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Storybag was invited to participate in a kick-off meeting of an interesting initiative that took place in Aachen, Germany.
The initiative grew out of the concern that we are witnessing a decline of narratives about a positive future for Europe. Instead we witness a rise of narratives that are threatening the very foundations of a relatively peaceful co-existence.
The initiators believe that these critical voices, the anger and sometimes the hate that is expressed, are a symptom of unheard needs in times of rapid transformation of societies, technology, economics and the political landscape. At the same time there is a rise of activities that want to strengthen and explore hopeful and integrative narratives about Europe. What seem to be missing are efforts and activities that bring these different voices and viewpoints into a fruitful and creative dialogue.
The initiative hopes to create settings and platforms through which interested people can work collaboratively and act on new narratives and visions for Europe. Doing that in a participatory way is paramount in that. To work in a participatory way also means to build bridges between divergent positions and make an effort to real listening and dialogue.
The kick-off meeting had the intention to collect perspectives, ideas, personal stories connected to Europe’s past, present and possible future from the participants. It was very clear that we only would start a reconnaissance and not provide solutions in this stage.
A diverse group attended the meeting: different nationalities, professions and generations (from 18 years to 60+). Some with a narrative / story working background, others simply interested and/or concerned. It resulted in a rich exchange, working in different group sessions and group compositions on different questions, employing methods as World Café and Open Space Technology. The atmosphere was very congenial, collaborative and cooperative.
Questions asked were, e.g. “At which moment of your life did Europe become tangibly important for you?”; “What is your Europe?”; “What do you know about Europe?”; “What do you (think you) need from Europe?”; “What could Europe give us?”
It became clear that next to the ‘bright’ stories of Europe there is a ‘dark side’ that delivers powerful dominant narratives: ’single stories’ that influence and/or initiate unpleasant, disruptive discourses, leading to a decline of mutual respect, a growing individualistic vs. community thinking.
What struck me personally was the skepticism of the young generation, coming from “having no experience / history with Europe or knowledge of Europe” to a certain respect ( nt necessarily positive) towards the successful rhetoric of autocratic leaders (e.g. Farage, Trump, Wilders) and the lack of critical questions from the ‘established order’ of other politicians. Those merely seem to react politically correct.
What would happen if autocratic leaders let Europe fall apart? Will the Brexit become a laboratory that can teach us about the consequences? How can we (re)create resilience in communities and societies and thus in Europe, given the current shaky power balance? What will the citizens in Europe be willing to share about their frustrations, needs, hopes, desires and ideas? Can we ‘re-author’ Europe?
It seems that this meeting is the start of a grass root (non profit) movement, based on individual initiatives to collect stories from citizens through citizens (by ways of e.g. participatory narrative inquiry). One important conclusion was that when we go out to do that we should first allow the possibility to get ‘the noise’ out first, meaning that individuals should be allowed to get rid of their (angry) opinions and then continue with collecting valuable stories.
To be able to do that in an organized way, we concluded that we need a format for collecting, and thus a set of useful and validated questions (also questions that allow / facilitate re-authoring).
We left the promising meeting with the agreement to share our ideas on collecting/harvesting for future research, analyses, recommendations and new stories, strategies and plans for a strong, peaceful and resilient Europe. To be continued…