When I first met my friend and pioneer of Narrative Therapy Michael White 25 years ago in Adelaide, I asked him about the origins of his approach. He said that first of all, he was taken with maps. Mike and I went to Australian schools at a time when for social studies exams, we had to draw the routes of Captain Cook and Burke and Wills and Edmund Eyre. Maps were part of our early learning. Michael’s last work-Maps of Narrative Practice has a compass on the cover. Its as if he returns to where he began.
Inspired by this, I offer below a short summary of how I see Maps and Stories working in tandem: It is about the borders of inside and outside and part of our new work on the New Geography of Change.
OUTSIDE NEEDING TO GO IN- STORIES
When we are outside something, or some issue or concern, distant, as an observer or critics, objective, cool, calculating, rational, unemotional, ( pick an issue where your opinion to experience ratio is 10 to 1, eg, Gun laws, or Middle East Peace, or womens’ rights)
Most times, we need to get inside, to know what it feels like for someone experiencing the issue at the point of where it matters most. For that, we need stories. We need to hear the authentic witness, because a story moves us from outside to inside. One minute we are listening to a veteran start to speak and next minute, we can feel the ache of his having to wait for treatment knowing he might die of the delay. We feel outrage, horror. We are no longer cool, objective, rational. For those issues distant to us, we need stories to move us from outside to inside. In our work with Israel Palestine, so dominated by ideologies, stories make the political personal. For example, When people know from the inside what its like to be a refugee, unearned opinions about the right of return drop away because they sound so cold and uncaring.
INSIDE NEEDING TO GET OUT
When we are lost inside something, or some experience of great pain or great trauma or perplexity that we don’t know much else other than the worry and the sleepless nights and the anxiety that our loved ones share for us, we know we need to get on the outside of it. Then we need Maps. We need to see the bigger picture, to see who else is struggling with the same issue, to see how far we may have come, to see who else is on hand to help. We also need to note the patterns that mark our journey that we cannot see when we are too close to it. Maps move us from the inside to the outside, to move us from “How we Are?” to “Where we are?” White did this when he externalized the problem, which meant- put some distance between you and your concern.
A GUIDELINE OF WHEN TO USE WHAT
1) Are there issues or experiences you are immersed in right now, or your clients are grappling with, and where just dealing with the emotions saps most of the creative energy? They don’t see the trees for the woods, or you feel like the proverbial “child lost in the forest.”
Then you need to find a map, one that will show up what is invisible inside the experience, such as relatedness, proximity, context, the terrain around the experience, the gaps, the other witnesses who are silent or you cant hear. A map can defeat isolation, or a sense of stuckness because they can show movement and connection, and the goal-proximity of how close, how far.
2) Are there issues or opinions that you feel strongly about, that you know a lot about, and have all the expert research, and feel the rightness of your view more than being in touch with the experiences of those more closely grappling with the issues? Then you need to find some stories to get inside. A story opens up the emotional landscape, and you are no longer outside looking in, but inside looking out.
So many issues qualify. But can we imagine the VA scandal happening if the decision makers knew what delay in treatment means to families? Or if more members of Congress had kids on active service, would they tolerate what has been going on for a decade?
Maps and Stories, the Journey from inside to outside and taking the view of the map back into the story to make it more accurate, and taking the view of the story back into the map to make it more authentic. We need Maps of Narrative Practice and we need a Practice of Narrative Maps.
If anyone is interested in exploring more about the New Geography of Change, let me know- we are hatching plans for some workshops.