The future’s so bright we gotta wear shades


With some things it’s hard to make up your mind what you think. You hear someone speak in favour of it and you’re persuaded it’s right. Then you read an article against it and you’re just as convinced it’s wrong. Like stuff. After watching My Stuff it seems self evident that shedding oneself of worldly possessions is the route to true happiness. But then I saw this about a man in India who has never thrown anything away……ever…..and I thought “wow!” that would have been an amazing thing to have done.

It’s like the picture that’s a rabbit and a duck or the old lady and the beautiful young woman. It’s neither and both. We just can’t seem to make a decision.


There are things though where once you’ve seen them or done them…..well, there’s just no going back.

In his latest, excellent blog The Eighth Storyline, Cormac Russell referred to the supposed seven plots that all books, films and plays can be categorised by. The seven are usually given fancy classical titles. Well there’s a fancy term for this ‘point of no return‘ experience.

In 49 BC the Roman Republic was in the midst of one of its many power struggles. Julius Caesar and his legions had won some great victories in Gaul and were now camped on the northern banks of the river Rubicon. Caesar knew that to cross the river would be breaking the law and would make armed conflict with Pompey and the Senate inevitable. Caesar did cross the Rubicon and in so doing triggered a bloody civil war which ultimately brought an end to the Republic. And for those lucky enough to have had a privileged education the term ‘crossing the Rubicon‘ was born.

When I was a student I’d often hear Philosophy tutors refer to ‘crossing the Rubicon’ and had no idea what they were talking about. But I also had a friend, Chris, an Art student who was writing his dissertation on horror films. He introduced me to many of the classics of that particular genre by the likes of Dario Argento, Larry Cohen and Michele Soavi. One that has stuck in my memory – ‘They Live‘ by John Carpenter – contained its own Rubicon moment.

In a dystopian future a drifter, Nada, discovers a pair of special sunglasses. When he tries them on he sees the world in black and white and discovers it is not as it had seemed. The media and advertising hide subliminal totalitarian commands to obey and conform. Many of those with wealth and power are actually humanoid aliens with skull-like faces.


Once Nada has seen the world the way it really is there is no going back.

For me learning about ABCD has been like Nada putting on those sunglasses.

I’ve always worked for organisations whose purpose has been to do good… help others… make the world a better place. I’ve worked at a homeless hostel, a housing association and a mental health charity. They have all been provider organisations. Spending money (that has ultimately come mostly from tax payers) to help service users….the vulnerable….those in need… deploying paid professionals who have been trained and have the skills and knowledge to enable those vulnerable, needy, service users to overcome their deficits and shortcomings.

ABCD – Asset Based Community Development – suggests that there is a different way to look at things. Start by asking people what they can do. Find out what gifts and talents they have. Ask them what their idea of a good life looks like. Consider what others – friends, family, neighbours – might also have to share. Think about the other assets within a community – the clubs, associations, groups – that might have a part to play in connecting individuals and building on their strengths. By finding ways for these many community assets to connect up and share the riches within the community the need for paid professionals to parachute in to ‘fix’ broken individuals and neighbourhoods can be dramatically reduced.

There will always be a need for paid professionals but what if we started to think of them as the last port of call and not the first?

What if we started thinking of individuals and families as half full and not half empty.

ABCD is a rich and varied area of thinking. If you fancy learning a bit more about it then I’d recommend the following resources as a great place to start:

William Lilley has written a perfect introduction to the subject as part of his recent Clore Fellowship – Leading by Stepping Back.

I’ve already mentioned Cormac Russell‘s thought provoking blog which is a great read. But if you can, go and join him at one of his many workshops….like this one on ABCD practice in Aberdeen.

careless societyThere is a wonderful book by John McKnight – The Careless Society. He tells some very ‘sticky’ stories that are really memorable and bring the subject of ABCD alive. It was out of print so I bought mine second hand but I just checked on Amazon and it seems to have been reissued – as a paperback and Kindle version. I’d urge you to order a copy.


Good luck.


One response to “The future’s so bright we gotta wear shades

  1. Pingback: An ABC of ABCD | John Wade·

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