What is narrative therapy and what is a Narrative Worldview? In this episode, Steve talks with Amy Druker, a narrative therapist who lives and works in Toronto and is on the teaching faculty at the Narrative Therapy Initiative. Steve describes how he first learned about narrative therapy in his graduate studies, why he was immediately drawn to its ethics of curiosity and accountability when helping people, and how the Narrative Worldview became the guiding principle of how he worked and how he lived.
Will Sherwin (Song: "Stephen") (00:00:13):
From New Zealand to Mexico. Over there in Boston, here in San Diego, People told their stories of living in this land, answering the call of a good man.
Sarah Beth Hughes (00:00:37):
Welcome back to A Narrative Revolution: Conversations with Steve Gaddis. I'm Sarah Beth Hughes, a friend and a writing sidekick of Steve's. Steve was an amazing man, a family therapist, a teacher, a husband, a father, a dreamer of ideas for how to start a revolution around meaning making. Even as Steve was actively dying, he was so passionate about how the narrative worldview saved his life, how it saved him from a powerful problem story that he believed for most of his life. He died knowing that he mattered, that his life had meaning and purpose. This is Episode 1: A Narrative Worldview. Here, you meet Amy Druker as she joins Steve and me to explore just what is a narrative worldview and what does Steve mean about starting a narrative revolution?. Amy is a therapist who lives and works in Toronto and is on the teaching faculty of the organization Steve founded called the Narrative Therapy Initiative. Steve had a knack for finding people he found interesting and creating deep and meaningful relationships with them. Amy is one of his greatest treasures. In this conversation, we explore what a narrative worldview means and why it matters. We look at what Steve hoped for in starting a narrative revolution.
Stephen Gaddis (00:02:03):
Amy and Sarah Beth, I'm so happy to spend this time with you.
Amy Druker (00:02:10):
Sarah Beth Hughes (00:02:11):
Amy Druker (00:02:13):
So happy and excited to have this conversation. Yeah. Honored to be invited to participate.
Stephen Gaddis (00:02:20):
Sarah Beth, thank you for being the dreamer of this podcast idea.
Sarah Beth Hughes (00:02:27):
Yeah, well, it came out of your dream of the book and the ideas. Just thought we've had such great conversations about it, thought maybe others might wanna join in and, yeah, listen and participate.
Stephen Gaddis (00:02:41):
That would be so cool. Like just, I, I mean, after, you all know that after my relationships with my kids and my wife, that my relationship with this narrative worldview is the most passionate one that I have and the one that's most meaningful to me. And certainly it's, uh, it's getting to be an older one now, coming up on 30 years. Yeah. I'm excited. I love talking about the narrative worldview and one of the things that I love about it is that it brings me into relationships with people who I come to deeply love and who are really meaningful in my life. And certainly the narrative worldview brings me to the two of you and to these conversations together.
Amy Druker (00:03:36):
Sarah Beth Hughes (00:03:37):
Amy Druker (00:03:38):
Um, is it okay if I start by just asking a little bit about your relationship with the narrative worldview over the, you said it's coming up on 30 years?
Stephen Gaddis (00:03:52):
Yeah, I believe so. We met when I was, uh, uh, wee boy <laugh>, a younger man in, um, a master's program in marriage and family therapy way back in, uh, 1991, maybe something like that. And I was pretty critical and skeptical of school in general. I was an older student and I was, I had a very sort of clear idea of what I was looking for, even though. It's sort of paradoxical, I had a clear idea of what I was looking for, even though I hadn't found it yet. And so I was, you know, being introduced to these various theories each week about therapy, theories and approaches and stuff like that. And, um, I was feeling pretty disinterested and pretty disheartened by many of the ones that I was learning about until I met narrative therapy and subsequently the narrative worldview. Which I've, you know, as I mentioned, I've been passionate about ever since.
Amy Druker (00:05:14):
Can I ask you, Steve, what it was back then that captured your attention, your passion, your heart? What, what drew you to it back in 1991?
Stephen Gaddis (00:05:29):
Yeah, I was asking Ashley, my wife, about that the other day, knowing that this was kind of coming up and she immediately remembered that I was kind of blown away by this idea that the person isn't the problem, the problem is the problem. I guess, you know, when you're, when you're immersed in something for so long, it's easy to lose the history of the significance of something, it becomes so familiar. But as I, as I reflect on what was most meaningful to me about getting introduced to this way of thinking was I'm certain was that kind of narrative therapy motto or tagline or something that the person is not the problem, the problem is the problem. That's linked to just the history of having been subjected to a pathological worldview my whole life. And always being characterized as a problem. So I couldn't really imagine the idea of me not thinking about myself as a problem. So that was very attractive and intriguing and caught my attention. Uh, I think, I think that must have been the first thing that really, cuz I didn't read a lot of the other stuff I was assigned <laugh>, the other papers or chapters or books or some, you know, like, but when I read that, I immediately kind of started to read about narrative therapy on my own.
Amy Druker (00:07:22):
I'm curious about how your relationship with narrative therapy has evolved over time. Like, if there are turning points, you know, that stick out to you as the years have gone by that have done something to your relationship with it, with these ideas,
Stephen Gaddis (00:07:43):
I wonder what, what might be informing your question? Like what, what are, what ha what are you thinking about that has you curious about that?
Amy Druker (00:07:54):
Well, I'm thinking about a relationship with these ideas and like initially this is what kind of drew you to
Stephen Gaddis (00:08:00):
Oh, I see.
Amy Druker (00:08:01):
You know, and then like how, what happened after that?
Stephen Gaddis (00:08:04)
I see. Yeah.
Amy Druker (00:08:05):
Maybe, maybe there are some stories, <laugh> that might help us understand,
Stephen Gaddis (00:08:11):
Well, one of the, I mean, once I started reading, I just felt like everything I was reading felt both radical and intuitive. Like it felt both exciting and obvious. And yet, so one of the more famous, so Michael White is the person who, um, I was doing a lot of reading of because Michael White was a big, you know, a big innovator and developer of narrative therapy, of what's become known as narrative therapy. One of the practices that he developed when he was thinking from a narrative worldview perspective is what are called externalizing conversations. And these are conversations that, you know, intentionally separate a person from a problem so that you can look at relationships between people and problems instead of thinking of people as problems. And so there's some famous practice stories about that that, you know, I read about, and I was working at a clinic at the time, so I had clients immediately available to me to sort of try on these ideas with. And so I would just read something about externalizing, for example, go to my work during the day, try it out with clients that I had, reflect on it, write about it. And it was just like everybody seemed both interested by the ideas and helped by the ideas. So I was really excited. Plus, it was, you know, like narrative therapy was super new at the time, so that was kind of exciting to be playing with something pretty novel.
Sarah Beth Hughes (00:10:08):
Can you give us an example of what an externalizing conversation you might have?
Stephen Gaddis (00:10:14):
One of the earliest ones I remember was I was meeting with this couple, this heterosexual couple. They had had a long history of fighting, especially in relation to alcohol and his drinking. And I liked being kind of green at the time because, you know, I could kind of just say, Hey, you know, do you mind if I try these new things I'm learning and stuff? And they were open to it and I, you know, it's a long time ago, but what I remember I must have been asking questions about when does this drinking happen? So the externalizing is calling it about, you know, starting to name it as the drinking instead of his alcoholism. So the alcoholism would, you know, characterize the problem as inside of him. The drinking would be his relationship with the drinking, which starts to move it outside of him and into a relationship.
And so I remember persevering with these questions that characterize the problem, right? Like that externalize and characterize the problem until he was able to, I think maybe she was able to say, you know, I hate those blue cans or something like that. And I said, well, what do you mean blue cans? And she was like, well, you know, he only drinks one kind of beer. That's the only kind of alcohol he drinks. And I'm like, well, what kind of beer is it? And I forget what the name of the beer was, but it was always in this blue can. And so I thought I saw that as this opportunity to kind of be a name for the problem that the two of them were up against that was having effects on their relationship. And so I started to ask them questions about, you know, how did this blue can have power?
How did it start to have influence? What real effects did it have? And because it was externalized, he was less caught by shame and blame and other things. They would start to, were able to formulate like a description of their relationship and their love that was being affected by this that ended up being meaningful enough to him to want to try to change his relationship with the blue can on his own terms. And I remember then like they decided to go on vacation and he agreed to set up all these protective measures so the blue can couldn't ruin the vacation. And, you know, they came back super excited to report to me that they'd had this vacation and the blue can hadn't been successful. And they wrote me a whole letter about like how they were gonna be a team against this blue can. It was, it was very moving. And so, you know, I would have those kinds of experiences with trying these things out and that would just be very reinforcing of, you know, my excitement for this way of thinking and this way of working. Is that a kind of story that you were thinking about or imagining?
Sarah Beth Hughes (00:13:26):
Yeah, for sure, and I liked how it moved from the drinking to the blue can. Right, to kind of take that further, take that idea further. Yeah.
Amy Druker (00:13:35):
I find myself feeling curious about a couple of things, well, many things about that story. One is how come, how come you think that story stuck with you all these years I'm sure you had so many different conversations over the years with people and even back then. So I'm curious about that, and I'm curious about, I don't know, you mentioned that you liked being kind of green at the time, and I was wondering what you liked about that being green, at the time, like when you were first starting out with, you know, experimenting with these ideas.
Stephen Gaddis (00:14:15):
Well, I think, I mean, I was trying to figure out a lot of things at the time. You know, like I didn't have a super amount of confidence about how to be helpful or I didn't have a super amount of confidence about what I was doing or anything like that. And like, when I read the narrative worldview, it also included this ethic of collaboration in relationships with clients, which I really appreciated. And so that meant that it was, that being transparent and accountable was valued, right? So, so being honest and open and accountable to the effects that we were having on each other was something that was welcome. And so, like, that just felt so appealing to me. You know, so much of what drew me to narrative and still does is the way that it resonated and intersected, so importantly, in my own lived experiences, in my own life, in my own, I can't really separate the personal, the professional, the political.
And so being transparent about being green and being humble in that way fit with kind of who I wanted to be as a person in general. And so, you know, like what the narrative worldview, if I were gonna emphasize something about it that I think is important among many things, is that it's not a way of seeing the world that I just bring to my relationships with my clients. It's a way of seeing the world all the time, right? Whether it's when I'm in a relationship with you two or Ashley or the kids or friends or, you know, it's how I try to strive to live my life, you know, all the time. You know, I value that congruence. Like that's something that I really feel strongly about.
Amy Druker (00:16:33):
I wonder what you think that offers to you, to the people that you're in relationship with, when you bring that congruence, when you bring that maybe humbleness or transparency into conversations you're having.
Stephen Gaddis (00:16:50):
Well, I appreciate, I really like that question. It takes me to be, you know, thinking about, you know so many of these words have lost their meaning, which is sad, but maybe we can reinvigorate them. But it, I think it brings trust, right? Like it brings a sense of trust that, I know for me growing up, I didn't experience trust at home. I didn't experience trust in the world, so I didn't, I always felt on edge and concerned about kind of what might be coming out of the blue that I can't see coming and those kinds of things. So for me to, you know, be someone in another person's life that's really reliable, really consistent, where it's very predictable for them, that I think provides a sense of stability and trust and a foundation for whatever comes next. You know, reflections, conversations.
I like being able to be what I consider real with people, right? Like, I like, even if that means being vulnerable or even if that means being, I don't know, I'm finding myself interested in why, how I came to care so much about like just, you know, not not needing to appear like I'm somehow something I'm not, or know something I don't know, or I think there's something more strong, there's something stronger about not needing to do that stuff. It's for something, it's for something in the relationship, I think, you know?
Yeah. It's so that the other person doesn't have to do that either, right? Because how oppressive is that, right? Like, I grew up surrounded by these Norm storms of what I should know and what I should think and how I should be, and like always felt not good enough or not measuring up or like a failure and all that kind of stuff. And so, like escaping that and just having a sense of what I care about being enough, just being enough is very both healing and freeing. And that's a lot of what I think I try to do in my work is help people identify what they care about and have a relationship with that and evaluate for themselves whether or not that's enough.
Amy Druker (00:19:43):
Steve, do you feel like, I mean, I know like the narrative worldview is a, it's a pretty, I mean, you could probably, we could probably do 20 interviews about just the narrative worldview, but I wonder for you, like, do you wanna say a bit more about what it means to you, how it's shaped the way you go about your life?
Stephen Gaddis (00:20:07):
Yeah. Can I just check in and see how my sidekick's doing?
Sarah Beth Hughes (00:20:11):
I'm doing well, yeah. I was just appreciating the when you were talking about being green, that you guys are both wearing green. I was appreciating that. So bringing some greenness to this interview, too. <laugh>
Stephen Gaddis (00:20:26):
I mean, I think the first place I go when I think about that is intimacy, right? Like, I think the narrative worldview has made it possible for me to experience just a lot more intimacy in my life than I think I would have without having met it, because it's such a relational worldview. You know, I think the dominant worldview and the U.S., at least, is a very individualistic one, not a very relational one. And so, for example, one of the main practices in the narrative worldview or narrative therapy is curiosity. If we think about curiosity as a practice, then we're immediately relational, you know, or immediately in that space of having to listen to somebody think about what they said, and then ask a question about what they said. And what I've learned over time is that if we do that in a genuine way with people, they feel like they matter.
And when they experience that they matter, you know, there's a warmth that comes, there's a openness that comes, there's a possibility for being seen and understood in a way that maybe they've longed for and never experienced, right? So I know that that's been rare in my life. Like, I haven't experienced people being curious with me in ways that, you know, were really where they put themselves aside and where they were really trying to understand how I might be making sense out of things in ways that were different from them, or how I might experience things in ways that are different from them. And so, having to think about this a lot, and wanting to think about this a lot, I've had to think a lot about power and a lot about, you know, who gets to be at the center of meaning making at any given time.
Who gets to have the final say about any particular thing. Whose knowledges get privileged over others and why. That's been really useful for me to reflect on and struggle with and, you know, trip over and everything because it's helped me develop a story about how I wanna be in relationships, like, and how I wanna, like, I value, for example, inviting whoever I'm in relationship with to have their meanings at the center first of any engagement that we have. Like, you know, especially if we have a conflict, I want to be curious about their experiences in ways that are recognizing the legitimacy and the importance of their experience, their lived experience. And to be accountable to that. But also to remember at the same time that my experience matters too, and that it's not about who's right or wrong, but about are we willing to take turns to be curious with each other and listen to each other and care about each other's different experiences? And when that happens, when people are able to do that for each other, there's incredible intimacy that is generated in my experience. There's a closeness that gets created and a lot of the skills involved in that are like, it wasn't easy for me learn how to be genuinely curious and listen to some guesses being upset with me about something, for many reasons. But learning how to be comfortable with that discomfort and knowing that I was doing it for a reason, like listening even with that discomfort for a reason is super important.
Amy Druker (00:25:01):
So Steve, I was wondering what you see as the purpose?
Stephen Gaddis (00:25:06):
Yeah, I think it's multiple things, but first it's that that person has, you know, the inherent dignity to have the experience they wanna have shared or told or understood, responded to. And, and so like, I want to honor that, that there's something, there's something that happened that was important enough to them to want to share whether it was hurtful or not, or something else. So that just in and of itself is a value that I hold. And then, beyond that, if in doing that we can also produce intimacy, like if there's a a an ongoing exchange that takes place after that, that creates intimacy, then it's for that purpose too.
Amy Druker (00:26:02):
I wanted to ask you if you, if you have a way, or when you think about, like, you use the words curiosity as a practice.
Stephen Gaddis (00:26:12): Yeah.
Amy Druker (00:26:13):
And I was wondering if you had a way of describing or characterizing the way that you do curiosity with people or how a narrative worldview informs how curiosity is done in conversations. Like what kind of curiosity, what is it?
Stephen Gaddis (00:26:33):
Yeah. I mean, I think, I think it's keeps me hypersensitized to, again back to this kind of, whose experience is being centered? That's always fluid and moving around. And I'm constantly paying attention to how much space am I taking up and being at the center of the meaning making. How much is somebody else have I not heard from? I just get excited about like, trying to figure out, cuz it's not always clear to me how to do it, but like, try to figure out how to ask, like earlier when I said, can I just pause and see how my sidekick's doing? Right? Like it's just those kind of practices where I'm just, and then if I wanted to persevere with that, you know, I would find ways to persevere instead of kind of just letting it go.
Amy Druker (00:27:39):
Steve, I know that we've been talking about the narrative worldview and at least I think the working title for the podcast is narrative revolution.
Stephen Gaddis (00:27:49:
Amy Druker (00:27:50):
I don't know if you wanna say anything about what means to you, how come revolution?
Stephen Gaddis (00:27:57):
Uh, because, cuz I think the, the scale of the unnecessary suffering and despair that is in the world, like on a day-to-day basis and in everybody's lives, in so many lives, is just urgent to do something about, you know, like, it, it feels urgent. And I just feel like the way that I can just see how this shift from how we've all been recruited to see the world to a narrative worldview isn't that hard to do. It's not, it's not super hard to do, but what a world of difference it would make in terms of how people relate to each other and like this simple different way of relating to each other that, for example, might feature wanting to be curious first with each other. And, you know, that's just the beginning. But like, you know, if that was the start, how much less suffering, how much less despair, how much more would each person have a sense of mattering, have a sense of and experience more intimacy experience, more like appreciation and love for who they were.
Amy Druker (00:29:28):
If you were to think about what, when you think, when you use the word revolution, narrative, narrative revolution.
Stephen Gaddis (00:29:35):
Amy Druker (00:29:36):
What would you say that, and maybe this question doesn't fit for you, so tell me if it doesn't, but you're, if you think about, I think of revolution as like revolting against something, like what is it that it's you are revolting against or what, what do you want us to, what would a narrative revolution be revolting against?
Stephen Gaddis (00:29:57):
It would be revolting against this idea that it's possible for any of us to know something better than someone else. It would be revolting against this idea that what matters most is pursuing objective truths. It would be revolting against, against so many stories that claim that you can't live a meaningful life if you don't live x, y, or z life, like the life that's got material goods in it, or the life that's got whatever, you know, all these stories about what claims to generate a meaningful life. It would be revolting against the idea that there aren't ways to live meaningful lives that... It doesn't make sense to me to live a life that's somehow been broken off from thinking about how we're all connected. Like, that we're responsible for how we're, what we're creating together and how that affects one another. That one of the ways that this narrative worldview I really like is it's a constitutive worldview.
It's a constructionist worldview. It's a worldview that says we're creating reality. We're not discovering it, we're making it up as we go. And if we look at the effects of what we've made up and all the suffering and pain that's exists in the world right now, I don't know how good a job we are doing in terms of taking responsibility for what we're making up. And I think there are a lot of things that obscure that. And one is the lack of recognition that we are meaning makers. That that's all we're doing, that all we're ever doing is constructing stories. And because we don't recognize that we can't take responsibility for the stories that we're supporting or constructing or building or whatever, and we just go mindlessly along as if it's fine or it's neutral or something, and it's not.
Sarah Beth Hughes (00:32:34):
Steve, can you give like a story or an example that kind of shows the effects of that, the dangers that can happen?
Stephen Gaddis (00:32:42):
I think my immediate young life as a boy was powerfully influenced in real ways by the stories that my parents had available to them that they weren't aware of, that they weren't, no one had helped them think about, well what stories are you gonna use to raise your kids? Or what stories are you going to use? Like, you know, like,
Sarah Beth Hughes (00:33:13):
Maybe say what you mean. Because people might think you mean stories like, you know, Peter Rabbit or something.
Stephen Gaddis (00:33:18):
Oh, right. No stories. Like, you know, so there was a popular story that I think, you know, punishment or discipline was a way to help your child develop appropriately to become a good adult or whatever. And so, like my, I was just talking to my mom the other day and she was saying what she hated was my dad would, when I would pee my bed and the sheets would be wet, he would do all these things to humiliate me and shame me and like put it outside, hang it outside to show the neighborhood that I'd wet my bed. And so he had a story, obviously, that informed him to think that was the right thing to do or the thing to do to respond to me peeing in my bed. And, you know, how he came to have a relationship with that story we can speculate about, but I don't know specifically, but then that passed on this story to me that I must be a bad kid.
I must be a bad kid for peeing in my bed or whatever, and then that story goes inside me and I come to believe it as a truth about me. And so then I get stuck in this place of making sense on those terms. So that when I start hitting my siblings, then that fits and supports the story that I'm this bad kid or this bad person. And then that helps that story grow and become stronger and stronger. Until it becomes its own truth and it becomes, it starts to, you know, lead my whole life.
Sarah Beth Hughes (00:35:27):
It was what it was what I was getting at, right? That that these stories that we don't even see have real effects that can be dangerous.
Stephen Gaddis (00:35:36):
What if, what if you were to tell a story from your life?
Sarah Beth Hughes (00:35:43):
Well, yeah, I have lots of stories from my life and you know, one of the, one of the stories that I've sort of taken into me is, is you know, not being, not being good enough. And the other day I was going skiing with my husband, and it was the first ski of the year, so I was really excited but also nervous cuz I'm not the most risk taker of a skier. And, uh, he said, don't worry. He was trying to comfort me. Don't worry. I am a ski instructor. You've got a ski instructor with you. What was interesting was the story that, that triggered in my mind wasn't a good story, wasn't comforting as he hoped it would be. Instead it brought back, and I, I had told Steve about this afterwards, it brought back, I had, uh, the only time I had a ski lesson in my life was, you know, I was in my twenties. I hadn't been skiing, I didn't grow up skiing, moved to a ski town, tried to go to the ski hill, and then went down my first green run and I felt, you know, happy that I made it safe to the bottom.
And the ski instructor said to me, have you ever done anything physical in your life before? So that started a story that fit with that not good enough story that kept going on about my skiing. And it could have ruined my day skiing. Like this is a small example, it's not, you know, life or death at all. But I just realized like, oh, that story holds a lot of power over me and this could, this story could ruin my whole day
Stephen Gaddis (00:37:15):
Sarah Beth Hughes (00:37:16):
If I let it. And how do I, how do I stop myself from letting that story have all the meaning? And luckily Steve was in my mind <laugh> because we had just come from one of our weaving conversations that morning with all, well with you too, Amy, and I was thinking, Steve wouldn't want that story to be the story that I take skiing with me. And so, what could be a different story? And, you know, so I just thought, well, I'm just gonna try and enjoy this beautiful day. I live in a beautiful place and you know, Andrew wants to, he's a really amazing skier, but he wants to be skiing with me.
Stephen Gaddis (00:37:55):
Sarah Beth Hughes (00:37:56):
Just a small story, but
Stephen Gaddis (00:37:58):
I love it.
Sarah Beth Hughes (00:37:58):
It was important last week. <laugh> But I was thinking about, you know, other stories too, Steve, that like with, with myself and with, um, clients that I work with, right? That can be life or death, if we took, it wouldn't just be whether I had a good day skiing or not, but could be whether I kept living or not.
Stephen Gaddis (00:38:19):
Yeah. Yeah. I think one of the things back to Amy, what you said about what does the narrative worldview offer me, I think it's helped me grow my own sense that I get to be an author in my own life, right? Like, I get to be a meaning maker. I get to be somebody who, especially when it comes to me, gets to have the final say about how I make sense out of things. An example I use of that is like, there's this story that most of us have internalized that you should love your parents no matter what. You should, you know, you should be grateful that they gave birth to you. You should appreciate that they fed you and housed you and all that kind of stuff. And my dad was a highly abusive dad. And so, you know, I had that story that I should, you know, always forgive him no matter what because he's my dad.
There was just something that didn't feel right to me about that. Like with the ability to kind of, and especially with somebody else asking me questions to help me grow that ability, you know, I was able to, to think, well what do I think about that? Like, is that my preferred way of making sense out of things that that's how, like, should I agree or not agree with the idea that just because you're father, you should believe all these things. And I thought, no. Like I just, you know, I thought to myself, no, I think that, you know, in order to sort of be an important person in someone's life, it requires that you don't abuse them and you treat them with respect and no matter what, no matter who it is, even if it's your father, you know? And that, so that I felt like I had this other story, this story about in order to have a relationship with me, you need to treat me a certain way.
It doesn't matter who what standing or title you have. And that was really powerful for me because as I was able to make my own meaning about that, I was able to sort of take steps that fit with kind of keeping my distance from him, which has been a really good thing over the many years. And interesting when people ask about my dad and I say I haven't had a relationship with him for 40 plus years, it never occurs to them to ask, well is that a good thing or a bad thing? To come with curiosity instead of some story that, oh, that's so sad. You know, some story that fits with what those shoulds have the power to, to do.
Sarah Beth Hughes (00:41:25):
Can I tell different story? It's not to take away from yours.
Stephen Gaddis (00:41:29):
Sarah Beth Hughes (00:41:30):
But I'm feeling like, for example, that as you were talking, Steve, it came to me about those shoulds, right? I went to see a therapist, you know, about, I don't know, 15 years ago or so when I was really struggling in my marriage, you know, I went to see her and her main message to me, like I was telling her about my relationship with my husband and my struggles, and this was in my first marriage. And she said, or the message that I took away from it was that you have to leave this marriage and that you've damaged your children by staying. And that she told me, children's personalities are developed by age seven, so your first two, forget about them, but there's still a chance for the last one, the younger one.
Cuz he's only six <laugh>. And I left that session really contemplating driving into oncoming traffic, you know, or driving off a bridge. Like I really felt like such a failure as a mother, as a person, as a protector of my children, that I could have damaged them.
Stephen Gaddis (00:42:36):
Sarah Beth Hughes (00:42:37):
But luckily I was, I had a relationship also with the narrative worldview and I could, could a little bit see outside that story, see how what she said to me didn't fit with what I believe in, but it was a real struggle, like a power struggle of whether I was gonna take what she said or stand against it. And I revolted. <laugh>
Stephen Gaddis (00:42:59):
Sarah Beth Hughes (00:43:01):
But it's interesting, right? In those moments, it's hard. Like I booked another appointment before I revolted, before I realized, right? I booked a second appointment, but then I went home and canceled it and wrote her a letter saying why I canceled.
Stephen Gaddis (00:43:14):
And I guess that's what I mean by a narrative revolution because, you know, people do kill themselves in response. It would've contributed to, you know, a suicide without her awareness, without her intention, without her, she would've been horrified if she could even fathom that she had contributed to that
Sarah Beth Hughes (00:43:42):
Because of course her intentions were to help,
Stephen Gaddis (00:43:45):
Right, And the stories about what it means to help, she was so certain about and so, so non-relational about and so, and not accountable to how those stories of what it means to help, what real effects they might have. And so a narrative revolution for me would help protect those moments, you know, where if this woman was thinking from a meaning making perspective and thinking about power and thinking about things like that, you know, she might have thought to think, you know, like be curious about Sarah Beth's knowledges in relation to the problems she was up against.
Sarah Beth Hughes (00:44:35):
And about her children and how she looks after them or knows them.
Stephen Gaddis (00:44:41):
Right. Right, right. Yeah. No, thank you for telling that story. So illustrative. What does that have you thinking, Amy?
Amy Druker (00:44:53):
It makes me think about power and how much power we have, professionalized power we have, and also power on account of social location as well, but to be in, in doing the work that we do in relation to the people that we have the privilege of consulting with. Yeah. And how, how much damage, how much harm we have the possibility to people and relationships.
Sarah Beth Hughes (00:45:27):
So Steve, we've been talking about the narrative worldview and how it's developed for you. And I know, you know, I'm helping you, or you're writing a book and I have a small part in it. The message you wanna get out there in the book is about the narrative worldview and how, how that can touch people who, all people, not just therapists.
Stephen Gaddis (00:45:49):
Yeah, I think I wanna write it because I think it's not, it's not simple to understand what the narrative worldview is. Or I should say that differently. It's not hard to understand the narrative worldview, but it's, in my experience, really hard to figure out what it means to put it into practice. What it means to, what are the implications for how we live our life, for how we listen, how we think, how we respond to people? So there's a lot out there in the academic world or the helping profession world or the scholarship world that tries to talk about this theory and the implications and the practices and, and they've helped me a lot, but they're not very accessible, I don't feel like, to a wide community. And so I, I would like to make these ideas much more accessible for people because I think, I said they can change people's lives and they can change people's relationships.
And that's true for everyone. It's not just true for therapists and their clients, you know. So for me, I'm trying to introduce this worldview and these ideas in multiple ways in this book. One is, you know, I reflect on my own life and how the traditions of two different worldviews have influenced my life and how I've adjusted my life according to them. So the dominant worldview of what I call the normative worldview and the narrative worldview that I'm so passionate about. So I reflect on my life from those two worldviews, how my life's been completely different living in the different worldviews. And then I've also, in addition to that, written about the ways that the narrative worldview has informed how I work with people in my practice as a therapist and show kind of the insider perspective on that. And so between those two threads, I've done my best to kind of introduce and explain the narrative worldview and a bunch of the implications and practice of those ideas. And with that, I would hope that a reader would have a really strong sense of whether this worldview was appealing to them or not. And if it was, then they could, you know, pursue their interests further in many different ways.
Amy Druker (00:48:46):
Can I ask you, how come you, you wrote about it or approached writing about it in this way? You said you reflect on your own life from those two worldviews.
Stephen Gaddis (00:48:58):
Yeah, because if I take seriously that. Okay, so if the primary premise in a narrative worldview is that human beings can only interpret their experiences of living, that all of our knowledge about our experiences of living has to be interpreted. So therefore it's subjective. And if it's subjective, then the question becomes, well, how do we go about making sense out of our subjective experiences? And one proposal has been that we do that through stories, by constructing stories to make sense out of our lived experiences. So if we take seriously that that's what we're doing all the time, and that's all we're ever doing as a species, is making meaning by putting our lived experiences into stories, then the only thing I think any of us can be experts on is our own knowledge of our own lived experiences. So, like, it would be oppressive or dominating of me to speak for you, you know, as if I know your experience better than you can know your own, or it would be also problematic for me to speak in some universal academic detached sort of way, because that might seem like it's a knowledge that's superior to yours in some way.
So it's an ethical decision to like recognize that the only position I have to speak with authority from is my own. So that's why I decided to reflect on my own life instead of anything else. And my own life includes the work that I do.
Amy Druker (00:51:04):
Thank you, Steve, for articulating that. So very clear to me.
Stephen Gaddis (00:51:09)
Sarah Beth Hughes (00:51:12):
In your book, you do that, cuz I've been reading it along with you, and I like that you, you do your story and then when you're, like, for instance, when you're telling stories of work with your clients, you're really highlighting their knowledges. You're not highlighting your knowledge of what you think,
Stephen Gaddis (00:51:33):
Sarah Beth Hughes (00:51:34):
How you think they should make meaning, but how you help develop their meaning. And I think the balance of those two things really helps show your narrative worldview.
Stephen Gaddis (00:51:48):
Well, I'll find you thinking about what you think your client should think because I've, as you were saying that I was asking myself that question and I'm really proud to say that I barely ever think that anymore. Like, I think there was probably a time I thought that a lot and going to the narrative worldview isn't like a natural thing, it's a choice and it's an effort and it's a practice and it's
Amy Druker (00:52:19):
I'm wondering about this effort, what has to happen or what, what does it take to train yourself out of having your, starting to make meaning for people, you know, which we're always making meaning in our lives, but I'm curious, like, what, what do we do? What is the training? What is the practice? What is the effort that is required to, yeah, train ourselves out of that way of being in relationship with people?
Stephen Gaddis (00:52:52):
The first thought that comes to mind is remembering how much I fucking hate when people do that to me. That that's not what I want to do to other people.
Amy Druker (00:53:03):
Stephen Gaddis (00:53:04):
I guess I wanna make sure that I don't miss your, your such a nice question of like, how did I, um, where I was talking about what do I do? I mean, being in relationship with my wife, Ashley, has been incredibly significant in my ability to have the privilege to just kind of keep pursuing, keep pursuing, keep pursuing, you know, like whether it's trainings or whether it's just my own reading or free time or something, like just, it never occurred to me to like think about how community could play a role in my relationship with narrative worldview or other things like that. And now I have this amazing family, community that I adore, that I like playing with and having these conversations with and who are as much a part of this book as me. You know, like they've just become, I have this image of their spirits. It's just filling up the, the chapters of the book.
Amy Druker (00:54:19):
I'm wondering if you wanna say anything about like this community that you. Yeah, like how it formed, how did it happen? What, what keeps it going? What is it, how does it, how has it influenced the writing of the book?
Stephen Gaddis (00:54:35):
You know, it took me, it took me a long time in my life to have a relationship with a different story than the one I internalized as a young person, which was that I was a bad person. It wasn't until probably up until maybe 10 years ago, like every day was a struggle. Like every day getting up, remembering that I'm not a bad person, striving to be something else, you know, was a daily kind of battle. And I was in the midst of raising kids and that was, you know, completely consuming as well, you know, with work and meeting all those responsibilities. And so when the kids got older and left and I, you know, had this time, like I could start to really think about what I, what did I wanna do next with my life? And, you know, I'd always, I'd started this training center and, you know, just saw this, these relationships that I had already in this training center as precious ones, as ones that were really dear to me.
And what I, I think what helps me in many ways is that I'm not out seeking community or relationships. Like, I just, whoever happens to come into the orbit of my life, like, I feel like it's this gift to me and like I'm just gonna seize on it. So I think, and I don't know how to articulate this, maybe Sarah Beth can help me with this, but like, I always think in addition to the content of whatever we're talking about, there's also the ethics of relationship and care and kindness and accountability, that those things are as critically important as like somebody understanding what I mean by the narrative worldview, you know, the content. And I never wanna miss an opportunity to help somebody know they matter. Individuals are relational achievements. It's an illusion that as individuals we're somehow independent of what surrounds us, that constructs us.
And to me that's so both liberating and exciting because as a kid I felt like I was, I was trying to figure out who the truth was about me. You know, was I really this or was I really that? You know, there was no consideration of who and what was shaping how I was understanding myself. With this community, I could see that we were actively shaping how we understood each other and it was being done in ways that for each of us felt really honoring and supportive instead of devastating <laugh>, you know, and oppressive.
Sarah Beth Hughes (00:57:57):
Mm-hmm. That's such a beautiful way to, to sort of conceptualize the two different worldviews that you're talking about, right?
Stephen Gaddis (00:58:05):
Thank you both so much. This has been such a treat. Oh my god.
Amy Druker (00:58:11):
Thank you for showing up and having formed relationships with the both of us enough to make this conversation possible.
Will Sherwin (Song: "Stephen") (00:58:31):
From New Zealand to Mexico. Over there in Boston, here in San Diego. People told their stories living in this land, answering the call of a good man. First met Stephen eight years ago, came to talk with our narrative group in San Francisco. In the first five minutes, he shed a tear. He said, it means so much to me that you are all here. People told their stories of living in this land, answering the call of a good man. Brought us all together, elders mixing with the new. The up and comers front and center, wouldn't have happened without you. People told their stories of living in this land, answering the call of a good man. Through Beijing to Sydney, from Perth to Bombay, through Cape Town to Burlington, from Chicago to L.A. People told their stories of living in this land, answering the call of a good man. Thanks Stephen.