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Asset-based community development in action, all over Europe.

The importance of stories in Asset Based Practice-The Caterpillar and the Butterfly

Why would you start by telling a positive rather than a negative story-is that just Polly-Anna thinking? Isn’t it important to talk about the negative stuff as well-maybe even more than the positive? If we don’t tell the bad news stories then nothing will change?

These were the questions put to me recently at the end of a talk that I gave to a bunch of University Students. All good questions; but all of them shared the same assumption, that we live in a world where the scales between positive and negative stories are evenly balanced. Truth of the mater is we do not. For every one positive story I hear, I hear at least twenty negative ones. This imbalance drags me down; while I know it to be true, it often does more to demotivate me than to fire me up. With this amount of injustice, corruption, and unfairness in the world, how can I make a difference? Research show’s I’m not the only one, people as well as hearing about the issues, want to hear examples of how the issues are being tackled. And here’s the thing, the more I hear from people just like me about what they are doing to make a difference, the more likely I am to believe I can make a difference too.

We’re all very familiar with the metaphor of the caterpillar transforming in a butterfly. It’s a great image that gets across the view that radical change can happen, even children can relate to it, you don’t have to understand metamorphosis to get the point: obese caterpillars can soar like butterflies if the conditions are right.

That in a way is what jubilant stories do, they take us up to the point where things seems sluggish and stuck, and then something happens and a transformation is brought about. In my last blog I talked about how Waddie spent years in an institution (caterpillar phase), then through the support of Ms. Reeves and her neighbours Waddie was liberated (the butterfly phase).

So the metamorphosis of a caterpillar into a butterfly follows a similar change pattern to a jubilant story. What many may not recognise is that in metamorphosis, small cells known as ‘imaginal discs’ begin to appear in the body of the caterpillar. Since they are not recognized by the caterpillar's immune system, they are immediately wiped out. But as they grow in number and begin to link up, they ultimately overwhelm the caterpillar's immune system. Its body then goes into meltdown and the imaginal discs build the butterfly from the spent materials of the caterpillar. In my mind I think of the imaginal cells a being people like Ms. Reeves and her neighbours. That’s why I believe anyone can have and tell an inspiring story, but it takes a community (imaginal cells) to create a jubilant story.

I am certain that in communities across Gloucestershire there are people like Ms. Reeves, breaking down negativism, injustice and fear through their civic action and neighbourliness. Their stories may not be as dramatic as the Waddie Welcome story, but the scale of the story is not the point. Butterflies come in many different shapes, colours and sizes, but they are all beautiful  I look forward to seeing your stories take flight….

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Comment by Cormac Russell on September 27, 2012 at 21:06
Thanks Steve, very nicely put too. How are thing? Cormac
Comment by Steve Day on September 25, 2012 at 9:20

Yes, beautifully put Cormac ... just because we focus on the positive and direct our attention to our creations, doesn't mean we are unaware of the negatives ... only that we keep them in our side vision, aware and ready to embrace them when necessary ...

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