A new journey that I started in 2018 was to learn more about Narrative Coaching. Taking the 6-month live virtual Enhanced Narrative Coach Practicioner Program of Dr. David Drake helped me realize that the stories we have and tell about ourselves, and those that others tell about us, are very powerful influences in our lives.
When the stories are “problem saturated,” transforming them into positive stories can make a huge difference in who we become and how things turn out. The origins of Narrative Coaching, as well as Narrative Counseling, spring from Narrative Therapy. Lucky for us who are keenly interested in learning more about Narrative approaches, tools and techniques, so that we can use these in helping others discover and achieve more of their potential, there are many resources available. One is the Dulwich Centre, Australia, that offers a free introductory course on Narrative Therapy.
One resource in the Centre that can help us realize the power of stories is the TED talk by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie about “The Danger of a Single Story.” One key point is that there is never a single story about a place or a person, and to the extent that we blindly swallow and repeat single problem saturated stories, without ever questioning them, and without digging deeper and wider to learn about different perspectives and alternative realities, we perpetuate misunderstanding. Worse, we may be ignorantly and unfairly destroying others.
There are many stories we create about places, about ourselves, others, and just about anything. In the context of narrative practice, “stories consists of events, linked in sequence, across time, according to a plot” (Alice Morgan, 2000. What is narrative therapy?: An easy-to-read introduction (Gecko 2000) First Edition Edition.)
The power that we have over our stories is that we can re-story, that is, we can choose to create new stories that open new possibilities that can lead to a better future instead of staying stuck in destructive stories. As one colleague put it, “you are not your story.” A story is just a story, and we can break free from bad ones and pivot to new ones.
In the context of family, a lesson for parents is that you must carefully choose the stories you tell about your children, for the seeds of growth or destruction are nascent in such stories. Start with a negative plot line and highlight only negative events over and over, and the pattern will surely lead to a downward spiral. Instead, look for alternative positive plot lines, enrich these plots with positive events, and you have taken control over creating a brighter future.
This one TED Talk can make a difference for us and for others if we let the key messages sink in and stop mindlessly, or worse, maliciously repeating problem saturated stories that may just be based on mistaken assumptions to begin with.
We may have all been at the receiving end of single stories, as well as perpetrators of such stories. If we own that we are part of the problem, then we can begin to choose to take a different and constructive course of action.
Any change takes an open mind, an open heart, and an open will, to borrow from Otto Scharmer’s Theory U.
So, what are your stories about yourself and about others? What would be more positive stories instead?