The Story of Us

November 8, 2011 Leave a comment

Last Friday, I had the privilege of facilitating Alta Starr’s Funder Briefing on New Paradigms in Organizing for Social Transformation.  It was a rich event.  Organizers, funders and capacity builders from across the nation came together to explore their work at the intersection of personal transformation and systemic change.  The field is definitely shifting!  We are seeing progress and experimentation towards a more holistic approach to the quest for social justice.

I was affected by the idea that one of the obstacles to collective mobilization is the way we individuate our stories.  In the United States, the otherwise powerful idea of personal responsibility has been taken to such an extreme that we actually blame ourselves when we are not thriving in a broken economy.  We think it must be our fault; we carry personal shame for being hit by a foreclosure crisis.

To be very clear – I am all for personal responsibility.  But this should not keep me from seeing the ways in which I’m caught in a system that is not working for most people – 99% anyone?  This is one of the reasons whey it is so important to share our stories.  When we share out stories it becomes possible to go from “the story of me, to the story of us,” as Marshall Ganz likes to say.

Here is a bold proposition: do not to attempt to do any work for social justice without making the time for your stakeholders to share their stories with each other.  I learned this from the Student Immigrant Movement and it was confirmed by our conversation at the Funder Briefing.

Here is another example, one that you will resonate with even if you have managed to thrive in our broken economy.  I am co-facilitating the first session of Rockwood’s Leading from the Inside Out yearlong intensive.  Last night Robert Gass was training on personal ecology.

If you have a job, you are drowning in work.  Few of us are keeping up.  But again, most of us blame ourselves.  Yes – there is too much to do!  But so many of us think it is our failure that we are not superhuman, or super efficient machines, that could maybe do it all if we were just a bit more organized, just a bit more disciplined.  But here too we have a broken system, an industrial relationship to work, an unsustainable relationship to life itself.  Share your story.  Realize you are not alone.  Let’s get together to re-define the status quo.

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  • Curtis says:

    I like the invitation, Gibran. And I am interested in pointing out and exploring the difference between story and narrative. Ideally it seems these individual stories should amount to some kind of shared narrative that can get be inclusive of others and get us beyond our individual and individuated stories, while preserving some space for differentiation. More on this in tomorrow’s post!

  • Jen Willsea says:

    YES, Gibran! And that was part of what people lifted up at this gathering convened by Alta. We are now seeing, with the 99% movement and moment, more people seeing their individual stories of pain points with our economy as adding up to systemic problems that we are not responsible for. It’s a start! I believe we absolutely need both stories and to be building collective narratives. Thank you, Gibran, for arguing so firmly that we must make room for the stories piece.

  • Gibrán says:

    I am all for the evolution of a shared narrative, one powerful enough to affect how we live in the commons.

    I do think that individuals in the US have been so conditioned by the ideals of personal responsibility that they are taking personal blame for systemic problems. The simple sharing of stories helps to point beyond the individual and towards the way oppression is a shared experience.

    The new narrative then becomes possible.

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