The Group

This was a pilot discussion with a neighborhood association in a small northeastern city. We had seven participants. The neighborhood has been addressing an increase in crime.

The Program

We read Robert Frost's "Mending Wall" and C.P. Cavafy's "Waiting for the Barbarians." We met on a Saturday morning over a light brunch at the apartment of one of association members.


We started with the Frost poem. After reading the poem out loud, I asked the group to pair up and talk about the metaphorical and literal walls in their neighborhood and whether or not these walls "made good neighbors." We then focused on the motives of the narrator for helping to reconstruct this wall and whether these walls helped or hindered community. It was a lively discussion and raised some interesting questions about how openness to other perspectives and groups is affected by the comfort of walls. 

We then turned to the Cavafy poem which we read out loud. We spent much of the time focused on the question of what a barbarian is and how barbarians may or may not be useful to civic life. It was difficult to get this group to admit to thinking of anyone as barbarians.

Next Time

I would drop the Cavafy poem and focus our attention wholly on the Frost poem. That discussion was still going strong after an hour and twenty minutes and it felt awkward to switch gears to the Cavafy poem.

Final Thoughts

This was arranged by an AmeriCorps volunteer who had participated in civic reflection with other youth services volunteers and wanted to bring it to his neighborhood association. It was very helpful to have someone in the discussion who was so committed to the value of civic reflection.

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