Seeing and Not Seeing Reality

Jayne Docherty

Eastern Mennonite University

Interviewed by Julian Portilla, 2003

This rough transcript provides a text alternative to audio. We apologize for occasional errors and unintelligible sections (which are marked with ???).

Q: When you're sitting in a room and it's clear to you that people have different world-views, how do you begin to get them to see their own world-views and identify those as different from the other person's world-views?

A: A lot of this involves some creative practices, inviting people to work with image, to work with metaphors, to take the metaphors they're using and ask them to think carefully about well, what does that metaphor imply? If you take the dominant metaphor for the forest right now, that the forest service has used, as the forest as a farm, and you take people back through the development of that metaphor and you say, "Gosh, the forest is a farm, do you think that might be why the Forest Service is in the Department of Agriculture? Do you think that might be why schools of forestry are in colleges of agriculture? Do you think that might be why we talk about weed trees? OK, let's start with that premise, the forest as a farm, what kind of farm is it? Is it a 19th century family farm with rotating crops, holistic practices or is it major agro-business in the mid-west with huge combines running across it? Oh!"

You invite people to think through what that metaphor allows them to see and what it doesn't allow them to see because every way of talking about the world is a way of seeing and a way of not seeing reality. And very often it's what we're not seeing that is the key to figuring out getting out of wherever we are. But you have to see that you're not seeing it. So a lot of imagery, a lot of playing with language, inviting people to try on new hats, not just positional hats like, "you pretend you are the rancher, and you say rancher's interests." It's more like let's look at the reality of the rancher's world, let's play with the idea that if you're the rancher and you're trying to manage for eco-system health what would you need to do differently, what knowledge do you need that you don't have now, what information needs to happen and how could we work towards a reality that includes ranchers as stewards of an eco-system and can we create structures that would pay them to run fewer cattle but to do eco system restoration work? Where does that happen? So what has to happen is you really have to unlock creativity.

Q: In terms of the language that you can use in this kind of a process; people have a hard time, especially those who are not in academics using words like reality very casually, like we do.

A: I don't use that with them.

Q: Right, can you use metaphor, what language can you use, what language can't you use?

A: Actually, you can actually use any of this, if you illustrate it, and the one that seems to resonate with everybody I've ever tried it with is thinking of the forest as a farm one. Say, ok when the pilgrims arrived here and the Europeans arrived here, they talked about the forest as a farm. And most have had, if they are US based and have grown up in this country, can go back to that early American literature that they were forced to read in high school or wherever and say oh wilderness, city on a hill, what do you do with a wilderness? You tame it. Ok we did that. Then we needed charcoal and charcoal comes from trees, so the forest became a mine, and these mining metaphors dominated. 

You can show how our talking about it over time, European settlers talking about it changed and then we hit the west coast and we got the forest as a farm and we got the forest service and the creation of all the national forest lands. And people go, wow, oh that's a metaphor, that's how it shapes reality and then they go kind of oh, ok. So, illustrate it and then you can invite them to play because there is an element of playfulness in this that we often lose sight of. We get so intense in the work that we do, "we really have to be focused on problem solving"

and let's keep on track, you have to let people come back and play a little bit. And there are people who feel threatened by this. They get threatened because of the recognition that we shape reality; we don't just occupy it. But most people in my experience actually find it very liberating. OH! I'm not a prisoner of this box that I was born into, or this world as it is presented! 

Q: How hard is it for people to come up with their metaphors?

A: Oh, they use them all the time. You just pull it out while you're talking to them and then you feed it back to them. It doesn't even have to be a conscious thing. If you're facilitating and you become very metaphor sensitive, and that's something we should be training ourselves, as practitioners to be metaphor sensitive and it's something I work with some of my students on. When you hear the metaphor, and you feed it back and you say let's explore that a little bit more, you just say, ok, if the world really is X let's talk about what that means.

Q: Finding the parallels where they might be appropriate?

A: Yes, what don't we know about that. And every metaphor has things that fit and things that don't. So one thing that's interesting to do is to take some of the solution language that people are using. Metaphors can also be used to paper over differences. The stewardship metaphor is one that's when everybody's tossing around, kind of we have to be, stewardship is the solution, you have everyone leaving the room going, yeah brother, right you got it sister, we're all going to be good stewards of the land. No one asked them to explore the steward and the whole concept of stewardship and missing the dimension of stewardship. 

The metaphor of the steward that people haven't explored in the environmental world is to whom does the steward answer? A steward is always employed by somebody and answers to somebody. And when you start pulling people down and saying, ok, when you start thinking of yourself as the steward, who's the master? Who's coming back do you answer to? And then you start getting a whole range of different answers. One person may say, its' the forest service official and they say it's the American people, whatever they want, that's who we answer to. Somebody else may say, the planet, Mother Nature. We answer to Mother Nature and if we don't answer right, she's going to kick us in the but. And they have all kinds of stories to tell you when that happened, fires, floods, and etcetera.. OK, that's a little problem there. Someone may say, the future, 7 generations out. And then you say well, how do we know what 7 generations out will need, what their interests are, how do we do that? A whole level of conversation that hasn't happened