The perspective in which an individual orientates themselves influences how the realms, without and within, are perceived. Social analyst and theorist David Schwartz (1997) as well as psychologist Per Epsen Stoknes (2015), suggest modern society relies on a scientific, reductionist viewpoint. Schwartz (1997) specifically identifies Western culture’s predilection of a regulatory, systematizing process that values input/output models of operation. The conventional perspective, explained by Stoknes (2015) and Schwartz (1997), limits possibility and offers an incomplete perspective. However, the unification of both the formal conventional and an informal approach that focuses on narrative aspects of experience. “Storytelling is a discipline as much as science is. The hope lies in integrating the two,” (p. 148, Stoknes, 2015). This alliance can only be achieved through efforts of shifting traditional cultural perspective, encouraging transformation on societal and individual levels.
Orientation of Perspective
The rise of science and linear thought has focused humankinds’ lens on a narrow viewpoint that causes the individual to absorb the world on terms of an objective abstract science—operations of measurements, data, detachment—a reductive lens. Schwartz (1997) argues this modern attitude results in systems rife with “paradoxical counterproductivity” a situation in which “natural competence has been ruled out (pp. 28-29). The solutions offered by reductionist methodology can leave individuals faced with helplessness as one is led to instances of perceived limited possibility and effects opposite of intention. Further, as best explained by Stoknes (2015), “scientists sometimes lose sight of the fact that they are telling a story when fully immersed in data or equations. But any data presentation no matter how dry, factual, or objective, weaves a narrative,” (p. 132). Both authors, Stoknes (2015) and Schwartz (1997), urge a societal shift toward an explanation of human experience that marries traditional science and the employment of a narrative approach.
According to Stoknes (2015), society works toward this transformation, “by understanding the barriers in our thinking” in order to “find new ways beyond them and learn how to support the more collective levels from the bottom up toward a new way of being in the world,” (p. 23). Refocusing thought from a reductionist lens to a narrative storyline transforms the human experience as an individual in the world, to that of living experience in unity with all other beings, and the world. The modern system of rational processing isolates the individual from surrounding problems—of the world and of others— as the individual is unable to relate through the rigidness of conventional thinking. Schwartz (1997) quotes psychoanalyst Carl G. Jung,
“People are no more are rooted in the world and lose their orientation. They just drift. The need for a meaning of their lives remains unanswered, because the rational, biological goals are unable to express the rational wholeness of human life. Thus life loses meaning,” (p. 143).
Experiencing life in unison, argues Stoknes (2015), brings one to ethical obligations that extend beyond the individual and encompasses the surrounding community. Obligation as ethical is a powerful catalyst for change.
What Can a Person Do?
“Change can happen through dialogue, but what is needed first is curiosity, empathy, and focus on finding some common ground,” (Stoknes, 2015, p. XIV). Stoknes (2015) and Schwartz (1997) would agree that rationality has limits. In order to motivate effective change there must be a pathway to dialogue—and a dialogue that holds personal significance for the individual. Communicability is key. A narrative perspective develops the sense of self beyond the individual, “with this emerging shift in worldview and expanded sense of self comes a gradual shift in attitudes and underlying values,” (Stoknes, 2015, p. 198).
Through recognizing barrier’s in one’s own thought process, the individual is able to, “learn how to support more collective levels from the bottom up toward a new way of being in the world,” (Stokenes, 2015, p. 23) Schwartz (1997) concurs, “the most powerful occasions of healing…arise from helping to foster the creation of a sense of community around an individual person,” (p. 142). Schwartz (1997) advocates taking on initiatives of human service. To not only connect to others, but to search out opportunities to connect individuals of a community with one another. Schwartz (1997) suggests such occasions are ample when an individual becomes immersed in one’s community, and further so, by becoming involved in associational groups. Common grounds of communal involvement foster strengthening within the group and the expansion of personal networks. A final suggestion—and most important to Schwartz (1997)— is championing for “third places.” Integral local places of community, which are the “matrix around which all associational life form[s],” (p. 139). This viewpoint supports ideas of community, commonality, and local interaction as of utmost importance in the experience of healthy human living.
“Consensus around the dominant paradigm needs deep questioning from time to time to avoid becoming too stale and dogmatic,” (p. 10). There is power in ability of introspection and revaluation of personally held perspectives and biases. As individuals participate in transformation, so too does culture engage in this process, “personal and cultural shifts can reinforce each other, making way for societal transformation,” (Stoknes, 2015, p. 19). Current systemic modes of thought emphasize needs of the individual as foremost, rather than observing the individual as a part of the collective. This perspective influences the individual’s view of self identity. Individuals, “avoid changing the behaviors that belong to their sense of self,” (Stoknes, 2015, p. 81). However, Stoknes (2015) suggests there is power in using stories to create meaning and community. This endorsement, Stoknes (2015) posits, calls for a shift from linear communication to one of “practical engagement,” in order to “start a social cascade effects,” (pp. 94-100). Through shifting to a perspective that unifies systemic thought and the power of narrative, the question, “what can a person do,” transcends imploring the individual and is instead directed to a culture of bonded individuals living together as a unified community.
Who cares: rediscovering community. Boulder: CO. Westview Press.
Stoknes, P., E., (2015).What we think about when we try not to think about global warming.
White River: VT. Chelsea Green Publishing.