Enriching Narrative

Robert Stains

Program Director, Public Conversations Project, Watertown, Massachusetts

Interviewed by Julian Portilla, 2003

This rough transcript provides a text alternative to audio. We apologize for occasional errors and unintelligible sections (which are marked with ???).

I think what we try to do is- we base a lot of our thinking on the work of the narrative therapists. One of the ideas in narrative therapy is that when we are in the presence of conflict, there are strong emotions. The stories that we have access to about the conflict tend to be very narrow. So, for example, yesterday when I was yelling at my kids the story that I had in my mind about that did not include all of the wonderful and beautiful things about them. It did not include my own capacity as a father to be temperate and moderate. All I could think of is that this is bad behavior and I want it to stop it now, and I have to use force. I had a very narrow conflict story, as do people who are involved in a very long, and protracted conflict. 

So part of what we do is help people add to the story that they already have, by including elements that haven't been noticed before but are there. Usually some people have some sense of ambiguity or gray area that they are concerned about, but its not always voiced. So it is one of those things that's left out that we try to bring back in. Personal experience is often not voiced, we want to bring that back in. We don't encourage, or foster ambiguity, but we do try to make the story much richer and thicker from all sides than it was before the conversation took place. People have much more of a choice about how they want to think about the conflict, about the different array of responses that they could bring to it. As in the preparatory interviews, people remember, yeah, we have had constructive conversations. There was the such and such conference for three days, and we had deep understanding and I have this friend and we talk all the time, and we're able to do this and that, but for some reason when I get into my church I can't do it. So you begin to pull that stuff thats left out into this new conversation, and make it much richer and thicker. Ambiguity is just one part of the thing that we try to pull in.