From Issue: 515 [Read full issue]


One payoff for believing that problems and the suffering in our cities are the inevitable products of modern life and culture is that it lets us off the hook. The payoff begins the moment we believe that problems reside in others and that they are the ones who need to change. We displace or assign to others certain qualities that have more to do with us than with them. This is called projection, an idea most of us are quite familiar with. The essence of our projection is that it places accountability for an alternative future on others. This is the payoff of stereotyping, prejudice, and a bunch of "isms" that we are all familiar with. This is what produces the "other." The reward is that it takes the pressure off of us. It is a welcome escape from our freedom. We project onto leaders the qualities or disappointments that we find too much to carry ourselves. We project onto the stranger, the wounded, the enemy those aspects of ourselves that are too much to own.

We are generally familiar with these ideas from the psychology of projection for individuals, but projection also works more broadly at the level of profession, institution, and community.

Take poverty, for example. When we see low-income people, we focus on their needs and deficiencies, and that is all we see. We think their poverty is central to who they are, and that is all they are. We believe that the poor have created the condition for themselves. We view them with charity or pity and wring our hands at their plight. At this moment we are projecting our own vulnerability onto the poor. It is a defence against not only my own vulnerability, but also my complicity in creating poverty.

If we took back this projection, we would stop denying that each of us plays a role in creating poverty - by our way of living, by our indifference, by our labelling them "poor" as if that is who they are, by our choice not to have them as neighbours and get to know them. It's the same with unemployed, with broken homes, neighbourhoods, youth on the street, and all the other symptoms we live with.

Compiled From:
"Community: The Structure of Belonging" - Peter Block, pp. 57-58