De-Institutionalizing My Mind with De'Amon Harges and Wildstyle

This past weekend, as few of us were privileged to meet and learn from De'Amon Harges and Wildstyle from The Learning Tree in Indianapolis, IN. Thanks to Coco Papy and Tom Kohler and the other folks from Emergent Savannah, our little band of conspirators for goodness -- a ragtag bunch of local, budding Savannah-based Roving Listeners -- got to learn a few things that I'd like to share here.

I think the big takeaway was a sense that my mind has been co-opted, my imagination has been put into the institutionalist box we have here in our market ideology United States, and I'm having trouble clawing my way out of it.

Take the above picture, for example. If I had looked at that photo without having spent time with Harges and Wildstyle this past weekend, I would've thought that this group photo looks like a bunch of people having some good conversation and relaxing on a sunny afternoon. I maybe would've picked up on the fact that this hodgepodge group might be a bit more diverse than usual, that gathering on an afternoon on a porch with some folks dressed in business casual and some not might seem a little odd. But I wouldn't have thought this was anything revolutionary.

“Free is not how many of our citizens feel—with our overstocked medicine cabinets, burglar alarms, vast ghettos, and drug culture. Eighteen hundred New Yorkers are murdered every year by their fellow citizens in a city whose police department is larger than the standing army of many nations. The adventure went sour.” ― Stanley Hauerwas, Resident Aliens: Life in the Christian Colony

But that's my point. I didn't naturally see the transformative nature of roving listening, especially as it ties into Asset Based Community Development (ABCD).

The first step to community solutions is to realize that our language shapes our mindset. So we've got to change our language and thereby change our approach.

Lesson 1: We're not doing "community development" or "building community". You can't "develop" people or "build" people, you can only "build" inanimate objects. People aren't objects, toys, or pawns, they are "blobs" (his language) -- fearfully and wonderfully made blobs -- who do damage to each other when they try to force blob-people into square/institutional holes, or when we use each other for personal gain. Instead, we use the words "cultivate" or "grow", which is organic language that tips its hat to the fact that we're all human and living beings.

Lesson 2: We don't think about how to "build accountability", instead we think about how to "cultivate friendships". We know that we're no more accountable to people than we are with our friends. So the key, says Harges, is to strategically cultivate friendships over dinner, around the table. Bring the high and mighty to dinner with the low and lowly and see what happens. Expose a lack of empathy for what it is. Strategically have people in a situation where they must meet each others' gazes.

Lesson 3: Nobody shows up to "meetings", but people will show up to "parties." Instead of trying to move people, invite them to do something fun. The Spirit can move without our agendas as long as there is food involved.

We we're gonna have some fun and food. We're getting together to share stories and swap recipes. That's where real, lasting change starts: in the kitchen among newfound (and surprising) friends.

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