I am a great critic of the Government’s – Conservative when introduced in 1988, but compounded further by Labour subsequently – National Curriculum for Schools in
However, given the millions of words of documentation and legislation that it generated it was inevitable that there would be one crumb of comfort. I have long held that there was one good sentence in the entire documentation; and it was to be found, appropriately, in the Cox Report underpinning the English National Curriculum. The sentence went as follows: ‘Narrative may be regarded as a primary act of mind’. Oh – beautiful – what profundities are inlaid in that simple sentence; of course, the National Curriculum proceeded to disregard its one and only profundity and substitute assessment of 7 year olds for a credible narrative.
But that was then, and why am I harping on about it now? Because the power of narrative is a healing power and can be used in an infinite number of contexts to resolve difficult problems. I am a professional mentor and get called in to deal with people’s problems: relationship, achievement and growth issues.
Recently I was asked by a married couple to help them with some severe family problems. One drunken incident, one unwise comment, and nothing really serious happening had led to a massive fracture between the couple and the wife’s sister and mother. Acrimonious indeed. I was shown a 33 page email audit trail of accusation and counter-accusation.
At the first meeting they fleshed in some more background, but I interrupted and asked them to answer a simple question: Why has this happened? Immediately, I was given a whole load of stuff – the drink, the background, the long running sense of hurt, and – so it would have gone on. No, I said, this is not why this has happened; this has happened because you – collectively – are Joseph.
I saw a strange look in their faces: what? You are Joseph. Remember the story – the narrative - the envy of the brothers, the wicked plot to kill him, and finally the selling him off to slavery in
This was a staggering idea, difficult to accept initially, but as we talked through its implications I could see them beginning to make sense of their life, and the choices they would need to make. It led to specific acts they would do that week in the light of that story. But also, the story made sense, was easy to understand.
I saw them a week later, and some great progress had been made; their own relationship had massively improved and the independence from the matriarchal family influence had begun to be asserted. I said to them, Where are we now? And they said – this had happened, then that, and then more details emerged. No, where are we now?
We are, I said, with Moses coming out of
They still have a way to go – but the narratives flag up all our own journeys. This is why they are so powerful, and why great mentors use them.