Meeting of hopes & dreams: will that happen in this General Election?

Affect images and political campaigns

“for the student who seeks to learn; the voter who demands to be heard; the innocent who longs to be free; and the oppressed who yearns to be equal.”

I badly want to hear candidates in the general election describe “we the voters”.  I so badly want to hear.

I want to feel the “throbbing resonance” of shared beliefs, shared purpose and shared hopes.  I want to feel the protection of an arm around me as we whisper our fears.

As a relative newcomer to UK, I want to hear the shared mythology that long time residents share and reassure them we are in this together. I want to see their shoulders relax and their eyes light up.

We are a different place from the US and we are on a different journey.  And maybe in my noobe status, I am not hearing what is being said.

Maybe though we are going to have big surprises when the results are announced.  Maybe too social movements like Hang_em will take off.

What do you think about the connection between the politicians and the voters?  I’d love to know.

QUOTATION FROM: Barack Obama addressing the United Nations Wednesday 23 September 2009

Tell us a good story . . .but not an anecdote

Narratives are better than goals

I was talking today with @dominiccampbell and he helped me resolve another question that has been hanging around my head.  Why are narratives so much better than goals and targets for guiding action?

Goals do raise performance

We psychologists know that goals raise performance.  Put a target on the wall and people will try to meet it. Performance can leap by huge multiples of 100, 200, 300%.

Add feedback, that is add the circles around the bull’s eye, and performance goes up further, even by 20% for top performers.

We like making targets.  Just watch a dog at a sheep trial. We love it!

Narratives are better

But, now we are in election season in the UK, the poverty of goals becomes so clear.

Parties are tossing around specific promises for everything from deficits to bus timetables.  It’s most odd.  For a start, most of these target are the job of mid-level civil servants to set and manage.  Not sure what we employ them for if politicians do this.

The targets are also spurious.  Can anyone really set these targets for a year ahead at any time and can they do so now when the world is in such disarray and a double dip recession might happen within weeks?

Most of all, goals are wrong because they are artificially simple.  I pointed @dominiccampell to a Gen Y blogger who paints a depressing picture of the life being led by fresh graduates in the UK.   This is the life they lead and they can “see” themselves leading.

Politicians need to paint the picture of what they see happening in the UK and how it is unfolding.  Stories of the one-legged man they met on the way to the forum, or arbitrary numbers just don’t cut it.   (Can’t remember what they other fella said.)

We need a visual picture of UK – a synopsis of the movie we are living out.

This, dear psychologists, is why we should use narratives.  We need a moment of ‘aesthetic arrest’ where the relevant factors are brought together within a frame, in a story which shows how the main factors come together, counteracting and influencing each other, and it must be “true”.   We need a sense of “yes, I see it now”.  Aha!

Goals and anecdotes don’t deliver ‘aesthetic arrest”.  They are one dimensional or 2 dimensional cutouts.  They cannot deliver a picture of the world in all its complexities.  And that is what we need to hear.

There is only an open invitation to take part every day in whatever part of the world that I find myself

The defining moment is how we react, not the tragedy

I heard these key words a moment ago on a program about Poland on BBC Radio 4.

The words are true.  We know it.  We are just not well practiced in dealing with tragedy.

  • It feels sick to rehearse dealing with tragedy.  It follows that we are not ready when we are called to be.
  • When we cope well, we suffer ‘cognitive dissonance’.  If we aren’t falling apart, then surely events are not so bad after all?
  • Alternatively, if we cope well, maybe that means we don’t understand.  Maybe we simply insensitive.

Tragedy messes with our heads because we don’t know how to behave or how to tell our story.

The world doesn’t respond to blackmail

But sulking is a poor story too.   It’s silly because the world doesn’t care.  And it doesn’t respond to blackmail.  The world doesn’t care if we don’t like it.

It’s also self-destructive. We give away initiative to events.

Let me try explaining again.

From loser to hero

Sometimes a tragic story, or potentially tragic story, can be turned into a hero’s story.

A journalist on BBC4 this morning got back from Norway by getting a ride on a container boat and then a train.  Another took a taxi.  Angela Merkle flew back to Portugal.  The Noregian Prime Minister was last seen using his iPad sitting calmly in an American airport.   Our story is “what we did when . . .”

People who are enjoying the quiet of English birds singing in the early spring, feel apologetic.  I know I shouldn’t be enjoying this but . . .  They are feeling guilty because their story defines the cancellation of all flights as an advantage.

We hate it just as much when we miss events.   When the great volcano erupted, I was, well, I wasn’t doing anything sufficiently important to be interrupted.  I wasn’t important enough to be inconvenienced or be involved.   Oh, we don’t like that at all.

We cannot have a hero’s story without a push-off event.  We need a conflict or obstacle to have story and our reaction to the event is the story that we choose.  And we hate it when life doesn’t give us push-off events.  Do you get our screwy psychology?

What do we do our lives are turned upside down?

Let’s play this along a bit more.  In the early hours of flights being cancelled, we heard clips of people at airports who were disappointed.

I am sure their heads were reeling.  Could they make alternative arrangements?  They would have been blaming themselves for not travelling a day earlier.  They would be hastily making other arrangements (including getting home again) and calculating the costs.  They would be annoyed with their insurers who are very likely trying to get out of paying up.

There is a real story in their confusion, their choices and their actions.

Hassles show we are alive

Sadly, we heard them being angry.  With whom exactly?  They talked and spoke as if someone had done something to them.  One man even cursed the Icelanders?  Huh?  Badly expressed irony?  Professor Brian Cox mildly explained that we need volcanoes. If there were no volcanoes, the planet would be dead and so would we.

OK, volcanos are “natural”.  They clearly aren’t people.

But airlines are people.  Traffic controllers are people.  Aeronautical engineers are people.  That we travel by air is a people-thing. It isn’t natural.

We got into our situation by being human. By doing people things. It is part of being alive in 2010.  Should we refuse to travel by air?  Should we refuse to take part in life?

Of course not.

We don’t measure up when .  .  .

But shit happens.  How we cope with shit is the story.  We don’t measure up when

  • We refuse to acknowledge the shit.  It happens. Call shit, shit.
  • We refuse to learn.
  • We refuse to work with others.
  • We have no interest in what is happening to anyone else.
  • We don’t help anyone else.

We don’t measure up when we refuse to respond to life.

That doesn’t mean the story will be the one we prefer

Yup. We might not be able to change a particular story into a hero’s story because no one wins.

To change my metaphor, sometimes life is like a game of rugby when someone breaks his neck.  We don’t carry on playing.  We might play again tomorrow, but not today.

If the game is so rough that the chance of someone breaking their neck becomes to high, we stop playing.  We switch to another sport.

The story of life is not always gratifying.  Sometimes we even wonder why we bother.

What do we do when there are no heroes because we are all losers?

We aren’t always heroes because sometimes no one wins.  There are only losers.

The only story is damage control, be calm, work with others.  That is the only story.

It’s when we still try to be a hero that we lose.   Sometimes we have to accept that life is out of our control.

No one promised  . . .

No one promised we would be in control.  No one promised that we would be heroes.

We were only promised a chance to be alive on a planet with angry volcanoes, people jostling for advantage, hare-brained human ideas like air travel. I like hearing the birds and walking in the fields but I wouldn’t have any of that if the volcanoes died, no one made enough money to ship food across the world, and there weren’t daft engineers making metal birds to fly through the sky.

No one promised that I would always have it good. No one promised that I would always come out ‘looking good’.  No one promised I would always feel good about my efforts and reactions.

There is only an open invitation to take part

There is only an open invitation to take part every day in whatever part of the world that I find myself.

An open invitation to take part. That’s all.

I don’t have to feel gratified.  But I can be grateful.

1 more framework to tell a story or design an engaging event

Did you miss out on learning to tell stories at school?

I did Latin at school.  I am mostly OK with nouns, verbs and sentence strucuture.   But I was taught to write in the dry style of academic reports.

I am not alone.  Those of us who wasted our time with this type of education, have literally to be re-educated to tell a story, about someone, with sentence structures that are easy on the ear and inviting to the reader.

We start a long way back.   It’s not that we can’t grasp the mechanics.  We don’t really have the concept, let alone the experience.

Another for telling a story or designing a popular event

Well here is another list of steps that are useful for telling stories and designing events as a story.   I found it in an old notebook and didn’t want to throw it away.

#1 Persona

#2 Event

#3 Immersive

#4 Avatar walks the talk [I added a note here – multiple voices?]

#5 Position yourself.  Does fashion determine the event?  Or does the event determine fashion?  I wonder what this means?  Whatever, my notes say that your position affects who joins in.

#6 Think about Gen Y and the accoutrements of Gen Y – mobile phones, virtual money, etc.

#8 Defragmentation [?]

#9 Fashion exclusivity

Well, I wonder where that list came from?  It looks as if it will be fairly useful for evaluating a plan or diagnosing your reaction to a plan.

Can you elaborate any part of it for me?

Will you look back in wonder? Or are you sleepwalking through an institutionalized life?

Is your life institutionalized?

Some many of us are institutionalized.  We live our lives as if we are on a long distance flight.  I am travelling from Heathrow to Auckland via LA.  My, doesn’t that feel good.  I am going somewhere you want to go, on a route you would like to follow.

But that isn’t life.  That is sitting in a sardine can for awfully long time doing what we are told.

In real life, we set out, much like Dick Whittington and his cat.  We are going to London.  We don’t have a map.  In truth, we aren’t really sure that London exists.  But we know we are going.

How do you cope with the muddled narrative of an open ended adventure?

Because we are going, but are quite sure where and how, when people ask us what we are doing, we sound muddled.   During the journey, we know what we have just left and what we have just seen.  We know the obstacles that face us right now and that might bring our entire project to an end.  People expect to hear our destination and our route.  Without an institutionalized storyline, we sound disjointed!

If our story is clear, it is yesterday’s action!

It is only at the end of the journey that we can tell the whole tale and give it a beginning, middle and an end.

I am still tidying this blog and re-sorting posts I wrote as much as two yeas’ ago.  Each post has been about something I did during that day, or read, or thought.

As a I look back, I am amazed.  Did I really get involved in that and did we think that clearly?   It seems so.

And example of looking back in wonder

Here is a post from over 18 months ago in the aftermath of the March 2008 election when Zimbabweans around the world were in a hiatus without widely accepted election results.   We were writing to the late President Mwanawasa of our neighbours, Zambia, who was chairman of SADC at the time.  SADC is the southern African equivalent of the G20.

  • We were involved.
  • We were imaginative.
  • We were positive.

Beat that can you?  I am impressed with us. This is a fantastic case study of positive psychology of collection action in dire times.

But note at the time, this post got hardly any attention.  Yet, what we were doing was quite revolutionary at so many levels.  Real life is muddled.  Real life is unpracticed.

When it is smooth, when it is definite, it is not real life.  It is just the unthinking sleepwalking of institutional existence.

 

Virgin, Martyr, Saint, Witch?

Boys can play too!

Who was it who said that there are no new stories in life, just stories retold in new circumstances?

Yet for each of us, our story is completely unique.  It is still unfolding and perpetually fascinating!

The circumstances of our busy lives of 2008 are different from the lives of our great-grand parents 100 years ago.  Our lives are less scripted.  We can shape them much as we please.

In large part, we write our stories, or at least our treatment of the circumstances that we can come across along the way.

Archetypes

The common stories of the central characters of a story, that is you and I, are called archetypes, I understand.

Woman often rail about the common stories in which we are cast.

One of my pleasures of the last year was discovering the works of Paulo Coelho, the Brazilian writer.   Last week I read The Witch of Portobello.  One of the supporting characters introduces her acquaintance with Athena, the main character, with these words.

We women, when we’re searching for a meaning to our lives or for the path of knowledge, always identify with one of four classic archetypes.

The Virgin (and I’m not speaking here of a sexual virgin) is the one whose search springs from her complete independence, and everything she learns is the fruit of her ability to face challenges alone.

The Martyr finds her way to self-knowledge through pain, surrender and suffering.

The Saint finds her true reason for living in unconditional love and in her ability to give without asking anything in return.

Finally, the Witch justifies her existence by going in search of complete and limitless pleasure.

Normally, a woman has to choose from one of these traditional feminine archetypes, but Athena was all four at once.

Which storyline resonates with you?

Are you torn between two story lines?  Which makes you feel relaxed?  Does knowing the four common story lines help resolve choices?

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