July 16, 2013

Seeing, Not Watching

I have been working on a blog post that I'm putting aside for another day in light of the events of this past week.  It's about neighborhood associations and what we do as funders and institutional actors to grow the group behaviors that turn us off down the road.

Today I'm thinking also about neighborhood watch groups - the dark side of neighborhood watch groups and neighborhood associations.

I spotted this poster this morning that got right to the heart of the question that I have been pondering.  When did neighborhood watch groups get to be more about watching than seeing?  And when did neighborhood associations get to be more about controlling than associating?

I am willing to look at myself and the work that I do professionally with eyes that see some uncomfortable truths about what we do with the best intentions that push people away from neighboring, friending, associating, and seeing.  I know that those of us in the institutional world have a part in this.

But what really troubles me is what people sometimes do in the name of being a good citizen - being responsible, going the extra mile, showing that they care.  And, I must admit, what I have done myself when I was a zealous neighborhood association leader - cataloging and reporting code violations without talking to people as neighbors or offering to help as one embarrassing example. 

I appreciate the spirit that moves people to connect, mobilize and act out of concern for their neighborhood.  Without implying that I think that every neighborhood association or neighborhood watch group has gone over the ledge of vigilante-ism or suggesting in any way that I think we would be better off without these groups, I do have a wish.  My wish is that every neighborhood association and every neighborhood watch group would gather for a conversation about this poster, with eyes that let them see - and confront - any uncomfortable truths that may come up.  And then begin again - this time with a pledge that whatever they do will reflect their strong commitment to really see and not watch.

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