Monday, May 21, 2012

Narrative Practice 5

Outsider Witness Practice

Every single person has unique values, dreams, hopes and commitments.  Narrative Practice attempts to help everyone realise and articulate these ideals in their lives.  In the task of excavating these values for the individual, White has found that bringing witnesses in to validate these values, expressed through newly constructed stories, is very helpful.  However, I would be very careful in trying this myself, unless the proposed witnesses were used to listening to and sharing with others, and were somewhat familiar with the central points of Narrative Practice I have outlined above – like externalising conversations, re-authoring conversations and re-membering conversations. White (2007, p. 215) realises this problem all too well, and he stresses that these outsider witnesses must be able to express their “insider knowledge” in ways that contribute to “rich story development” and that will “be powerfully resonant for and healing of others.”

The scimitar oryx - What a beautiful animal.  Dublin Zoo, May 15, 2012
Bearing this in mind, I have been able to use aspects of “Outsider Witness Practice” in my fifth year Social/Anger-Management Group.  These I used quite successfully by inviting one of boys’ SNAs (three of them have an assigned SNA) in to act as “Outsider Witness.”  This young man (the SNA) has some counselling experience and is quite comfortable with sharing.  We discussed beforehand what he and Seán might be discussing in the group. In fact the incident Séan recounted to the group was his walking away when being taunted.  The group listened attentively, while I asked Declan (the SNA) some few of the questions we practised in our course.  In fact, we decided on three only: (i) “As you listened to Seán, what did you hear that stood out for you or that struck a chord?” (ii) “Was any image suggested to you of Seán’s life, of his life or identity more generally?”  (iii)  “What did the story suggest to you about what might be important values, or beliefs or hopes for Seán?”  The answers Declan gave were briefly: (i) courage, (ii) the image of the fighter who knew when it was appropriate NOT to fight back physically – that you can fight back morally, too and (iii) courage is one of Seán’s main values, as well as openness to learn from his elders, teachers and SNAs.  This led to a good group sharing where all the boys, after Declan had made his contribution, proceeded to acknowledge that Seán indeed was a very courageous boy, and that often it took way more courage to back down than to begin fighting with your fists.  We also had an interesting discussion on why we should listen to our elders and how hard this was, in fact, for many young people.


In conclusion, then, with White and others, we may argue that when we manage to enable either ourselves or others to separate out on the one hand the problem-saturated descriptions (i.e., negative identities) we receive of ourselves primarily from society from, on the other hand, the empowering fact that our identity is chiefly shaped by narratives or stories that are uniquely personal, we are well on the road to self-realization and personal well-being.  Also people will “experience a sense of personal agency” and “a capacity to intervene in their own lives and relationships,” to construct alternatives that re-author, re-construct or “re-narrativise” their own lives (White & Epston 1990, p 16).

In short, then,   through giving us the gift of “personal agency,” will help us to liberate ourselves from the “problem-saturated stories” and “normalizing judgements of society” which oppress us especially now in the confusion of the twenty-first century.  This assertion of agency in our lives with regard to our identity is surely ultimately what freedom is all about – the freedom to authentically choose who we are.  


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