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  • Writer's picturekatrice horsley

Narratives That Nourish Full Connection.

This is me in full flow up in Umeå on Monday. I was delivering a talk I entitled ‘Narrative Bound,’ to SUHF (Association of Swedish Higher Education Institutions) members. These were all academics from many different fields including engineering, research, sustainability etc.

When I told people I was doing this, a number told me it would be difficult as Swedish Academics are very ——- (insert any word you want here.) They would be a ‘tough audience’ and I would have to have my research firmly in place and be very ‘professional'.’ Here is a secret: Swedish Academics, like any other group of people, are humans. As humans they love, laugh, hope, cry and feel fear. This is how I wanted to connect with them - as humans. The neurologist and neuroscientist, Antonio Damasio states that, “we are not thinking machines that feel, we are feeling machines that think.” I believe that is vital when we work with any groups. If I had only offered a narrow, logical, unemotional presentation then I would have been reinforcing a negative stereotype of academics. There would not have been any opportunity for them to step out of the silo’s of academia, into the shared space of what it is to be human.

It was an incredibly successful talk, the feedback was super positive, people waited around to hug me, some shared tears. It was beautiful and what was also powerful was the fact that many people referred to the talk when offering their own workshops and lectures. The reason for this I feel, is due to the fact that I offered space and opportunity for people to be all of themselves, not just a ‘professional portion’ of themselves. If we want to create a difference in people’s perspectives, behaviours, beliefs, we must appeal to them as emotional beings, as feeling beings as human beings.

I remember once having somebody ask me about what stories they should tell to a group of ‘hedge funders’ in order to appeal to their values - I replied they should tell human stories, offer them those opportunities to explore what it means to be human, to be vulnerable, to be loved and love in return. We do people and ourselves such a great disservice if we ‘meta-narrate’ who we think they are, or want we think they want. If we appeal to what it is to be human, then we receive that back. In some ways it is a little like wondering why your garden never grows potatoes when you are only planting carrots - plant human and human will flourish. The limitations and dangers of the ‘single narrative’ are eloquently explored here by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichi and her talk makes me think about how my racism made me have a single narrative of the type of music black and brown people might like (only hip-hop or soul,) or what their interests might be (probably sports, hip hop, street dance.) I have spoken much about this in the article I wrote about narrative and systemic design with this tree as the metaphor.

The deep narrative of white bodies being more valuable than black and brown bodies feeds and creates the systemic structures, which then create the cultural narratives, to the personal ones (my personal narrative of black and brown bodies only being into certain types of music) which then creates the narrow stories we share and opportunities we give which the reinforce the deep narratives, creating negative feedback loops.

So, my question is: what stories need to be told that enable us to meet in the shared space of what it means to be human? What questions can we ask and what opportunities can we provide that welcome the complexity of us as humans? Please share your responses and thoughts below. I would love to hear from you.

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