thing right away
It’s not the people that need to receive an invitation. It’s that the owners of the table need to recognize the invitation that’s been sent to them.
Read the full article here.
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