What promises are you willing to make?

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This is our fifth conversation based on the model developed by Peter Block in Community: The Structure of Belonging, building on the "Dissent""Possibility", "Ownership" and "Invitation" conversations we hosted from May through August.  Once again, we are delighted to welcome back co-hosts Eric and Elaine Hansen, who have worked extensively with Block, and are masters of this form.

Here is Block's take on the essence of Commitment:

Commitment is a promise made with no expectation of return. It is the
willingness to make a promise independent of either approval or reciprocity
from other people. This takes barter out of the conversation. Our promise
is not contingent on the actions of others. The economist is replaced by
the artist. As long as our promise is dependent on the actions of others, it
is not a commitment; it is a deal, a contract. A bargained future is not an
alternative future; it is more of the past brought forward.

The declaration of a promise is the form that commitment takes; that
is the action that initiates change. It is one thing to set a goal or objective,
but something more personal to use the language of promises. Plus, to the
extent that a promise is a sacred form of expression, this language anoints
the space in the asking.  

Community: The Structure of Belonging, p. 136

In this time of upheaval and transformation within our communities, our countries and the world as a whole, what are you truly committed to?  Consider your behavior and actions with others.  Consider the results and outcomes you wish to see in the world.

  • What promises are you willing to make?  
  • What is the promise you are postponing?

As always, we invite you to begin the conversation right now on this forum and in person with friends, family, etc. before joining us on our call this Monday, October 1.


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Of course.  Just make sure to credit the source, Peter Block's Community: The Structure of Belonging, OK?!

C. A. - I'm a little confused by your question, "Is this a patriarchy problem?"

Tell me more, please.

I'm still not clear. Your response seems to be about Occupy - sort of. I was asking you to tell me more about this statement:  

How can Peter Block's: Community: The Structure of Belonging: Easy Read Comfort Edition not mention women female or mother? If my searches were in error, please correct me. I'll look at his other publications. Is this a patriarchy problem?

Your response seemed to only allude to the statement but did not tie it back to Peter Block's writing. I left me wondering if you read the book or only did a word search.  My experience of the A Small Group technique, tells me it is a feminine model, not patriarchal. 

Setting aside the historical and intellectual reasons that you have provided in your response, here is my question, why is this important to you?

And to be clear, I am inviting you to reflect on why is this important to you? and you may pass.


Very good I like it.

I'm conflicted in my responses to you CA, but being a Dutchman I got to say what it is. 

On one hand I feel a sense of affection and challenge in my sense of wanting to be totally inclusive in finding ways to communicate with everyone. On the other hand I feel violated or abused by someone simply using me & others... albeit without intentional malice... So why is this?

In spite of this I don't claim any waste of time, for myself or anyone who makes appropriate use of any & all of life's stimuli.  Of course there are other different conclusions, insights, and I state only extremes as I see it.  It's a stress I am encountering in myself with many of your responses.  I find this testing me to avoid your comments versus my strong inclination to know who you are and what's important to you.  I wish you to see this as my most honest and sincere handshake.

Block wrote an entire book--Stewardship--on the problem of patriarchy in our organizations (corporations in particular), so he's certainly well attuned to the subject, Sea.  I see a reflection of the essence of what matters to me in this regard in what he writes just before the section I quoted above, in Chapter 7--The Transforming Community.  For example...

The mindset that we can program and problem-solve our
way into a vision does not take into account the complexity and
relational nature of community. It undervalues the importance of context
and the linguistic, conversational nature of community. If we want to see a change in our communities, we must let go of the conventional or received wisdom about how change occurs. This means we reject or at least seriously question the beliefs that communal change will occur in the following circumstances:

... We think in terms of scale and speed. As David Bornstein has so
clearly pointed out, something shifts on a large scale only after a
long period of small steps, organized around small groups patient
enough to learn and experiment and learn again. Speed and scale
are the arguments against what individual and communal transformation
require. They are a hallmark of the corporate mindset.
When we demand more speed and scale, we are making a coded
argument against anything important being any different.

• We stay focused on large systems and top leaders to implement
better problem solving, clearer goals and vision, and better controls
of the process. Large system change is a useful way to think,
but transforming action is always local, customized, unfolding, and
emergent. The role of leaders is not to be better role models or to
drive change; their role is to create the structures and experiences
that bring citizens together to identify and solve their own issues...

Communal transformation does occur when we accept the following

... We choose depth over speed and relatedness over scale. The
question “What do we want to create together?” is deceptively complicated. It implies a long journey crossing social, class, and institutional boundaries. Depth takes time and the willingness to engage.  Belonging requires the courage to set aside our usual notions of action and measuring success by the numbers touched. It also means that while we keep our own point of view, we leave our self-interest at the door and show up to learn rather than to advocate. These are the conditions whereby we find new places where we belong. (pp.73-76--paperback edition)



Breakdowns create breakthroughs.  The initial break is a "Wholly Shit Disruption" in the taken for granted concernful activity.  The occupy cafe is a blessing and I assess the next iteration of the Internet is "Live Speech Appreciative Conservations."  My breakdown was concerns regarding relevance of the Vital Conversation to Occupy Movement and the possible possibility of igniting a fire in the global movement.  To do so this two hour conversation needs to be relevant to emerging on the ground politics and I assess our current concerns in this 2012 Election cycle are very relevant to Wall Street Bankers wrongdoing and there appears to be a big wide open landscape and horizon to exploit in bringing forth the passionate change we all desire.  It's time to recruit the Tea Party and Main Street into Occupying Earth.  I know I am emotionally intense and its mainly flowing from the immediacy of the situational conditional and lack of any voice actually articulating the bullshit.  It's a good day to die and its relevant indignation to the drift never personal condemnation to any person.  So please forgive me for offending anyone, its not my intention.  Outrage wakes people up and is the first action in movements, not neccesarily popular when a society's culture lives in denial as a way of seeing and being.  Thank you for all your doing, i am working a post and very busy presently. Mushin

It was dark and rainy that late Friday afternoon in December at the county courthouse.  Me and Lynda (I @ 55 and Lynda @ 60, both coming off 20 year failed marriages) made it just before closing, to be officially married. Only half a dozen people left in the courtroom as I snag 4 of them to witness.  Little did anyone know what was just ahead.

After much ado da judge looked at me and recited what was required.  When he got to the part asking me to repeat something about promising to forever cherish, care for, and love, until death.....  (to my surprise) I exploded in rage!  Being beside myself... I scolded his arrogance to direct at me such an absurd requirement.  "I don't have control of the future.  How do you expect me to make any such vow?  Who are you or the State of North Carolina, to be so inane to require a commitment from me, when you then divorce the next couple in line?  You ask that I give up integrity to promise something over which I have no control.  I say, Hell No!"

After a bit of silence da young magistrate said, "I apologize Mr. Dewid. Please just say whatever you wish."  So, I had my say. And to my own surprise, I found some integrity... & maybe a piece of a truth in the courtroom that day, something that has taken root in me.

...My wonderful spouse and I both had numerous breaches of fidelity in our previous marriages.  Yet ~15 years later we have not had a need to discuss fidelity, jealousy, nor found a need to take any vows whatsoever about our future behavior, or to question it.  It seems, rather than fearing what might be, we're rather in awe of that infinite moment of the present.  Perhaps most folks won't understand the idea of a new and fresh vitality in each moment... the utter innocence and delight and love of it.  But, what is it we enjoy each morning as we awaken to silliness and touch and loving everything?  And all day to ache at loves physical insufficiency to unite us.  And each evening, another magic time to laugh and touch and look deeply on her, the face of God... and for me to worship her as my master.

Is this my ultimate promise, one I can deliver on? 

Wow.  That's quite a story, Dyck!  There is something scary about the idea of promises, and about commitment in general.  I had hoped that we might ease a bit of this energy in our dialogue, creating space for recognizing the commitments we are making and valuing them, rather than living in a place of "not good enough" or "too overwhelmed to act."  Your story helps me in this.

And I wonder--where is it written that failing to live up to a promise is so terrible that we are better off not making them?  I know that feeling too.  And I accept that "lip service" is the enemy.  Yet that still leaves room, does it not, for failure or for changing one's mind, yes?  

Aw shucks, Jerry!  Thank you!  I love hearing that.  As our friend Eric Hansen encourages us to ask--tell me more!

Ben, my seat mate... I gaze out the window, trying my best to see what's whisking by this train.  Having left the station, sensing a head of steam, it's not destined to stop until next scheduled town.  Do i dare be the desperado, ambushing the train solely to see if there's any gold aboard? 

1. Is a commitment or promise simply another, maybe more prominent way to emphasize truthfulness than in regular conversation?

2. What is the Value of a promise or commitment (to the giver... to the receiver) ?

3. If the giver has no expectation and the receiver perceives little or no value, then what results as the giver works or sacrifices indefinitely?

Perhaps after this you'd let me introduce inquiry to bring in the uses of words like Promise, Commitment, Swearing, Oath, Covenant, Contract.  Perhaps we'd look at the benefits, legal requirements, sacrifices or trade-offs of making versus not making promises et al.


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