During the arms race that dominated the 70’s and 80’s a friend of mine remarked something to the effect that “to accomplish change requires the intellectual ability to both accept that the situation is hopeless at the same time you believe it can be changed.” This statement haunted me for years, because if I focused on the gravity of the world’s problems, I immediately became overwhelmed and doubtful of my ability to make a difference. I felt powerless, and, if the cynicism and apathy of my generation is any indicator, I was not alone.
We regarded making change a difficult and complex task. We ordered studies, studies that took years before they told us what we already knew, things needed to change. Oh, and they also told us that change takes years and lots of money.
But what if we were wrong? What if change is as simple as making soup?
Instructions from the Cook, says it is.
Beautiful it its simplicity, Instructions from the Cook, offers relief from over intellectualized studies that use double speak and diagrams to explain the depth of our problems before offering expensive solutions that seem out of reach. Inspired by the work of Peter Block, authors George Nemeth and Jack Ricchiuto offer a model for action based upon community building through “improbable collaborations” where people come together from diverse groups to join in new models of conversation. In their words:
When a community is vital, people know each other, look out for each other, connect each other, barter with each other, and engage each other. We don’t need to order complex studies to notice; they are obvious just living in the community.
When a community is vital, people don’t wait for institutional or political leaders to make this happen. They continuously take and share responsibility for being the kind of community they Dream to be.
A vital community – one that accepts that what appears to be reality, is only one view of it, that things happen in their time, that there is more than one possible solution, and that no matter what our reality is now, we can still achieve what is possible – is a community open to new conversations free from negativity and burdened expectations. These new conversations exploring our collective best future, small experiments on incremental change towards that best future utilizing the resources, talents and assets members bring to the table, as well as inviting new partners who share our goals, replace old conversations of victimization and problems.
The model is explained through recipes. Much like making the Stone Soup recounted in the book’s first page you start with the pot, your community, add your dream, then add a small experiment of that dream along with member resources and contributions of others who are inspired to contribute to your creation. Recipes such as “Boarded Up Solar Houses” show how small steps build change, small change to be sure, but with each step more of the community is engaged, connected and cared for through open hearted sharing of resources.
Reflecting upon some of the community groups and nonprofits I have been involved with in the past, I have deep appreciation for anything that teaches possibility and, more importantly, respect for the diverse talents people bring to the table.
Nemeth and Ricchiuto are not naive; underlying the simplicity of their prose is a deep recognition of the magnitude of the problems we face. They show us how to start where we are right now with what we have and that makes this little book a gem.
Instructions from the Cook is available from Designing Life Books.