Transpartisan Citizen? Peter Block’s take on what it means to be a citizen.

A new kind of politics comes with, or even from, a new (return to some traditions) kind of citizen.  The Transpartisan Alliance is focused on citizen empowerment.  Peter Block’s definition of citizen is darn close to what we’re talking about.

See the Whole Chapter

Opening paragraph  and last 2 segments of: What it Means to be a Citizen. Chapter 6, Community:  The Structure of Belonging
Peter Block, Berrett-Koehler, 2008

Choosing to be accountable for the whole, creating a context of hospitality and collective possibility, acting to bring the gifts of those on the margin into the center–these are some of the ways we begin to create a community of citizens. To reclaim our citizenship is to be accountable, and this comes from the inversion of what is cause and what is effect. When we are open to thinking along the lines that citizens create leaders, that children create parents, and that the audi­ence creates the performance, we create the conditions for widespread accountability and the commitment that emerges from it. This inversion may not be the whole truth, but it is useful.  ……….

A Word About Entitlement and Accountability

One cost of the retributive conversation is that it breeds entitlement. Entitlement is essentially the conversation, “What’s in it for me?” It expresses a scarcity mentality, and the economist tells us that only what is scarce has value. Entitlement is the outcome of a patriarchal culture, which I have discussed too often in other books. But for this discussion, I’ll simply say that if we create a context of fear, fault, and retribution, then we will focus on protecting ourselves, which plants the seed of entitlement.

The cost of entitlement is that it is an escape from accountability and soft on commitment. It gets in the way of authentic citizenship.

What is interesting is that the existing public conversation claims to be tough on accountability, but the language of accountability that occurs in a retributive context is code for “control.” High-control systems are unbearably soft on accountability. They keep screaming for tighter controls, new laws, and bigger systems, but in the scream, they expose their weakness.

The weakness in the dominant view of accountability is that it thinks people can be held accountable. That we can force people to be accountable. Despite the fact that it sells easily, it is an illusion to believe that retribu­tion, incentives, legislation, new standards, and tough consequences will cause accountability.

This illusion is what creates entitlement–and worse, it drives us apart; it does not bring us together. It turns neighbor against neighbor. It denies that we are our brother’s keeper. Every colonial and autocratic regime rises to power by turning citizens against each other.

To see our conventional thinking about accountability at work, notice the conversations that dominate our meetings and gatherings. We spend time talking about people not in the room. If not that, our gatherings are designed to sell, change, persuade, and influence others, as if their change will help us reach our goals. These conversations do not produce power; they consume it.

Accountability, Commitment, and the Use of Force

Commitment and accountability are forever paired, for they do not exist without each other. Accountability is the willingness to care for the well­-being of the whole; commitment is the willingness to make a promise with no expectation of return.

The economist would say this smacks of altruism, and so be it. What community requires is a promise devoid of barter and not conditional on another’s action. Without that, we are constantly in the position of reacting to the choices of others. Which means that our commitment is conditional. This is barter, not commitment.

The cost of constantly reacting to the choices of others is increased cynicism and helplessness. The ultimate cost of cynicism and helplessness is that we resort to the use of force. In this way the barter mentality that dominates our culture helps create a proliferation of force. Not necessarily violence, but the belief that for anything to change, we must mandate or use coercion.

The use of force is an end product of retribution, which rejects altru­ism and a promise made for its own sake. It rejects the idea that virtue is its own reward.

Commitment is the antithesis of entitlement and barter. Unconditional commitment with no thought to “What’s in it for me?” is the emotional and relational essence of community. It is what some call integrity; others, “honoring your word.”

Commitment is to choose a path for its own sake. This is the essence of power. Mother Teresa got this. When asked why she worked with people one at a time rather than caring more about having impact on a larger scale, she replied, “I was called by faith, not by results.” If you want to argue with Mother Teresa, be my guest.

Opening paragraph  and last 2 segments of: What it Means to be a Citizen. Chapter 6, Community:  The Structure of Belonging
by Peter Block, Berrett-Koehler, 2008


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: