P1080007This morning the sun came out, following another rainy spell. Now, fair weather clouds have blossomed in the cerulean sky.

Vermont is green, those rich early summer hues that saturate the landscape. From here it is very difficult to imagine the cold to come; even so, last evening we gathered with others to acknowledge the Solstice, and thus, the turning year. Truth is, tonight will be a tad longer.

Last week was perplexing, the sort of week that leaves one scratching one’s head, and pondering life’s complexities. The gardens finally showed life, with even a handful of bean plants breaking the surface. (I guess we should replant the beans, again.) Politicians blamed the victims of the Charleston shootings, and surprisingly few people seemed to object. The theft of Native lands continued unabated, as did the cascade of youth suicides on reservations.

I found myself deeply confused when many folks recoiled when “terrorism” was used to describe the killings in Charleston, or “genocide” to name events in Indian Country. Listening to conversations about these things, it often seems to me the only real Indians live on reservations out west, and state and federal governments have nothing to do with their woes.  It also appears that institutional violence against African-Americans stopped in the sixties.

The truth is, I’m confused. If John Brown’s plan to aid slaves revolt was terror, then shouldn’t a plan to create civil war also be terror? If living conditions on reservations and reserves are so hopeless that the youth choose to die in large numbers, isn’t that a sign of ongoing genocide? What are we to make of the victim blaming, or the silences, concerning these things, noisily emanating from government offices and houses of worship across the land?

All of this led me, through some circuitous route, to thinking about the deep ecology of Narrative Therapy. It was lovely, in the midst of my ruminations, to find a very thoughtful, succinct rendering of Narrative ideas on the Between the Minutes blog. Elijah Nella captured, and elucidated, the five crucial ideas in Narrative Therapy, and reading his post reminded me of how complex things are here in the everyday world.

Elijah lists the key concepts as:

1. People are not the problem. Problems are problems. Therefore separate people from problems.” Yet. sometimes what people do, their behavior, is indeed the problem. Blaming the victim is a problem!

2. People tend to be much more interesting, intelligent, competent, and skillful than they believe they are when influenced by problem-saturated stories. 

3. Stories establish how we make sense of the world and how we make meaning in the world.

4. People are the experts of their own lives—not therapists, psychoanalysts, nor any other person with some professional education, license, or degree.

5. Dominant stories and ideas about our selves and relationships are always influenced by culturally and historically implicit ideas, some we might not want to stand behind. 

He then goes on to more fully explain each concept, acknowledge there are many versions of Narrative Therapy, and provide links to some alternative views. His is a very good introduction to the topic.


As many of you know, my own take on Narrative ideas arises from my exposure to Michael White and the Just Therapy Team, their ideas, and themselves as persons. It is shaped by my life experience as someone who values both my Indian and European heritages, Identifies as Indigenous, and who lives with a disability in the form of the late effects of Polio. I have learned, over the course of my life to date, that too often society places perceived problems squarely within Indigenous persons, and persons living within the realm of disability, rather than doing the difficult work of dismantling institutional barriers to our preferred ways of being. I have also discovered that people who spread misinformation and hatred about others are, indeed, problems. These folks systematically attempt to erase the lived experience, expertise, and knowledge of those who bear the brunt of their ideological and systemic programs. The dominant stories they routinely reproduce serve to erase the stories ad gathered wisdom of those they seek to marginalize; this creates much suffering.

Sadly, too often therapists inadvertently participate in the replication of the problem. Placing problems within the person, even if only in the way the person thinks about the problem, is a problem if the issue at hand is manufactured by social forces; it is just a very sophisticated blaming of the person who is harmed.

All this can be rather intimidating, and distressing, especially when we forget it is only a part of our experience. Injustice and racism must be addressed; they must. At the same time, in the words of a Polio bumper sticker, “We are still here!” It is summer, the sky is blue, a warm breeze is blowing off the lake, and, if I put in my hearing aids, I can still hear the birds sing in the morning.


10 thoughts on “Summer

  1. Thanks for sharing these important thoughts Michael, so true that our stories are influenced by cultural and historical ideas, but that doesn’t mean that we can’t fight against those influences to form a story of our own that sees the truth.

    1. Andrea, yes, that reshaping of story, something you know well and practice, is important, and is something we are able to encourage in ourselves and others. Sadly,it is sometimes difficult to keep the need for change on the table.

  2. It is important to fight against stupidity Michael. Education must still be the way and as it looks now, this way might be very long for some, unfortunately.
    Thank you for sharing your thoughts and knowledge. Enjoy the nice weather now 🙂

    1. Irene, thank you for your continued support. The weather has turned stormy but promises a nice week ahead. I feel concern that rather than stupidity, the are institutional barriers to sanity and kindness, barriers that will resist change, perhaps for a very long time. Then again, when change happens, it often does so quickly.

  3. You hit upon some very salient points there. The one that a lot of people have trouble with is the idea that a lot of human atrocities are inextricably interwoven with our lives on a daily basis. That our culture cannot be conveniently severed from it’s failings. I used to be unpopular at social gatherings, especially with my family for pointing out such connections in the way we vote, what we buy, how we think, in the language we use etc. Such criticisms were often seen as an attack on the whole culture because people struggle with the notion that you can love a culture for it’s finer points yet be so fiercely critical of it’s failings. Living in Japan and being critical of it’s politics would be met with, “If you don’t like it go home,” but I would remind people that I am just as critical even, more so of my native Australian culture. And I do so from a perspective of non-polarity and compassion, because healing requires acknowledgement of darkness, wether it be personal or societeal. Holistic being requires holistic thinking.

    1. There are important conversations to be had in all countries. Yet, they are so often contentious, and unkind. When there are ears to hear, things may go better. Either way, suffering demands to be addressed, and while we may ignore it for a while, it will rise up.

      1. It seems that where we are unable to do so, the very Earth itself demands attention to the shadow aspect of the collective consciousness, through social and ecological disaster. We could take this in psychological terms as facing the direct consequences of our pathological drives toward the environment and each other, but there is also the energetic toxicity from our collective unconscious that has been pumping into the Earth grid through all our wars and atrocities and disconnection with nature and spirit. I agree that facing this shadow by deeply confronting and acknowledging our tragedies is absolutely crucial for moving forward both individually and collectively. It is inseparably tied into our evolutionary process. Taking responsibility and expressing genuine remorse is crucial. One of the other views that I have been expressing lately, is that of Krishnamurti in that, “it is not healthy to be well adjusted to a sick society.” Therein lies the vicious circle, ignoring the shadow because it gets in the way of business as usual.

        Richard Tarnas really goes into detail about this in one of his recent lectures in Seattle. I think you will find this very useful.

        Many thanks for your time and wisdom. Peace and Love.

        Richard Tarnas – Humanities’ Rights of Passage

      2. Dear Leeby Geeby,

        Thank you for sending along Richard Tarnas’ lecture.
        I’m not at all certain we are evolving, at least in the way social Darwinists think about evolution. I rather imagine we make our way around the collective Medicine Wheel in a spiral, returning to the same place, but seeing it from a different angle. Hopefully, as a result of the change in perspective, we show more kindness and empathy, and our critique of social norms becomes more useful, as do our many acts of resistance.

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