Richard C. Harwood has written an important book for our time of individual, national and global upheaval and disruption. I do not know of another living person who could have written a book like this with both the humility and authority than what Rich has accomplished with Stepping Forward: A Positive, Practical Path to Transform Our Communities and Our Times. His insights are time tested and ultimately wise in a way that bucks current fads or trends…it is an “old” book in that it describes timeless ways to heal ourselves so that we may thrive as citizens and neighbors.
In all of the complexity of the 21st century Rich asks us to do things we have forgotten how do well from speaking up, to listening (and hearing), to allowing ourselves to change our mind, letting us trust others along with ourselves and most of all…hope and why it is not a fools errand. The wisdom is “old”, but the way forward is “new” and in ” Stepping Forward ” we go on a journey with Rich as he weaves tales of extraordinary ordinary people who have made a difference and who Walt Whitman would have called the “divine average”.
As I was reading an early version of ” Stepping Forward” book, I kept thinking about Woody Guthrie, I read somewhere that he once said, “all you can write is what you see”. Easier said than done. Like a modern version of Guthrie riding the rails during the great depression and turning his insights into folk songs; Rich has written a book that takes us on a trip during turbulent times from 1990 to the present. He describes a country struggling with transition and great uncertainty but appears ready to forge what Rich calls a new civic covenant -we must become builders in every sense of the word but especially in that of our civic life. Rich sees clearly and writes it like he sees it – the prose and ideas are crisp and clearly articulated.
The book is less than 200 pages and reads fast, even so… I found myself walking around thinking about many of the stories Rich shares from his sickness as a child to his work in Newtown, Connecticut after the Sandy Hook massacre. The book constantly moves from the possibility of the individual to the potential of community.
In a practical sense, and I use that phrase deliberately, the concepts and ideas presented in “Stepping Forward” are rooted in the pragmatic tradition. Williams James once wrote that “something that is true is something that works”. This book talks about what works and what can work based on what he has seen or done engaging communities and leaders of myriad kind. Rich describes in succinct but brief detail seven principles that are effective tools for making change and that reflect what we each have the power to do in ourselves and our community. Above all, put a stake in the ground and act with intention – this is as pragmatic as one can possibly be – because it works.
Finally, Rich asks each of to exercise what he calls “wakefulness” which is akin to moral accountability which is in itself a form of power – it reminds us that our actions can have an impact. As I mentioned in the beginning…this in an “old” book and it asks us to discover what we already know and as he concludes “remember, that we have the innate capabilities to take a more hopeful path, where we focus on our shared lives and build together.”
So, yes…I recommend this book for anyone who would like to leave our world in better shape than it currently is in, I am ready to get to work and build! Find out more about my approaches to repairing our communities, organizations and ourselves at Emergent Action.