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Book Review on the Community: Structure of Belonging by Peter Block

Recently, I’ve been reading lots of marketing and community materials for my apprenticeship. I’d like to share and summarise my learning to break down some key takeaways from these books. And the first review is a book by Peter Block called Community: the structure of belonging which looks at how questions have the power to connect us.

The core message is that if we want to create an alternative future, we have to have different conversations. This book is all about transformation and transformation is linguistic. All change begins with a shift in narrative.  

It focuses heavily on the importance of our choice of language & how much effort we put into our relationships and interactions.

Our relationships are fundamental to anything we try to accomplish. By focusing on nurturing relationships with authenticity and depth, real change occurs.  

The reality

Our lives were becoming more isolated even before the pandemic. We rely on the internet of things for everything. We’re connected to millions of people yet that technology is reaching a limit to what can be achieved. These web-based interactions have become addictive but they take us away from our real-life interactions with family, our friends, our neighbourhoods, and local communities.  

Block reminds us that community is centred around these connections with people, that happen over time, where trust is built slowly between each other. 


The 6 conversations

Now, this isn’t a detailed playbook. Unfortunately, there’s no quick fix for community and relationship building. Instead, the book explores several key concepts that help transform and strengthen our communities from within. And it focuses around 6 key conversations.  

Each of these conversations is activated by powerful questions that I encourage you to take to your communities and peers that provoke better thinking.  


First, the invitation. How do you start the conversation and get people to involved? You inform them of their expectations and that you’re looking for interactions and to have to opportunity to connect with people that you might not normally connect with.

The invitation isn’t about deciding or negotiating, it’s about the possibility of the group.  


Second, the possibility. What will have the power to transform the community and inspire those involved? 

Unsurprisingly, fear and fault are the community killer. A community focused on a problem to be solved will be dominated by those who can best articulate either the problem and solution. We need to include all voices and not just those extreme ones to make the community truly inclusive 

If you want to create a future that is distinct from the past, challenge the thinking and language. Shift from problem-solving to choosing possibility. Possibility is the future beyond reach, is confronts cynicism but possibility isn’t a prediction or a goal; it’s a choice. It’s a choice to bring a certain quality into our lives. (possibility is to be lived into. It frees us to a new future). 


Third, is ownership. How participative do you hope members to be? People best create that which they own. Accountability is the willingness to acknowledge that we have participated in creating the condition that we wish to see changed. Creators make a community. This requires us to believe in the possibility that the community is ours to create together.  


Fourth is about dissent. What doubts and reservations, do people have? Inviting dissent into the conversation is how we show respect for a range of beliefs. Authentic dissent is complete simply in its expression. When we answer or defend people’s doubts the space for dissent closes. Instead, get interested. Why does it matter so much. 


Fifth, is committment. What promises are you willing to make? Commitment is a promise made with no expectation in return. Wholehearted commitment makes a promise to our peers about our contribution to success. We want to remove entitlement, that, ‘what’s in it for me?’ – what’s the promise you are willing to make without expecting something in return? This is how we can make transformation for the better and create an alternative future. 


And lastly, our gifts. What are our unique strengths? The missing conversation is what can individuals bring. Instead, rather thann focusing on deficiencies and weaknesses, we gain more leverage when we focus on gifts.

Our deficiencies and what’s missing don’t define us. We are defined by what we can bring and what is present.  

Summary of how questions have the power to connect us

In conclusion, it’s quite clear that Block sees how much value that these powerful questions have. Questions have the power to connect us. They are more transformative than answers – the power is in the asking and not the answer itself. 

Question like:

Why was it important for you to be here today?  

What crossroads you are at in your life?

Above all, these questions acknowledge that life is messy, and that’s natural, no one is perfect. But when we come together to share the depth of our relationships grow. The key is to start small and let them grow them, slowly. 

Learning how to ask better questions is something I’m always trying to improve on. I love learning and trying out different types of questions to see how they’re received. I welcome awkward silences and encourage you to, too. Questions themselves are an artform worthy of a lifetime of study. We should all be mindful of it. It so worthwhile as it helps to open people up to explore ourselves and other and equally how we can contribute. 

What matters?

This book does a wonderful job of questioning the standard assumptions and models we have about community. It basically states that we should worry less about the formal and rigid structures and focus on ways we can build authentic connectedness and belonging.

In reality, it’s not always about sharing best practices or problem-solving.

The real purpose of community is to construct in the world the experience of freedom and accountability. 

This challenged much of my thinking; how healing language can be and how I see problems. The purpose of a problem is to bring us together – but why do we need an excuse to come together? Why can’t we convene and connect regardless of issues or having perceived problems to fix. Again, it comes back to relationships, first we should be building trust, then building the focus.  

Honestly, the book is highly readable and a warming read. Block makes things simple, easy to understand, and it most certainly comes highly recommended from me.  

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Questions have the power to connect us.

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