All over the world, the way citizens perform in society is strongly guided by the kind of context in which they live. Language, a human invention, is from time immemorial the preferred way by which we create context and meaning. We do this by means of the stories we tell each other. We have been doing this since we sat inside caves around blazing fires. Generation after generations, we have all created oceans of context, which have transformed the world.
But, what exactly is this context?
Context is the set of basic beliefs, our mental patterns, or our worldview, which we use to interpret and frame the world we live in. Context is what emerges, with the passage of time and history, from the interaction of maps and events. Context is expressed by means of language, by the stories we tell ourselves. Through stories our values and principles have from time immemorial been passed from generations to generations. The world comes to me as a bundle of facts but it is up to me to decide what to do with it and give it meaning. What we pay attention to and, therefore, how we behave is shaped by our context, our worldview.
When contexts have become worn out and outdated, but we, as a society, keep on telling and retelling the same stories that created them, the contexts are transformed into bars that restrict or imprison citizens in their societies. But, let us not worry too much about this because as Rosamund and Benjamin Zander say in their book, ‘The Art of Possibility’: “All life comes to us in narrative form, it’s a story we tell”.
And they are right, we are all storytellers or, in other words, we are all bards!
Bard is a word of Celtic derivation. In the ancient history of Europe, a bard was a person with the especial duty of narrating the stories, legends, and long poetic hymns that celebrated the victories of their people or to praise God. Bards exercised a very powerful influence in Celtic societies.
We are the problem because we have collectively created the narratives that bind us and we are the solution because and, this is important, if the narratives we tell ourselves are obsolete and not good anymore, we can together co-create new stories that will produce more suitable contexts. This we can do because storytelling has been at the center of human communication, we love listening to good story and we are all capable of telling stories because, at heart, we are all bards!
This means that through conversations we have an opportunity to change our contexts. There are some methodologies -sort of social architecture design mechanisms collectively called large group intervention methodologies-, such as the World Cafe, that can be used to create spaces to hold face-to-face conversations which can have transformational effects and set the stage to bring forth new contexts. I wrote about this in We are all bards.
But online conversation in social networks such as Twitter and Facebook can also be channels to change the world as this Norwegian example shows ( Barn av regnbuen case): two Norwegian women were extremely offended by derogatory remarks about a much-loved song called Barn av regnbuen (Children of the rainbow) made by terror defendant Ander Behring Breivik and put out message over social media networks suggenting that people show up at a popular Oslo square to sing the song with unexpected results.
However, the important aspect is to have conversations that matter. Social media, as we know it, did not exist in Germany in 1990’s, yet, four Munich residents, having a conversation over dinner, were able to change their local context as told in this New York Times report: Berlin Journal; Germany Ablaze: It’s Candlelight, Not Firebombs.
Social media is a set of channels or platforms that connect us and presents us with many different opportunities to have conversations that matter, offering us boundless possibilities to change our own immediate world.
After all, we are all bards!