When All You Have is a Hammer…

“When all you have is a hammer,” the saying goes, “…everything looks like a nail.”


So far, this blog looks like a discombobulated series of advertisements for Agency.  In reality, I must curb my enthusiasm, and focus on the one thing I need Agency to do for me.

What’s that?


Well, for a while, my neighbor-interviewing has been on hold.  I have this fantastic, tiny handful of open-ended questions that, in my experience, result in profound trust-building between myself and each neighbor, and a shared awareness of what treasure troves of meaningful connection-points we each and all are.  I come out of these appointments knowing who I want to connect that neighbor to, why, what they will get out of it…  I even know that no computer would ever make the connections my heart is able to make, and if it could, that it wouldn’t have the sense of timing and feel for appropriateness that you or I do.  After these interviews, I feel physically grateful to be alive, here, now.


But I’m afraid to betray their trust by not being able to connect often enough myself to foster the lost community I see.  I’m afraid that I’m not able to afford the time to connect with enough people to connect each of us to enough others to enthuse us all to keep in touch.  I’m afraid that, if I do a half-good job, I’ll get neighbors connected, but not connected enough to trust each other enough or to save each other enough time, to make my efforts redundant/obsolete.  I’m afraid to have an online community of any kind, because ‘open’ ones spread the energy and attention of the enthused too thin and too far, while closed ones put us in boxes that “the community builder” defines –  be they profile questions or ‘neighborhood’ boundaries.  I’m afraid, also, that any central database with the intimate information I get in interviews would be a vulnerability I’m unable to be sufficiently responsible for.


More than afraid, I’ve been frustrated.  These interviews are magical.  Neighbors say things that, when I immediately repeat back their own sentence, surprise them.  I’m bringing up old dreams.  I’m fostering new relationships.  I’m practicing an old art while asking new questions, pointing out wise ways of being in our world — by reflecting my neighbors’ own words.  I needed a medium in which to neutrally capture and through which to gently remind neighbors of their answers, their desires, their perfectly possible dreams.  I want to remind them of themselves as human resources surrounded by human resources, and support the development of our ideas, one-on-one, and – later – with other neighbors.  I know that a regular check-in from someone who truly cares does wonders, and I’ve been frustrated that I had no support-medium that could make this avocation sustainable.


But more than frustrated, I’m determined.  This process is teachable.  If I can reach a critical mass (I’ve done the math; it would be a part-time/full-time job for 1 year, preferably 2) a critical mass of neighbors will spontaneously interview one another and, of those, a critical mass (minimum estimate 2-5) will be as passionate about this as I am, wanting to do it as a part-time/full-time job for a while…  And I’m determined to – even if I don’t get paid during my pilot years – support my apprentice-colleagues, and their apprentice-colleagues, and theirs, and theirs – at least with healthcare, but, in order to not select for previously-privileged persons, preferably with an income.  That’s right: I’m determined to make Purposeful Neighborliness a temp job.  It might be like taking a vow of poverty (though no less than it takes to stay living where one lives) for 2 years.  It might be best to only allow people to do this for a ‘term’ of 2 years.  But this way at least all of us who want to, can give 2 years of our lives to this without fearing we might have to move, or stop doing our rounds due to self-sacrifice that borders on martyrdom.  Therefore, this profession needs to earn money, or justify funds being donated.


The profession of ‘listener’ needs to validate its existence, show its impact, qualify its practitioners.  Even if NOP becomes a non-profit – even if alumni eventually sponsor the whole thing – to fund growth at the rate I think the practice will, we have to do more than pull heartstrings: no racism-perpetuating images of ‘underserved’ populations being ‘served.’  And I will not grow it ‘strategically’ – grassroots only: no debates with socially-impoverished NIMBY-donors justifying a focus on some neighborhoods over others: this is a systemic healing for a systemic ailment that cannot be blamed on anything or anyone in particular.  This kind of Listening can help us all, but only if it’s done with the heart, voluntarily, by someone who is actually a neighbor… who is not suffering in the process.  THEN it has results – far-reaching results in realms like depression medication consumption, caring enough to compost, and the obvious, like caring for the elderly and making us all safer.  I’m determined to prove this, and earn the funding, versus beg.  Therefore, we need testimonials – lots of them.  We need evidence of the far-reaching results – lots of it.  We need data – lots of it.


I’m not only determined, I’m excited.  Although I see less meaningful, tender, psychologically and physically vulnerable data being harvested (see Big Data) and used, sometimes for our education, sometimes to scare us, sometimes to benefit the already-privileged and widen gaps, or to benefit organizations, but not the individuals whose data it is… Although I see that happening, I am excited to have found a way of storing – and sharing access to – data, that keeps the ownership of the data in the hands of the individual it belongs to, so that the person whose data it is, consciences the choice to share/withhold, and creates the terms and conditions that will benefit humanity, in order to allow anyone access.  Neighbor-wise, it protects those of us with an unreasonable ex, with family members of vulnerable age or capacity, and those of us who don’t usually speak for fear of unwanted attention… without making us 100% anonymous, or irresponsible for our words.


So I see a medium with which to paint our success, fellow neighbor-listeners.  I see a medium that honors the tender privacy in which our and our neighbors’ insights first blossom.  I see a medium with which to document, celebrate, and facilitate OFFLINE successes without making them public/naked.  I see a medium that allows our neighbors to share intimate wishes with us, with others, in the safety of relevant anonymity, yet be personally approachable for support from those with complimentary needs (people we Listeners know and connect them to, but also by others) directly.  All because of the ways that Agency works, making this, and many other unprecedented things, possible.  So it’s only natural I’d be tempted to point out other use cases on my blog.  But I’ll try to curb my wayward enthusiasm – which might actually just be wayward anxiety, nerves that my application has to wait on other, more profitable applications.  That I must dream longer, wait longer, or do something meanwhile, work harder, prove more, to deserve investment that an application solving HIPAA-problems would get in a heartbeat.  Hmm…


I’m in it for the long-run: I’m in it for the Now.  I’m in it for the dream, like Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s, the dream of the beloved community, all standing strong together, not against an enemy, but through light and darkness nevertheless.  And I’m blogging to help the dream of Agency become reality.  Investors, donors, programmers, designers, journalists… welcome.  The world needs all kinds, and so does Agency.

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