Shifting our Gaze

In difficult situations it can be easy to focus on what’s wrong. Our brains are wired for problem-solving, and they never run out of opportunities. Focusing on difficulties and challenges for an extended time can become habitual. This so-called negative vision only sees problems that need fixing.

When I catch myself in this pattern, I consciously practice gratitude. Giving thanks for specific things that are going well. They are right in front of me, and yet my tunnel vision is focused elsewhere. It’s amazing how shifting my gaze changes my perspective. I go from seeing needs, wants, lacks and gaps to gifts, abundance, sharing and resources. I physically relax, and new possibilities begin to emerge. It is more than a simple attitude adjustment; it’s a paradigm shift.

This is a personal, individual example of what can happen through Asset Based Community Development, or ABCD for short.

Asset Based Community Development is a way of approaching shared community concerns. It is a strategy for community organizing that has three foundational truths: everyone has gifts; everyone has something to contribute; everyone cares about something and that passion is their motivation to act.

In recent years, I have witnessed ABCD effect positive change in a variety of settings. It is a template, and yet infinitely customizable. What I appreciate is that it respects and values people exactly where they are.

Faith communities, at their best, are known to be generous to those in need. Every major religion teaches their faithful to practice charity. An unintended consequence, though, of practicing charity alone is that those who have, begin to see those who lack, as a problem to solve. Even with the best of intentions, when we focus on fixing needs, wants, lacks and gaps, we become defined by the haves and have-nots. This can rob people of human dignity and build calluses of indifference and contempt.

Asset Based Community Development takes a different approach. Rather than focusing on the problem or the need, the strategy identifies what solutions a community already has, in abundance. What are its strengths? What are its resources? What do its residents care about? In practice it mobilizes and empowers citizens to work for the changes they desire. It builds relationships and creates networks and breaks down silos. Structured and organic, ABCD is long, slow work, yet the relationships formed build lasting community. The wisdom of Margaret Mead comes to mind: “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed it’s the only thing that ever has.”

Broomfield is beginning to see the fruits of ABCD through the strides made towards affordable housing. I wonder what other common concerns we could address by talking to our neighbors...

On Wednesday, February 20, from 6-8:30 pm Holy Comforter will host an introductory workshop to Asset Based Community Development. Dinner will be provided and child care is available. All are welcome. If you are able to attend, please RSVP to Jackson Dreiling.

As Margaret Wheatley wrote: “There is no power for change like a community discovering what it cares about.”

Mother Kim