John McKnight: Community and Its Counterfeits

This resource is courtesy of David Cayley: the CBC IDEAS Program (2015)

John McKnight is a professor of Communication Studies and Education and Social Policy at Northwestern. Mr. McKnight is co-author with John P. Kretzmann of “Building Communities from the Inside Out: A Path Toward Finding and Mobilizing a Community’s Assets”. John McKnight has spoken at many events across Canada and has consulted with over 50 community and academic organizations and, such as at the Family Service Association of Toronto (FSA) ( the largest and oldest family agency in Toronto), the Toronto Social Planning Council, the L’Arche Communities, and the Coady Institute in Halifax.

John McKnight was featured on the CBC IDEAS Program in 2015

see –  http://www.davidcayley.com/podcasts?category=John+McKnight and also see: http://www.abundantcommunity.com/
This series lays out his thoughts on how community is made and unmade, and the positive reaction it received encouraged McKnight to collect some of his best papers and publish them as ‘The Careless Society: Community and Its Counterfeits’.

John McKnight: Community and Its Counterfeits Part One

John McKnight: Community and Its Counterfeits Part Two

John McKnight: Community and Counterfeits Part Three

Poignant excerpts from the podcasts above:

McKnight notes, “An emphasis on people’s needs obscures people’s abilities…in our society there is a relentless struggle between associational ways and system ways, and what we have seen in our time is the ascendance of systems over associations; and we see how the systems of service often isolate people. People want to set down some roots within a community and to feel it to be their home.”

“As we think about our community life, we recognize that something has happened to many of us as institutions have grown in power. We have become too impotent to be called real citizens and too disconnected to be effective members of community. There is a mistaken notion that our society has a problem in terms of effective human services. Our essential problem is weak communities. While we have reached the limits of institutional problem-solving, we are only at the beginning of exploring the possibility of a new vision for community. It is a vision of regeneration. It is a vision of re-associating the exiled. It is a vision of freeing ourselves from service and advocacy. It is a vision of centering our lives in community.”

5 thoughts on “John McKnight: Community and Its Counterfeits

  1. Through this interview conducted by David Cayley, John McKnight reveals his understanding of how the power of community has lost its prevalence in society due to the increasing amount of influence that various institutions have. McKnight states his concern that through losing a sense of community, we as human beings lose our individuality and spirit, and ultimately, risk becoming “slaves” to the system.
    McKnight offers a notable argument when he questions what the purpose of the family is today, and why many find themselves increasingly distant from their families. He states that a family loses its function because their health lies with doctors, knowledge in teachers, conflict resolution in lawyers, and meals in restaurants. Therefore, he states, a family is less of a human community than it is a collection of clients. We, as a collective society, would rather place our trust in the hands of “trusted” or “reputable” professionals as opposed to those whom we associate as friends and family.
    This story, just one of many, is essential to understanding the growing issue of a lack of community in society today. People have become so blinded by the role of institutions and their reputation, that they lose sight of the power of individualism and the gift of the unique spirit.
    I believe that McKnight’s message is especially significant in today’s day and age because, with the introduction of social media and networking, we as a society have begun to lose touch with our loved ones, and have replaced them with technology. In order to better ourselves and society as a whole, we must be willing to make changes and begin to focus on the importance of community.
    If COVID-19 has taught us anything, it’s that nothing can replace the value of human interaction and social belonging. The feeling of community is essential to human development, and therefore it cannot be replaced and must be actively preserved.

    Like

    1. “The feeling of community is essential to human development, and therefore it cannot be replaced and must be actively preserved.” Yes, human beings are social creatures and we are meant to be together, not isolated. Therefore, solitary confinement is one of the most grave punishments in society because one is totally isolated from the outside world without any socialization. However, knowing that, society must be an inclusive place for all, meaning that those with physical or mental disabilities, addictions or underprivileged in society must be included and society must embrace them.

      To say that “the feeling of community is essential to human development,” means that the very nature of human beings is that we need each other, to support each other in all dimensions of life. To simply reject that we do not need a community is to be prideful and simply arrogant. Throughout life, we depend on others in various aspects either family, friends or even as a collective when it comes to healthcare, education or publicly funded tax dollars – those are collective, community efforts to make things happen for the good of society. It is important that we realize that so that we can be more conscious of what we say and do because ultimately, the way we interact with one another within a community has a ripple effect.

      Like

    2. Valuscha,
      Great response! You touch upon many of the key aspects of McKnight’s arguments in an eloquent and succinct manner, well done! I especially loved your ending point about what how COVID-19 has taught us that there truly is no replacement for human interaction and social belonging. I could not agree more. I personally can relate to losing the feeling of social belonging during this time of distance learning as I had been taking 2 summer school courses from May-June. One of my courses was asynchronous meaning that lectures were pre-posted and we were to watch them on our own time and submit any lecture questions we had after. I thought an asynchronous course was the best option, but I soon came to realize that I had no idea who my classmates were! I felt no social belonging or interaction with my peers and really felt the emphasis on distance in distance learning. Whereas in my synchronous learning the instructor would put us in breakout groups often and I’d get to interact with my peers and hold conversation, in our live sessions I would definitely feel a sense of social belonging in my learning community.

      Like

  2. “We have to go back to the old idea of hospitality and friendship that I don’t think exists today […] Restore hospitality, especially with those with disabilities.” That line really stuck we me after listening to all three of John McKnight’s podcasts. I have the impression sometimes that we live in an egocentric world, where everything including infrastructure, services and even morality is all, “Me, me, me!” or “Mine, mine, mine!” However, such a world really isolates certain categories of people – this is what McKnight seems to be saying. Thus, we must go back to the basics – that is, to be people of hospitality, open and welcoming to all peoples. McKnight’s voice really echoes that of the Holy Father, Pope Francis’ call to care for the most vulnerable and marginalized in society and the disabled people in our society fall in that category.
    We need to create communities that are hospitable to such people as they too are gifts from God for society today. Jesus said, “Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.” (Mt 25:40) We cannot see this merely in a spiritual sense, but rather, we must put what we observe into practice in the world today in concrete ways. Thankfully in Canada, there is that support for disabled people, at least financially but we need to show through our programs, infrastructure and services that we care about them and in no way have intentions of excluding them from society.
    The same must go for the elderly, the immigrants, the refugees… the marginalized of North American society. That takes patience, and a whole hearted hospitable heart yet it is only when we do that will we create a welcoming and caring society that truly respects the dignity of the human person.

    Like

  3. John McKnight makes some very compelling points in his evaluation of what communities look like in today’s societies. He problematizes the monopolization of welfare by social service agencies and brings into the direct question the competency of modern-day communities. Interviewer David Cayley relates that McKnight has once referred to himself as a “connoisseur of social invention”. Frankly, I thoroughly enjoyed hearing the insights of John McKnight and I found the reoccurring theme of hospitality and solidarity in standing with your neighbors to be quite interesting. McKnight asserts that modern institutions have in fact reduced us to “nothing but needs and excluded from community life altogether”. He further claims that these modern institutions are simply designed to keep us as numerical individuals in a system. What I find most interesting in McKnight’s argument is that he gives a specific focus to regenerating society and fighting the cause of communal isolation in the form of celebrating everyone’s unique capacity and unique gifts. When I think of community solidarity and building bonds of mutual companionship I often find myself coming back to the teachings of my own religion, Islam, in regards to treatment of one’s neighbor. In Chapter 4 Verse 37 of the Holy Quran it is stated, “And worship Allah and associate naught with Him, and show kindness to parents, and to kindred, and orphans, and the needy, and to the neighbour that is a kinsman and the neighbour that is a stranger … ” Essentially, it has equated the right of closest relation with that of the right of a person whom he only knows as a neighbour or one whom he seldom sees. Further analysis reveals how this “teaching it is that shows kindness to everyone whether he is kind towards you or not. This is how you can create peace, love and harmony in the society and this also means that all the people residing in your vicinity, town, city or even country are your neighbours. Therefore, give them their due rights.”
    Reference: https://www.alislam.org/articles/love-thy-neighbour/

    Like

Leave a Reply

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

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com 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