flowing motion

Posts Tagged ‘narrative

If

    If freckles were lovely, and day was night,
    And measles were nice and a lie warn’t a lie,
    Life would be delight,–
    But things couldn’t go right
    For in such a sad plight
    I wouldn’t be I.
    If earth was heaven and now was hence,
    And past was present, and false was true,
    There might be some sense
    But I’d be in suspense
    For on such a pretense
    You wouldn’t be you.
    If fear was plucky, and globes were square,
    And dirt was cleanly and tears were glee
    Things would seem fair,–
    Yet they’d all despair,
    For if here was there
    We wouldn’t be we.
    e.e. cummings

Teaching the challenge of morality

I’ve spent a lot of my life teaching young adults.  Once we have gone beyond the “declarative knowledge”, the labels for things, we move on to “procedural knowledge”, getting our hands dirty.

At school, a friend of mine didn’t  like putting sulphuric acid on zinc chips  She was convinced that she could hear them squeal with pain.

In social sciences, we are required to considered to fill in forms in lieu of considering ethics.  We even go to great lengths to remove the effects of what we do from experiments.

Of course, all this is a nonsense. Everything we do affects people we do it with.  And we are affected in turn.   This is the lesson that students should learn.  They need to learn to listen and to understand how other people are affected by their even seemingly innocuous actions.

And then they must decide.  Are they going to act anyway, and why?

Somewhere buried in there is a hard lesson of life – that are our actions and circumstances don’t always reflect well on us ~ and that we are never comfortable with that.  The day that we are uncomfortable with the uncomfortable,  then we have lost it.  We should feel bad about bad stuff.

But we also have to make choices despite the fact we are not going to feel good.

I like that Cummings ends with We wouldn’t be we.  Because the journey that brought us together into this uncomfortable place is our shared journey.  Our discomfort is a product of our shared journey.  I may not like that I am in this bad place with you, but I am.   That cannot be denied.  And I have to act anyway. I just try to act thoughfully, knowledgeably, fairly.  Often I don’t even achieve that, but I try.

And that I act does not deny that all this is bad.  It’s bad.  I act.  That is.

And that it is bad does not change that tomorrow may not be bad.  With you or without you.  That is too.  It just is. And to pretend that we don’t have agonizing choices to make denies that We are We. That is bad.  Very bad.

When your story, which genre do you use?

Are you the Hero?

Were you rollicking along quite happily when an unexpected call for your attention, effort and skills arrived out-of-the blue?

Did you hesitate but eventually relent?

Was your journey rocky at moments, yet in quite surprising ways, did the world come out to help you?

Did you triumph eventually, though most of the time you thought you would fail, horribly?

Did you come home at last, and sadly find an unappreciative audience?

You might be a Villain of course

You were rollicking along quite happily doing your thing when, suddenly, you had a chance to do something, well, not so honest, pleasant or fair to advance your cause?  And you took your chance.  You succeeded wonderfully.  You have the champagne and fast car to prove it but you will never be a push-over again?

Or you might be a Tragic Victim

You weren’t rollicking along quite happily and you got the call for your attention anyway.  And it was a pain in the rear end.  And it all went badly.  As it always does.

Do you prefer the Hero story?

We tell all three stories but it seems that we like the first best.  We like the scary Hero story which comes out OK in the end.

But it is very scary along the way.

1  Refusal of the call

We no more want to accept the call than we want to get up at 5am on a Sunday morning.  Our creature comforts are important to us.   But equally we are glad, pretty much as we do when we are up and about before sunrise. Our horizons widen and we feel vital and alive.  It’s a viseral thing.  It’s not scientific or measured by a questionnaire. It’s visceral.   We feel our pulse quicken.  We feel engaged.  We feel that we are living.

2  Trials and Tribulations

Yes, we have the special skills and qualities to pull this off for those who ask, but it is a big ask.  And failure flashes before us.  It really seems that this is the one that will get away.

And not everyone wants us to succeed, either.  There are plenty who would have us fail and will do their utmost to make sure we do.

Yet, there are others who come out to help us.  Once we have got over our earlier procastination and unwillingness to get going, the universe conspires to help us.

We don’t know that we will succeed.  But we do that we want to, for ourselves, for the people who asked, and for the people who joined us along the way.  Our desire to succeed makes the possibility of failure all the more scary.

3  The return

And the oddest feature of all in the hero’s story is the disorientation we feel on our return.

We may be a hero returned from a war.  We might have won a gold medal at the Olympics.  We may have graduated from uni.

We have the party.  We have the parade.  But it is a let-down.

We aren’t being party-poopers or ungrateful.  It’s just that we are no longer who we were when we began, and nor are the people we left behind.  We have a lot of catching up to do.

Some people don’t try.  They leave again and try to relive their adventure.  Grand prix racing drivers spring into my unkind mind.

Some people go quiet.  Old soldiers do particularly.  People cannot understand what they have gone through.

Others understand that they are in a new phase of their lives.  They engage with the community around them and they bring their new selves to what is happening around them.  They may have a relatively quiet period as they become reoriented and re-weave their place within it.  This can be hard.  But it is easier when we live the question.

How can we, who have been away, find our way in the old life to which we return, but which is really a new place whee we return as a stranger.

What is our call now?  What is our new adventure?  What is the new call from the people around us?

The words of poet Mary Oliver get us a clue.

Wild Geese

You do not have to be good.

You do not have to walk on your knees

for a hundred miles through the desert, repenting.

You only have to let the soft animal of your body

love what it loves.

Tell me about despair, yours, and I will tell you mine.

Meanwhile the world goes on.

Meanwhile the sun and the clear pebbles of the rain

are moving across the landscapes,

over the prairies and the deep trees,

the mountains and the rivers.

Meanwhile the wild geese, high in the clean blue air,

are heading home again.

Whoever you are, no matter how lonely,

the world offers itself to your imagination,

calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting–

over and over announcing your place

in the family of things.

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Map of Botswana
Image via Wikipedia

Have you read The No 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency?  Or did you see its premiere on BBC1 last Easter Sunday?

The No 1 Ladies Detective Agency is that – the first detective agency run by a woman – and its novelty is that this series of detective stories is set in contemporary Botswana.

The star of the series, Patience Ramotswe is a heroine, with a large heart, but she is no superwoman.   She is famously ‘traditionally built’ and has few pretensions.  She runs her detective agency on the basis of one “how to” book, and has no particularly skills.   She dislikes telephones, and drives with her handbrake on.

Jill Scott’s  plays Patience Ramotswe in the BBC series.  Ian Wylie quotes Scott’s description of her character:

“She believes in justice and she loves her country.   . . She’s a real woman who has experienced the loss of a child, being heartbroken with her first marriage, but decided that life is so much better, that there’s so much more than those particular heartaches.”

The series of books are written by Alexander McCall Snith and are available from a library or book shop near you!  Fabulous reading but do read them in order as the lives of the characters unfold.  No 1 Ladies . .  is the first in the series.

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I read a great post this morning suggesting the Clay Shirky has it wrong.  We don’t really have a cognitive surplus, or we cannot make use of the cognitive surplus, because people prefer desultory entertainment to purposive action.

Positivism vs constructivism

The author writes in a scholarly genre: dealing with facts and evidence in a positivist way.  I almost responded likewise.

What if the author, Steve, looked at the world through other eyes?

What if the mytho-poetic tradition, a la Joseph Campbell and the Hero’s Journey, are correct and we like to hear a narrative?

  • Does that explain why we prefer to watch stories about someone?  Rather than a read explanations of some thing?

What if we like to write stories in a narrative (even though it was beaten out of us at college)?

  • Would we feel more cheerful, me and Steve included, if we were allowed to tell stories about
    • action,
    • purpose,
    • calling,
    • doubt,
    • triumph?
    • All the human attributes banned from psychological reports?

Positive psychology and the narrative

Positive organizational scholarship, for example appreciative inquiry, are quite clear that a positive approach includes social constructionism – in other words, our voice and the voice of others.  The positive principle is expressed not only as something positive and not negative, but as something purposeful, compelling, engaging, enduring, exciting, soothing, validating.

Positive psychologists (as opposed to positive scholars) tend to retreat back to questionnaires to measure their strengths and virtues.  Just as happiness strictly refers to a life well-lived (not a mood, person or moment in time), I suspect someone better read than I can explain why a strength or virtue belongs in a narrative, probably as a ‘calling.’

In short, the Hero’s Journey, or narrative structure is still to be adopted by positive psychologists with vigor.

The essence of positive psychology is a point-of-view

Would I be going too far on this Saturday morning to suggest that the essence of a positive approach is a point-of-view?  We all want to hear who does what, and why.  What was their deep moral case for spending time the way we do.

And is it so wrong to relax by following the moral case of others?

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I was following up the new field of “performance studies“.   I have lost the link unfortunately.   Here are five statements and questions I re-phrased in “plain-language”.

1.  We make the company every day by what we do.

2.  Together we act out a story.

3.  Remember there is more that one story we could tell.

4.  Why do I have to speak for you?  What can’t people speak for themselves?

5.  What does the story we are acting out say about our relationships with each other and are we willing to talk about this question?

Sometimes during the working day, I arrive at a website.  I have no idea how I got there and I have no idea why I have never been there before.  But there I am, at the place I want to be.

A site with essays and poetry about the Hero’s Journey.

For people new to the Hero’s Journey, the HJ is a narrative form, the structure of a story, that seems to be a suitable way of organizing our stories about our own lives.  Who else is the hero of our journey but ourselves.


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