16 mars 2016

On the power of shared stories

The other night I had a transforming learning experience.

At sunset, I walked through the town I was born in. My head was crossed by a thousand thoughts. I had been listening all day to student teachers telling themselves and others about their strengths (and sometimes weaknesses) as professional voice users and communicators in the classroom. I felt happy to hear how eager they were to create dialogue with the pupils they meet, a bit surprised by the degree to which they emphasised interpersonal communication, curiosity and creativity - or even humor! - as fundaments in their teaching. Equality, respect, empathy seemed to be core values for these pre-service teachers; empowering the next generation seemed to be a natural part of their educational goals.

Yet, at the same time, I was deeply bothered. February 2016 is now described as the warmest February ever. An alarm clock ringing loud through my media feed. Shouldn't I therefore be spending all my time nowadays with my students bringing up more urgent issues such as climate change, environmental issues or wicked problems? Couldn't I somehow transform my university in a more climate conscious direction? Why is this issue and the story of sustainability so untold in teacher training? How are future generations - actually also the generations of our time - supposed to learn to deal with or stop climate change and the other challenges we are up to? I must admit I'm afraid that the Finnish PISA wonder is not necessarily very sufficient when it comes to dealing with sustainability issues.

Well, then I reached my destination, and sat down to watch Naomi Kleins This Changes Everything. The film event was part of the Vaasa Energy Week and the theatre was filled with a quite nice mix of business people, students, politicians, and people from the cultural sector. In my old red wooden chair, I was soon sweapt into the flux of the film, touched to tears by the scenes with couragous ordinary people taking action, was convinced by some of the facts presented, was provoked by the ignorance and even disrespect shown by people at the Heartland Institute.

Afterwards, I took part in the panel discussion. Different views on the film, different interpretations, different imperatives for regional and local action were exposed. Some of them divergent, some convergent. And another line of thought started to emerge:

What if this, ie the discussion, actually changes everything? What if the sharing of stories is really at the core of tackling climate change, as well as the other wicked problems humanity is facing? What if it is only by sharing our stories we are able to transform them? What if our actions are nothing more than our lived stories? What if it our actions are defined by and built on our words? What if we now have a momentum: a time when the narrative mode of thought can again rise strongly in order to complete the paradigmatic mode?

Well, of course, as a narrative researcher since more than a decade, the power of narrative is not a new thought to me. The thing is, the other night I had the lived experience that kind of convinced me. As we gather to share our views, opinions, values, suggestions with not only the people who are like minded, we create a potential for transformation. We create a space (as a researcher I would probably call it a refuge for learning) where the interhuman sphere allows for the transition from realites to potentialities. Within the authentic, respectfully shares stories we are able to explore new modes of understanding how our life at the personal, local, regional, national or even global level can be built up by other logics, other means. We can co-create glimpses of new mind sets, built upon planetary boundaries as well as a new understanding of The Good Life for all mankind not only in terms of economic growth.

Based on my experience, I'd suggest that we start bringing our stories to a shared sphere, that we start asking ourselves and each other what kind of life we are striving for and at what cost (environmental and social/cultural, as well as economic).

As evening turned into night, I embraced the thought: the paradigm is shifting, the student teachers I met earlier during the day were tentatively approaching their pupils through the logic of ethics, not knowledge. Their sharing during my class was actually a refuge for learning, one of the spaces my university offers for the emerging new mind sets that will eventually replace the unsustainability paradigm. Heureka-moment, for sure!

*** To those of you used to reading my texts in Swedish - the topic of this this blog post is tightly linked to themes on the course on wicked problems I attend right now, so I wanted to make it readable and discussable for my co-students as well.

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