Tuesday 15 March 2011

More reflections on Narrative Training

One of the underlying assumptions of narrative work is that we don't know how it is for someone else: what their experience is and how they are making sense of that.  And that is clearly an important and useful assumption.

However, we also did a fascinating exercise on Externalisation in which somebody took on the role of a Problem identified by another participant as being something he or she would like to address.  Then one or two others in the group interviewed the Problem, as Investigative Reporters, seeking to understand the Problem's tactics, intentions, allies and so on - and then the Problem's weak points, the individual's past successes in overcoming the Problem, etc etc.

This may sound a little artificial to anyone who has not worked in this way, but in every case, the Problem's originator reported that the Problem had accurately described its role in his or her life and the strategies he or she used - or could use - against it.

As well as being a fascinating demonstration of the power of Externalisation, it also demonstrated that the person taking on the role of the problem - who in some cases had never met the Problem owner previously - was able to understand the role of the problem in the individual's life, simply by drawing on his or her own intuition, experience etc.

So in fact we need to hold those two things in some kind of creative tension: on the one hand we can have very good insights into how things are for others, and these insights may be useful if explored very tentatively; but on the other hand we must always maintain the starting assumption that we do not know how it is for the other until we have asked, and remain very aware of the risk of our insights (which might in any particular case be wildly inaccurate) influencing our thinking or listening.

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