Peter Block – Closure Part 3 – The Question

Peter Block: I always thought it would be nice to do nothing. This is it. So. Can the two of you just start over from the beginning and do it again?

You know, if you talk about the restoration or the transformation, it’s never an argument against anything. It helps to make distinctions, like the difference between individualism and communalism. Those distinctions are helpful. But it’s not an argument against patriarchy. It’s not.

You don’t go to Mars, who is the god of war,” and say, “Could I interest you in peace?” And you don’t go to top management, who gives orders to the world and say, “Can I interest you in surprise?” There’s nothing to argue about. So that’s one thought.

The other thought is that all restoration, transformation occurs through language. The world is transformed through the words that we use. I love the sentence, in a word is a world, and every word is a world. And so the restoring occurs the moment you find new language to describe what you’re living into. All transformation is linguistic and it’s not a matter of semantics and it’s not a matter of translating what I hear into my own language, there’s no transformation there. Two disciplines in the world are central.

One is art. Art has a job to do. It’s not entertainment. When Bob sings he’s not entertaining us; he’s a prophet. He’s prophesying and producing and alternative experience through your singing, and your singing, a lot of them, are laments, a lot of them are grief cries, a lot of them are promises. You say last night, you brought into the world the possibility that I can lean on you, and so the function of art is prophecy. The purpose of prophecy is first, to describe the world as it is, the emperor has not clothes, this is the world as it is, and the other purpose is to say, “There’s another way; there’s an alternative world.” All the poetry, all the storytelling, the language of Angeles, offers us an alternative world.

So all of that in her speaking of it opens up another world. Just as soon as she says there’s three things that prophesizes another world of experience just in the saying of it. What she gives us, and the purpose of that language is the experience of aliveness. To step out of our toll box, our vertical coffin. Angeles does it so that we experience aliveness in her saying of these stories, and are making these lists. That’s the process, if you want to operationalize restoration. If you want to really get granular and operationalize it you say, well let me pay attention to the language you’re using that brings in an alternative world. That’s what I thought we’d work on this morning. The artist does it through poetry and through song, and the artist is the prophet.

The other central function is journalism, and the task of the journalist is the communal storyteller. The world we have now, in some ways isn’t reported by journalism, it’s constructed by journalism. The big journalistic question is, “What constitutes news?” In the patriarchal world, we’ve decided what’s wrong with us constitutes news. You can pick up any newspaper you want and the headlines are always some variation of, “this is what’s wrong with us.” Who died, who cheated, who lied. The most liberal of papers is doing the same thing it doesn’t matter. The liberal, conservative conversation is useless. Part of our task if the communal, the common good is what you’re after is to reconstruct journalism. Reconstruct what we call news. Reconstruct the common daily story of who we are.

That’s the second notion. The last thought is, all of this is occurring now. There is a movement afoot in the land in any dimension you want; whether it’s economics,

or whether it’s in liberation theology, or whether it’s in architecture. People are now reconstructing buildings and housing so that we can live a communal life and can raise each other’s children. Feed each other. And you’re it (the movement). All of you are in the midst of this transformation. It’s nothing that we have to start. We just have to make it visible and amplify it.

Those are some thoughts about how it comes into the world by paying attention to the nature of our speaking. There are those of you that I know are doing that.

Gary is in charge of public works for the city of Salinas. He’s the poet of public works. That’s his job title. Who would have thought that we’d have a poet in charge of water and waste management? Solid and liquid. And he runs the airport, you know, without even looking. In his speaking as the poet, he’s bringing another world into being. He’s talking about different ways of being, different ways of coming together, different ways of talking to each other. He’s a community builder, and you’re all community builders even though it’s never your job title.

Brian worked for Mars. He was an executive there and I know that he was bringing into being a world organized around community and one that cared for those that were uncared for, producers. Whatever your title is you’re still building community.

I thought the way to get completion for being together is to have you in small groups, which is always the place where intimacy and all these things occur. You have you come up with a sentence or an image that captures the world that you are in the process of bringing into being. A sentence that you can construct that describes the world that you are committed to bringing into being.

Not what you’re doing, or not what you don’t know, or not what you’re not doing, or not what you haven’t done yet. I don’t want to hear about the desert that you’re walking through and you’ve got thirty-nine more days until you finish, I don’t want to hear about the fact that, “If I grow up, and I haven’t grown up yet.” Everybody has a story of what they’re not. This is the cost of patriarchy. That doesn’t take you anywhere. I’m not interested in people’s story of what they’re not, or struggle. I want to give you a chance to spend thirty minutes with two other lovers to say, “What’s the sentence, or image, I can construct that would give voice to the world that I’m in the process of bringing into being.”

Now if you don’t understand this assignment that’s perfect. Any assignment well understood takes you nowhere. Nowhere.

So people say, “Can you define your terms?”

And you say, “Of course not. Why would I control you in that silly way?”

“What do you mean by bringing into being?”


The ambiguity of the question creates space for something new to occur. The methodology of restoration is a question, always. A question dropped into a small group, always. A question dropped into a small group where people have chosen to be with the stranger, always.

You’re bringing hospitality into the room when you say, “Sit with someone you know the least.” And it’s a question dropped into a small group where strangers have chosen to be with each other under the injunction of not being helpful. I’m not interested in what you did when you were my age, even though I’m older than all of you. I’m not interested in what I was doing at my age. So all the stories of victory are false claims.

“Here’s what I did when I was your age.”
“How’s it going?”
And the answer for us is, “Not well.”

There’s too much suffering in the world for me to claim victory. I know you’re doing well. But we’re not doing well. That’s the commons, the essence of the commons is the notion of, “To what extent am I invested in the well-being of the whole?”

That’s what the education is for. So don’t be helpful, you substitute for help, as Angeles said, with an acknowledgement of the mystery of who we are. My only task with you, my love for you, is only expressed by trying to understand who you are. Everything else is colonization.

Don’t use questions to be helpful because we’re watching. Conspiracy is a fact, it’s not a theory. And they’re all over the place. They’re ubiquitous. Got it? Those are the methodology of restoration.

Well what do you mean by that? Well I mean it occurs through engaging people in questions about intention. What I’m bringing into the world. In a small group with people who know each other the least and live under the injunction of not being helpful and are physically close to each other.

This is why building community through the internet is impossible because I don’t care that I can see you across the globe on Skype, life-size, in all your glory, I’m still alone, watching. With all that technology, I’m still alone, watching. Is it better than not watching? Of course it is. Am I glad we can call and I can see I have a godson in Singapore? I like seeing Peter. But it’s not community. There’s no touch. I can’t touch him. It’s always in a small group. Proximity is the last thing. So that’s the fun. Let’s do that.