The Gifts of Strangers Pt. 1

From Matt...

One of the first (if not THE first) books about Asset-Based Community Development was written by John McKnight and John Kretzmann and is called “Building Communities from the Inside Out.” It is an excellent textbook for exploring their ideas. It also reveals just how counter-intuitive, even subversive this approach to community development can be. One example of this comes from their attitude toward the “strangers” in the community. The “strangers” are people who may be marginalized because they are too young, too old, or they have been labelled in some way.

Unfortunately, the common cultural view of such people is that they are either 1) not able to contribute to the community/neighborhood (think of youth or the elderly) or even worse 2) they are a problem that needs to be fixed or removed (think of those with a criminal record). But ABCD turns that upside down because the belief of ABCD is that everyone, EVERYONE has something to contribute to the good of the community.

And so they write, “Who are the ‘strangers’ in this community? A community which pays particular attention to locating and mobilizing the gifts of the strangers in its midst is one which clearly welcomes the contributions of all its members to the community building process. ...the fact that they too are involved not as clients or recipients but as citizens and contributors can help to define this path as one which everyone can travel.” [p.347]

That is a major shift in thinking. I’ll stop there so you can think about the implications and challenges of their approach. Up next, I’ll draw in a few other sources to support this approach.