Vermont is green, those rich early summer hues that saturate the landscape. From here it is very difficult to imagine the cold to come; even so, last evening we gathered with others to acknowledge the Solstice, and thus, the turning year. Truth is, tonight will be a tad longer.
Last week was perplexing, the sort of week that leaves one scratching one’s head, and pondering life’s complexities. The gardens finally showed life, with even a handful of bean plants breaking the surface. (I guess we should replant the beans, again.) Politicians blamed the victims of the Charleston shootings, and surprisingly few people seemed to object. The theft of Native lands continued unabated, as did the cascade of youth suicides on reservations.
I found myself deeply confused when many folks recoiled when “terrorism” was used to describe the killings in Charleston, or “genocide” to name events in Indian Country. Listening to conversations about these things, it often seems to me the only real Indians live on reservations out west, and state and federal governments have nothing to do with their woes. It also appears that institutional violence against African-Americans stopped in the sixties.
The truth is, I’m confused. If John Brown’s plan to aid slaves revolt was terror, then shouldn’t a plan to create civil war also be terror? If living conditions on reservations and reserves are so hopeless that the youth choose to die in large numbers, isn’t that a sign of ongoing genocide? What are we to make of the victim blaming, or the silences, concerning these things, noisily emanating from government offices and houses of worship across the land?
All of this led me, through some circuitous route, to thinking about the deep ecology of Narrative Therapy. It was lovely, in the midst of my ruminations, to find a very thoughtful, succinct rendering of Narrative ideas on the Between the Minutes blog. Elijah Nella captured, and elucidated, the five crucial ideas in Narrative Therapy, and reading his post reminded me of how complex things are here in the everyday world.
Elijah lists the key concepts as:
1. People are not the problem. Problems are problems. Therefore separate people from problems.” Yet. sometimes what people do, their behavior, is indeed the problem. Blaming the victim is a problem!
2. People tend to be much more interesting, intelligent, competent, and skillful than they believe they are when influenced by problem-saturated stories.
3. Stories establish how we make sense of the world and how we make meaning in the world.
4. People are the experts of their own lives—not therapists, psychoanalysts, nor any other person with some professional education, license, or degree.
5. Dominant stories and ideas about our selves and relationships are always influenced by culturally and historically implicit ideas, some we might not want to stand behind.
He then goes on to more fully explain each concept, acknowledge there are many versions of Narrative Therapy, and provide links to some alternative views. His is a very good introduction to the topic.
As many of you know, my own take on Narrative ideas arises from my exposure to Michael White and the Just Therapy Team, their ideas, and themselves as persons. It is shaped by my life experience as someone who values both my Indian and European heritages, Identifies as Indigenous, and who lives with a disability in the form of the late effects of Polio. I have learned, over the course of my life to date, that too often society places perceived problems squarely within Indigenous persons, and persons living within the realm of disability, rather than doing the difficult work of dismantling institutional barriers to our preferred ways of being. I have also discovered that people who spread misinformation and hatred about others are, indeed, problems. These folks systematically attempt to erase the lived experience, expertise, and knowledge of those who bear the brunt of their ideological and systemic programs. The dominant stories they routinely reproduce serve to erase the stories ad gathered wisdom of those they seek to marginalize; this creates much suffering.
Sadly, too often therapists inadvertently participate in the replication of the problem. Placing problems within the person, even if only in the way the person thinks about the problem, is a problem if the issue at hand is manufactured by social forces; it is just a very sophisticated blaming of the person who is harmed.
All this can be rather intimidating, and distressing, especially when we forget it is only a part of our experience. Injustice and racism must be addressed; they must. At the same time, in the words of a Polio bumper sticker, “We are still here!” It is summer, the sky is blue, a warm breeze is blowing off the lake, and, if I put in my hearing aids, I can still hear the birds sing in the morning.