My Extraordinary Job

Recently over coffee, a mental health professional from one of the communities I am mentoring said: “I so wish I could do community building all the time, but I can’t because my ordinary job gets in the way.” She went on to say “You know I call community building my ‘extraordinary job’.”

In other words, she was saying ‘where I work, building reciprocal relationships with and between people is considered extra-ordinary’.

It’s an interesting word, extraordinary; to take the literal meaning it refers to that which is outside of the ordinary. There’s truth in them there words. The ordinary job for this professional, is not about building community, it’s about service provision to clients; in essence it’s a business model based on building customer base.

So what exactly does this extraordinary job look like? What is the anatomy of a community builder?

(If you’re reading this from your mobile or other device, then you may not be able to view the Prezi below, so check this attached PDF version.)

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In a nutshell, Asset Based Community Builders in particular accept the world as it is, not as it should be. So they can help build the world as it should be, not as it is.

What would need to happen for this to become the new ordinary: for professionals, to view their roles through the lens of community building? And for us to find the resources to have a dedicated Community Builder in every neighbourhood?

When I ask front line staff these questions, they say if it was up to them they’d work this way in a heartbeat, and many who were around in the ’80s say that’s exactly the way things got done, in youth work, social work, public health and policing. Then they shake their head and say: ‘but senior management would never support it, we’ve all become too target driven.’

When I ask senior managers they say: ‘if it was up to us, we’d do it in a heartbeat, but frontline workers would never go for it, the sector has become professionalised and segmented into specialisms, they’d see it as a demotion.’

When I get both parties in the same room and ask them to tell each other what they told me, they look surprised to hear of the others willingness, dare I say hunger, to be extraordinary; they hug each other like long lost friends, and share a brief moment of heady intoxication at the prospect of doing something extraordinary together. Then reality kicks in and someone pipes up: ‘It’ll never happen, middle-management would never allow it’. And everyone goes back to the day job, the familiar, the normal…the ordinary…

Extraordinary isn’t it? No it’s not, its mediocrity!

In his Nobel lecture in 1995, Seamus Heaney offered us a way to be extraordinary when he advised:

‘Walk on air against your better judgement’

Cormac Russell

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