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Perspectives on Narratives, And The Future of Personal and Systems Transformation - 2

In Part Two I explore grounds for directional change in perception and behaviour, towards imagining preferred futures. The capability to interrupt tendencies that extrapolate the present phenomena and re-imagine stories, metaphors and scenarios - these are expressions of agency that can reframe interventions and inform transformation.

 

In the previous blog I reflected on sifting through narratives, sensemaking and the benefit of varied perspectives in going behind visible structures. Here I explore grounds for changes in perception and behaviour. What constitutes confidence to embrace alternate visions to the narratives on offer? And what must this new thinking be based on?

I imagine it has to do with the freedom to immerse yourself in stories from different perspectives. In essence, the capability to re-view and reframe the stories, while you and your context change.


Reframing painful images and experiences of suffering requires a reliable alternative. One that not only withstands patterns of collapse, but also interrupts business as usual. Stories, myths and biographies can often provide that alternative perspective and license for hope. You take them as a proof of concept to superimpose your own story on. More so, if those are stories of uncommon transformation.


However, reframing and alternate visions can be held back by habits and commentary that extrapolate the present state of affairs. It is a battle at the level of perspectives - of interpretation and imagination - all at the same time. Which way you lean, leads to either pushing the boundaries of innovation, or just extrapolating more of the same. It is here that changes in your thinking pit the traditional notions of fate against the concepts of agency. In that sense, story or scenario writing expresses defiance. It redraws boundaries to contain perceived randomness; or even reclaim some sense of control. This validates and reinforces confidence in agency – as a marker of human value. It is this creative defiance that futurists have a role in supporting - in the form of stewarding individuals and systems in and across liminal spaces.


Schematic: Transitions back up to the surface - Theory-U & CLA

I outlined the external - internal journeys going down Theory U, leading to multiple perspectives emerging from that spiral. Moving from wants to needs, you notice that your priorities - what you value - is changing. So, you see differently than before. Your perspective can better distinguish what is of value to you in conversations, in conflicts, even in the news headlines. In seeking preferred futures, elements that display hope become vital to inspiring forward momentum. Reliability, hope and gratitude are then no longer soft and subjective, but a robust defense against despair. This reframing permits you to pay more attention to what you are spotlighting. Like your camera's portrait mode, you choose what to keep in-focus and what to allow to blur. In fact, I’m certain you promptly take a fresh picture, if you are unsatisfied with what’s in the frame.


How can you now leverage those perspectives and spotlights such that they influence behaviours in the present, retaining hope and agency?


The basis for behavioural change centres around the judgment of what appears real and valuable in the moment. While the discipline of reframing can clarify perspectives, you still need corresponding behaviour to move forward to restorative futures. The narratives that surround you hold contextual value, and shape your individual and collective identity. Therefore any perceptual and behavioural transition will involve wading through complexity and attachments, discerning what is real and valuable. This pathway is often the space of worldviews, myths and metaphors. I find that the perspective clarity from reframing equips you to better engage with your own behaviour and worldview. Causal Layered Analysis (CLA), a futures research method, highlights this invisible part well. Its layered structure of litany, systems, worldview and metaphor help you to progressively deconstruct, reframe issues and take action. In essence, you test and interrupt the very metaphors that support business as usual. Then you re-imagine a new metaphor that counters the status quo. The new metaphor symbolises a new story that spotlights a different, preferred outcome. This holds deep meaning which encompasses paradigm shifts as well as generative action which applies to alternative futures and the transformation process.


The mechanics of such transformations continue to be a semi-mystery. Supportive relationships, the stance of openness to new possibilities, and an enabling language will keep the airways of imaginative hope open. They support testing narratives and perspectives, to engage with the mess, and process meaning. They serve as the point of strategic inflection, and the grounds for hope for restorative futures. Not just to cope, but to carve new paths to unbelievable newness, particularly during adversity. Some people respond to this calling for personal and systems transformation by assuming an unconventional leadership stance, such as prophets and artists. They are a vanguard who can perceive, process and respond differently. They “walk society into the crisis where it doesn’t want to go and out of a crisis into newness not believed possible”. To keep alive alternatives to the dominant narratives, they often rely on the fluid language of stories, poems, aphorisms and metaphors. That resonates with the state of mind of a person or a society at the rock bottom of their story.


So while these visions, perspectives, stories and actions are inextricably connected, one link often gets downplayed. It is the one between individual and systems transformations. For individuals and living systems, there are lingering questions about who must change first, and beginning with what part: the perspective, the worldview, or the behaviour? Just as conflicts and conflicting narratives feed off of each other, so do transformation and reframed narratives of hope.


At times, crises can result in acknowledging vulnerability; it is a momentary malleability that can help re-consider core beliefs, priorities and ways of relating to the world. As a result maybe we see more clearly, but we also notice our role from another’s’ perspective. That would mean that personal transformation stories are as much about structural and relational change, as systems changes are about stories of individual renewal.



 

References

-Senge P., Scharmer C.O., Jaworski J., Flowers B.S. (2004) Presence: Human Purpose and the Field of the Future. Double Day, Random House

-Sopory P., Dillard J.P., (2006).The Persuasive Effects of Metaphor: A Meta-Analysis, https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1468-2958.2002.tb00813.x

-Kahane A., (2021) Facilitating Breakthrough, Berrett-Koehler

-Leicester G, O’Hara M., (2022). Spaces for Growth: Learning our way out of a crisis. Triarchy, IFF

-McGonigal J, (2022). Imaginable: how to see the future coming and feel ready for anything-even things that seem impossible today. Spiegel and Grau

-Cowart A. (2022) Living Between Myth and Metaphor: Level 4 of Causal Layered Analysis Theorised, Journal of Futures Studies

-Brueggemann W., (2018) Prophetic Imagination, Fortress Press


Images

-Ashish Manwar

-Photo by simon wood on Unsplash


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