The path to perdition for organisational story telling

February 26, 2008

I discovered a new Ning group the other day on Story Work. Ning for those who don’t know is one of those great tools which means you can create an effective community for free. Either way it turns out that the group was set up by Shawn and has participation from people like Victoria Ward who is one of the most serious and reflective practitioners I know, as well as more popular and better known figures such Steve Denning. I have significant differences with both of them, but its good to be in a space where they and others participate. If you want to join instructions can be found here.

So it takes a day for my application to be vetted by someone, but approved I drop in and find a discussion group about ethics in story. Steve Denning has obviously had a bad encounter with Left Wing European Academics who consider story telling to be manipulative in the wrong sense of the word. I added a contribution to the effect that I have no issue with the use of the word manipulation as it keeps people involved in Story honest. If you try and tell stories to change the way that people are thinking, then you are manipulating people. Nothing necessarily wrong in that but trying to avoid the word is a form of self-deception. I also think that story-telling as opposed to gathering self-interpreted fragmented narrative carries with it an inherent danger of manipulation becoming illegitimate, slipping over into propaganda and breaking reasonable ethical constraints.

Now it is obvious that Steve is fairly sensitive on the use of the word manipulation and I was subject to some fairly length attacks most of which are good examples of the straw man hypothesis. I must admit I am begining to think that there is no smoke without fire and wonder what is causing this excessive reaction? I am still wondering, although the conversation has died down. I recommend reading it, which means you will have to join the group.

I must admit I think it may be time for those of us involved in narrative as a scientific discipline to increase the separation from the organisational story telling guys and gals. I have never been sure of the utility of story telling, particularly the normative here is a recipe for a story it will produce this result simplifications. When we see attempts to avoid words that provide a check or control on carrying something to excess I think we should be worried.

Story tellers manipulate their audiences, don’t pretend they don’t. It doesn’t have to become evil, but pretending manipulation is not present is self-deception and the first stage on a path to perdition

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