I don’t know if we know how to tell those stories…

My friend Ken wrote to me a few weeks’ back, quoting the blogger Anil Dash about the difference between anecdotes and epics: 

Most of what gets shared as heartwarming stories are usually temporary, small-scale responses to systemic failures. I wish we found it just as inspirational to make structural changes to unjust systems, but I don’t know if our culture knows how to tell those stories.

Reading that led to one of those moments of revelation where you realize something for the first time, but now seems like it has always been obvious. Ken followed the quotation with “I think that’s absolutely true - though I don’t know if this reality is of our making, or if the challenge itself is a structural program (i.e. the nature of storytelling).”

Ken’s like that - he sends me someone else’s wisdom, and then makes them even wiser!  Anil Dash followed his own nugget with this:
We do make progress - we just don’t know how to tell the story.

But we are learning to tell itWhat we’re trying to do here at The Porch is to share both personal and communal stories that face both difficulties and beauty, sometimes lamenting the suffering, sometimes celebrating the change, always looking for our place in it, and capacity to contribute to a better world.

And I think Anil Dash is right that we need to connect positive stories of individual change to the structural realities. We need to compare like with like - but it seems to me that positive anecdotes are themselves part of structural processes

I think of how the Parliament in Aotearoa New Zealand just this week voted to ban most semi-automatic firearms - a structural change. This decision arises in the context of both the macro-level questions of male aggression and the myth of redemptive violence - another structural reality. And the awful events in Christchurch were local manifestations: fifty casualties, two mosques, one city; but so was the individual leadership shown by Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern in solidarity with the survivors. 

Dear friends of The Porch who live in Christchurch will be individually involved in the healing of that place and her people, and that healing itself will come in the context of both ancient traditions and contemporary knowledge about tending to wounds, building community, multicultural relationships, restorative justice, and more. 

So, as with so much in this world, it’s a both-and question. At The Porch we try to pay attention to the idea that whatever privilege we have, whether we feel we earned it or not, is an invitation - to act with responsibility toward those who lack it. And whatever privilege we ourselves lack is another invitation: to seek out help from those who can.  This invitation applies equally to individuals and neighborhoods, cities and nations, to the whole of humanity itself.

The anthropologist Susan Allen invites us to “make a conscious effort to perceive our own interactions as systems,… to reframe rather than react; step back to conceptualize whole systems and then step up with the confidence of a valid and reliable model.”

So we start in the heart, we move to the body, we see the home, the street, the city, the larger context, and are invited to respond at all of those levels. We can only do what we can. But the beauty of that is that we actually can do something.



Mary Magdalene - Gareth Higgins

Mary Magdalene - Gareth Higgins