In her article, 'Framing Uncertainty: narratives, change and digital technologies,´ (Maison des Sciences de l'Homme,) Lucia Garcia-Lorenzo states that "stories arise in thespace between our experience of the world and our efforts to put that experience into language. Garcia-Lorenzo states that this is vital for sense-making and transmission of experience. Nora Bateson of the International Bateson Institute, in her article for Kosmos Journal talks of ´Liminal Leadership. In it she states that leadership is more about what is ´between people,´as opposed to the qualities that exist in one person and when talking of restorative justice and negotiation William Ury, Co-Founder of the Harvard Programme of Negotiation reflects that stories contain the paradox of allowing people to be detached and thus better able to be fully engaged by providing a space between experience and telling. It is this space I want to reflect on and talk about in this blog.
Anyone who has heard me at conferences knows that I refer to three types of story:
* Traditional - Fairytales, myths, legends. Read in books or heard from Elders.
* Personal - Believed stories about ourselves often from parents and teachers.
* Cultural - Believed stories about how we should act, be, function, based on our community/cultural stories. These would include religious narratives.
Those first stories, the traditional ones, enable us to start to Register, Recognise and Remember. In order to remember anything we must first register it has happened. When we register it has occurred we can recognise it when it happens again and thus we can remember it. Just think back to the traditional stories where things often happen in 3's. the first pigs house, the second, the third and then the first house blown down, the second etc. These stories start to enable our brains to develop the 3 R´s ready to use later on in our lives. The underlying message in these stories is also one of perseverance and 'trying again.' No one gets anything first time, they usually have to fail at least twice in order to get their reward on the third go. Thus as the listener leans into the space between the story and their hearing of it, sense making is taking place and the brain architecture is being built that enables them to include the experience of another in their known universe.
As we grow, personal narratives further shape us and start to form our mind-sets. I firmly believe that a mindset is a story you choose to believe about yourself based on what you have been told. Fred Inglis, Emeritus Professor of Cultural Studies at Sheffield University states that; "The stories we tell ourselves about ourselves are the tools we use to think forward and understand backwards." If our personal story is one of negativity and uselessness our past will be viewed through that lens and it will be difficult to look forward into a positive future unless we recognise it is a story that has been told and thus we can take over the narrating of it and of ourselves. However that is often incredibly difficult to do as there is not space between us and the story, we are so fully in it and it is in us. We need a space in-between. Often this comes from the externalisation of the story and the re-telling of it.
Then we come to the cultural stories, Anthropologist Clifford Geertz states;
"Everyone can recognise and respond to a story; the trick is to see how an entire collocation of such texts constitutes a distinctive culture, a whole way of life. Treating everyday social action as a story brings out its use of emotion for cognitive ends. The habits of mind of the social sciences which have essentially shaped the forms of welfare and the administration of social development have taught that judgement should be detached from feeling, facts separated from personal values, and objectivity preferred to subjectivity." I would posit that this is our current cultural climate, one of detachment and separation. I would say that this is not just an effect from social scientists but also current leaders, both world leaders and business leaders.
The idea of 'them' and 'us,' whether that is about a business with a Finance, HR and
Operations division (note the word division) or about immigrants, refugees and 'indigenous' peoples or even about countries within the E.U, the idea of 'us' and 'other' dominates. Nora Bateson takes this further highlighting our societies need to note divisions in level of education, religion, class, generation, gender, body type, health condition, language, political parties etc. However she states that; "betweenus is the genesis of the ability to perceive and respond to the complexity of this time." The answer lies not in the separation but the space in-between. She states that there is a need for us all, including leaders to "lean into the liminal space" to step out of what is known purely by us and into the space of shared knowledge and inter-dependancy.
I feel this is the space occupied by story, the space between the mouth and the ear where the sense making takes place. The story occupies the space between people and brings both speaker and listener into that space.
William Ury talks of the technique known as the 'Third Side' which is used in conflict resolution. It is the use of 'witnesses, to the story, listeners to the story. His metaphor for it is " like going to the balcony and seeing the story act out below you, you are detached from it so better able to engage and empathise with the parties." He also states that those sharing their stories of trauma cannot forgive and forget. They have to acknowledge the trauma, give it space, hear and receive it. Often I find the space is in the telling and sharing of the story. He says that we need `technologies for mass human witnessing and healing,` again I would say these are the telling, receiving, holding and hearing of stories. These are the spaces we need to create.
We need to be in the places in-between, the messy, hurt-filled, story-filled spaces. As leaders in businesses, in communities, in churches, in homes and in schools we need to be leaning into and inhabiting the in-between. Foucault talks of the "vigilance of the intersecting gaze." Imagine if we all stepped out of our boxes labelled, Them, Us, Other. Imagine if we all stepped into the place in-between and witnessed and held the stories there. Imagine the power of our witnessing and holding. Imagine what a story would be created. Imagine what stories would be stopped.Imagine.