Family Power
The Blue House Institute is Richard Kordesh's home on the web.  Here, he posts insights about issues, shares thoughts and opinions about what's happening to families and communities, and provides background info about what he's doing.

Richard Kordesh's Blue House Institute provides ideas, insights, and practical proposals aimed at building good communities around children.  Built over a career as a political scientist and community developer, Richard's approach lifts up the vitally important roles that families play in making places safe, healthy, and sustainable. Drawing on his recent training in depth psychology, he also delves into his personal journey as a a man, a son, a father, brother, uncle, and husband, and how that has shaped his understanding of the challenges facing individual parents and citizens.
It's a Journey: Personal and Political
Contact Richard
Finding one's way into and through the life of family is a life-long journey.  We all take this journey, but in many different ways.  To know how to strengthen communities around children, it's important to know one's own path, inward and outward, and the perspectives it provides.

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Family Power

The Inner Person and the Outer Citizen: Both Matter to Community Building

by Richard Kordesh on 11/29/17

I’ve drawn on depth psychology for a renewed understanding of my work on community development.  Basically, the layer adds this insight: a certain degree of inner balance and peaceful centeredness are demanded of the participant in community development.  The same is true of  what is demanded of the citizen in participatory democracy. And even closer to home for me, it’s true as well of  the “productive parent” in family-generated community building.  The inner dynamics impacting the person’s outer performance as citizen and loving parent matter greatly to the success of community building.

The insight into this inner dynamic evolved from one-shot workshops as well as full-term seminars that I’ve attended over the last three years at the Jung Institute of Chicago and the Chicago Institute for Psychoanalysis.  In my study at the latter institute, I also received a year of supervised field experience, working with kids individually at a public school in Chicago’s south side.  I learned a lot about their real lives and the families with whom they alive.

 I’m after more of this knowledge.  I’ll be participating in a workshop this week offered by the Jung Institute, titled, “A Call to Empathic Citizenship.”  “Empathic Citizenship” requires some capacity on the part of the individual to grasp what’s driving the other, especially when the other holds a very different political view.  That empathetic ability, in turn, depends in part on the citizen being able to form a separate understanding of his or her own feelings and the desires from those of others.  “What’s my stuff and what’s your stuff,” in other words.  That’s important to know, but not always easy to discern.

Inner discernment and its effects on one’s outer life has long been an interest of mine.  I’ve kept a journal for the last 45 years, in which I’ve reflected on all manner of my own feelings, thoughts, dreams, and inner issues.  But, the formal training I’ve had recently bridges my personal journaling to my outer work in new and exciting ways.  I’ll share these connections in this Blue House Institute blog over the coming weeks.

I Was "Called" by My Daughter and a Greaser

by Richard Kordesh on 11/29/17

About twenty-eight years ago, shortly after my daughter, our first child was born, a numinous, leather-jacketed, dark-haired man appeared in a dream and handed me a child, as if to say, “Here you go, she’s in your hands.  Take care of her.”

Kathy’s entrance into our outer life and this child’s handing over in my interior began to transform me in ways that I, a tenure track professor of Political Science at Penn State University, could not at first begin to appreciate.  But slowly and relentlessly, they did.

Our second and third children, Tim and Dave, were born two years later – identical twins – premature and very sick.  With massive amounts of help from extended family members - riding the train in from the Midwest in shifts - Maureen and I were able to get our boys through their precarious first few months, and then established new routines for our work and for taking care of our now, three, kids.

Here’s what I came to understand: Kathy’s birth initiated a new clarity of purpose from within through the dream of the guy in the leather jacket – the one I came to refer to as my “greaser angel”.   

The boys’ birth reinforced the call, and I reorganized my life around the mission of building community around children.  I shifted the focus of my research to policies and politics as they affected community life around kids.  I went on leave from my position at Penn State to direct the new Governor’s Advisory Council on Children, and I shifted more of my working time to the home.

This shift toward family distanced me from the Political Science Department at Penn State, which moved me off the tenure track.  In a position at a policy institute, I led the Pennsylvania Family Policy Seminars, and just after Greg was born, I published a book titled, Irony and Hope in the Emerging Family Policies: A Case for Family Empowerment Associations.

I finally left the university entirely to work from home as a consultant and occasional, part-time professor.  Maureen became the full-time breadwinner as a law professor at Widener University.

In 1996, we moved to Oak Park, Illinois where we raised the kids.  Maureen earned tenure at John Marshall Law School.  I consulted, taught, and led projects generally focused on community development, while also teaching part-time at the University of Illinois at Chicago.  Now, the kids are adults and by next fall, all will be married. 

I’m free and eager, to help all those interested in building better communities and stronger families around children.  I’m refreshed from recent studies in depth psychology and the direct counseling I provided to kids.  I’m ready to consult with parents.  I’m available to guide community development projects and to help policy commissions find common ground.  I’m interested in helping agencies to sustain and expand good quality, family-focused programs.

The Family and the Empty Middle

by Richard Kordesh on 02/22/17

With our political discourse devolving into ever more extreme polarization, the idea of a middle ground seems increasingly idealistic.  But, the center, as empty as it seems to be when it comes to issues like education, crime, immigration, and others must be rebuilt if anything hopeful is to get accomplished. 

How we frame issues, and why we frame them the way we do, tell us a lot about how ready we are for the kind of consensus that the middle ground affords. How we frame a middle ground perspective on the family shapes not only how embracing we are culturally, but also how we know whether a community really has the capacity to educate its children effectively.  

That's because education policy always contains assumptions about what families need to do to ready kids for schools, to provide some teaching at home, and to reinforce the disciplines needed for formal schooling to work. These assumptions about the family end up shaping policy.

The right tends to define the family too narrowly, while the left shows indifference to its form.  I try through my work on the loving, co-productive family to frame such a middle-ground view of the family - more embracing than the right and more attentive than the left to the researched-based evidence that show that structure, commitment, and yes, marriage, matter.

The political dynamics around this issue reflect the polarizing forces that drive the sides to extremes.  Right-wing rhetoric that, for example, attacks gay marriage as sinful drives some liberals further left, to where they then abandon the traditional family altogether, even though many good men and women choose it and raise children lovingly in it.  

The loving, co-productive family that I advocate can include gay marriages, straight marriages, and other family forms - led by grandparents, for example - where commitments are strong and relationships mutually respectful.  Taking this position, I've been criticized by conservatives for lacking principles and by liberals for being too conservative.

Yet, for the sake of our kids, we need to cool the rhetoric and find our way in from the right and the left closer to the middle ground.

The Psychological Necessity of a Loving, Intact Family

by Richard Kordesh on 07/08/16

My recent studies and year of supervised practice in psychotherapy demonstrated to me from a different perspective how vitally important a loving, stable family is for children's development.  However, I think we've come as a culture to a point where people are much more articulate about how harmful family life can be than they are about how necessary, loving family life is.  I'm more convinced than ever that if we are to build good communities for kids, we've got to make the renewal of productive, stable families with at least two, committed and caring adults part of the process.

Yes, single parents need support as well.  Many do well by their kids.  But, if we assume that widespread single parenthood is normal, then we also assume that half the people involved in bringing kids into the world don't have to be there to help raise them. That can't be accepted as normal.  Good communities don't work that way.

As I return to writing about and engaging in community building, I better understand from a psychological standpoint why this is the case.

Co-Productive Family Life: Blending the Old and the New

by Richard Kordesh on 06/28/14

How desperately our society needs to evolve a new form of loving, productive family life!  How urgently our young people need a vision of family life that is dignified and feasible practically.  Yet again, I have talked with another young friend about whom I care very much, with her worrying over whether it will even be feasible for her and her male partner to come together in marriage.  The traction for marriage has become very weak, very thin, almost to where it's not considered seriously by many adults.  I believe that traction has eroded because many young folks barely know what it's like to enjoy enough control of one's immediate life to consider building a family and a decent family habitat.  Even phrasing the issue that way sounds out-of-reach, outmoded, or outside their relevant range of choices.

But, the alternatives that do match with "reality" are for more living singly, pairing up without commitments, and working in children when and where it might seem feasible.  If our society is going to provide traction for family life, it will have to begin offering pathways to it that, given the current expectations of young people, will seem at least in certain ways, old-fashioned and "out of the box."

But, stable, co-productive family life can evolve to embrace new bondings: gay marriages, for example, and arrangements in which men stay home with kids and moms go to work.  We can diversify the relationships while building productive and co-productive arrangements that tap the wisdom of the past, but express it in new forms.  We must do better for the next generation of young people.  The possibilities do exist.

Richard's Blog
Richard is the creator of the Blue House Institute, from which he writes and consults about the political and policy dynamics of family-based, and family-generated, community building. The Blue House Institute advocates for dignified, local, and democratic policies that enable mothers, fathers, and citizens to thrive as co-producers and to share power. 

Richard can consult at many levels of the deliberative process, including community planning, agency program design and fund development, community organizing, building partnerships across government jurisdictions, and strengthening democratic participation through civic associations and religious institutions. 

Richard blogs about the obstacles and opportunities presented by the political, psychological and social dynamics unique to various localities and regions. He also shares through the blog stories from his own, forty-year journey as a citizen, father, husband, and professional, always seeking to better understand his mission and to sharpen his craft.

Richard earned a Ph.D. in Political Science from Indiana University, and an MSW with a concentration in Community Development and Planning from the Jane Addams College of Social Work, University of Illinois at Chicago.

The Blue House Institute
Doing their best, different people end up in all kinds of family situations. Marriages fail or don’t occur for many reasons, including abuse, addiction, or a lack of love. Some traditional, married families can be hurtful toward their children, oppressive toward women and girls, or just toxic psychologically. Richard’s approach to family-generated community building lifts up the need for marriage and family to evolve into loving and co-productive institutions, while respecting the different family forms that real life circumstances create.