Book Review - Having Nothing, Possessing Everything, by Michael Mather
An Occasional Book Review -- Michael Mather, Having Nothing, Possessing Everything: finding abundant communities in unexpected places
My friend and fellow ABCD faculty member Michael Mather has written and inspired me to take my ABCD work to another level and to revise my training to include more discussion of what people do when they try to help others. He also told the story of his colleague, De’Amon Harges’ (the “roving listener”) of how he helped him through his ”learning journeys” through the neighborhoods to identify and rise up resident’s gifts and turn them into learning opportunities for many others. This book is loaded with lessons for me but two stand out more than others:
First is the theory of “Iatrogenesis.” The origin of iatrogenesis comes from the Greek for brought forth from the healer. The dictionary defines iatrogenesis as referring to any effect on a person resulting from an activity from one or more other persons acting as healthcare professionals or promoting products or services as beneficial to health, which does not support a goal of the person. In other words, there are unintended consequences that the cure might be worse than the original problem. For example, in human services we may recommend that a couple having difficulty should go to therapy, which may result in divorce, loss of your children, severely reduced income to support yourself, alienation from many of your friends, loneliness, depression and anxiety attacks. In the criminal justice system, we often punish offenses by jailing people, which in turn gives them a record, alienation from everyone who could care and help them, separation from and in many cases loss of family; and limitations in pursuing meaningful future employment,
The second lesson that stood out for me was what should we do when someone comes to you for help. Our instantaneous response is to make suggestions as to how they might get themselves out of the mess they are presenting. Mike Mather suggests another way. He gives a great example of Amos who comes to him for help about a problem. The first thing Mike does is ask him who loves him? He then asks Amos to gather those people who love him in his office and have them talk about what they love about Amos. My suspicion is that Amos will now have a list of traits or assets that may show him he has the wherewithal to solve his own problems and he has a support system available to be there for him to provide support and caring, to love him and will be there the next time he feels weak or will stray again!
Both of these examples spell out where systems or institutional responses often fail to solve the problems they are set up to solve. Institutions are not capable of caring. Only people can provide true caring. Good institutions are those who get out of the way and give their staffs who can provide care the room and support to do so. We are seeing so much more of that now during the Covid 19 pandemic from hospitals and healthcare systems that are providing creative avenues for their staffs to truly provide care.
As Mike and his friend and colleague De’Amon Hargis tell their stories of the Broadway Church in Indianapolis they highlight all of the other traits of ABCD that make for true caring and raising up the gifts of the people most affected by the issues they are trying to repair.
- Never do for others what they can do for themselves;
- Ask what are you good enough at that you could teach others?
- Start with gift assessments; not needs assessments;
- Always build on what is present and not on what is not;
- Ask yourself, are we more interested in helping others than achieving equality?
- Look for root causes and not just symptoms – for example, the single most important factor keeping young people from high school graduation is economic status. Maybe if we really want to have an impact, let’s start there.
- Practice hospitality and welcome the stranger! We must welcome every person in need as gifted people. True hospitality doesn’t refer people to others. It welcomes people into your community;
- When we travel, let’s go on learning journeys where we take the learnings and apply them as they fit into our communities when we return home.
- Challenged youth need teachers who can help them make sense of the world and their place in it. The teachers must work from the young people’s gifts; not their challenges. Yes, the challenges are real; but as John McKnight is so fond of saying “no need or challenge ever solved a problem. Only your gifts or assets can address the problems you are facing.”
- There is great strength in storytelling! A person’s and a community’s stories are essential to what makes communities strong.
- Institutions have instituted practices, rules and regulations that can act as barriers to seeing the gifts of the people we were put here to serve.
- When you look at the world as a place of abundance; you begin to see it everywhere!
- Our job as professionals is to get out of the way sometimes – provide space, provide resources -- food, facilities, materials, facilitation to a point, provide advice when asked but remember to ask first – who loves you? (“Lead by stepping back!”)
- 6 Broadway Church lessons – (1) our neighbors are God’s people; act like it; (2) everything begins with and builds on people’s gifts; (3) parents and guardians are the first best teachers – respect this; (4) we invest first and foremost in the good of the people in the neighborhood: (5) money must flow to the neighborhood and (6) practice neighbor love!
- People with skills; not programs for every need!
I want to thank Michael for writing this book about where the rubber hits the road with ABCD and De’Amon for his creativity and caring in supporting him.