Doing Harm While Trying to do Good

Consider this: hopeful people in a hopeful neighborhood can cause harm while trying to do good. For those of us seeking to cultivate hope in our neighborhoods, this is a cautionary word. After all, the last thing we want to do is harm our community while trying to help it!


However, in our experience, some people don’t like their “amazing work” to be constrained in any way, even if it is going to prevent harm from coming upon the community they love. They sometimes feel as though their contributions aren’t valued, their voice is being silenced, and gatekeepers are holding back the work. All of these dynamics in neighborhood work can create a tension that is actually healthy to community-building work—a tension between the individuals that make up the community and the community itself. The truth is that both are essential and indispensable; but, in a neighborhood, there are ways we express our individualism that can cause harm to the community. We hope this is a helpful reminder.

Take for example, someone who tries to organize neighbors only to find that some don’t want to participate. The organizer, who is passionate about the neighborhood, just can’t understand anyone passing up the opportunity to get involved. Before too long, an effort to bring people together has become the very thing that is dividing the neighborhood between participants and non-participants. Geesh! How did our good intentions create all of this division?!

This kind of thing happens far too often among well-meaning neighbors simply pursuing hope in their community. So how do you ensure your good intentions lead to good results, and that fear of mis-stepping does not paralyze you from acting at all? The key is to hold your ideas loosely.

Individual expressions in a neighborhood can yield positive results as long as we remain submitted to the larger community. In other words, feel free to try anything as long as you remain willing to modify your idea when the neighborhood tells you to do it on a different day or do it another way. Remember, as individuals within your neighborhood, you must live in harmony with the neighborhood itself.


This is how hope BUILDS within a neighborhood: through consistent acts performed by dozens of inspired individuals advancing the vision of the community. With each act, trust between neighbors grows, and the actions of one individual never erode this precious community fabric that has been woven together.


Hope-building isn’t about perfection; it is about humility. The most effective community-builders we have ever met were not the most technically skilled or relationally brilliant. They were just profoundly committed to their neighborhood, resilient, and humble. Our hope for you is that you will have the courage to pursue each of your crazy ideas, that you will be relentless in your pursuit of hope, and that you will hold each of your ideas loosely enough for them to be shaped by your neighbors along the journey.

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