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What is ABCD?

October 11, 2021

It is so easy to talk about community engagement and transformation and so hard to actually live it out! In our culture we might value progress, forward movement, linear timelines to accomplish our goals. But for many people that is not the 'normal' way of doing things. Different cultures value very different aspects of life. America is very individualistic, accomplishing our goals, moving forward and setting goals that benefit me and my immediate family. In Japan, for example, we would probably considered graceless and unkind, to abandon the extended family to further our goals – unheard of! Japan (as many other countries) think more in communal settings. Is one thing right and the other wrong? No, it's just a different culture, a different way of doing things and functioning in a society.

Tomorrow I will teach a class on Asset Based Community Development to students at Fresno Pacific University. ABCD is a way of seeing the strong in a community versus seeing the wrong in a neighborhood. The principles that are used in ABCD focus on the strength of a community and builds on the assets of the neighborhood, putting community members at the center of decision making, letting them determine what would help them to move forward in any given area of life.

As I am preparing for it, I realize again, how easy it is to even teach ABCD with a linear approach. What we find though is that community members who live in under-resourced neighborhoods often have different cultures than we commonly use in our government/business/school settings.

Often stress levels for people who live in socio-economic poverty are very high, the need to provide for their families and the difficulty to make ends meet often changes the way they approach life. Not right or wrong, just different! Here are some of the many things I value from their culture: their way of relating to each other and helping each other, always willing to give a hand to help someone. The way they spend time together, they are much more relationship oriented than time oriented. Their way of celebrating life (there are always fun parties going on). Their strong family relations, what a gift.

But, to be honest, it took me years to see these things as strength, because in my cultural settings I saw things differently: Resources are to be held on to and given away only in exchange for something else. Time is often more important than relationships (just look at how we have to 'schedule' a lunch meeting with a family member). Too many celebrations would seem frivolous in light of financial limitations. Different! Not right or wrong!

So when we do community development, we need to think also about cultural differences, we cannot come in with our preconceived ideas and think we can 'fix' people. Different, does not mean broken! My goal in our work at LifeLine CDC always has been to create bridges between different cultures and to help different groups to learn from each other.

So, while I am still time-oriented, I value relationships. While I still like structure and process, I love the flexibility and adaptability of my friends. While I am very frugal, I love the 'extravagantic' love of my neighbors.

While I am writing this, I had to respond to a community member who dumped stuff in front of one of our centers…. good intentions but made it a greater burden for us. How can I graciously respond to that?

So, the next time you encounter someone different, learn from them and enjoy the journey of understanding another culture as you engage with neighbors.

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