"Richness in the Shit"

I am part of an online commentary group that talks about the life approach to creativty and change called appreciative inquiry. This techniques is frequently associated with "accentuation of the positive" and one of the group members asked the question: "In our propagation of Positive Dialogue and creation of Appreciative Organisations, do you envisage a situation where Positivity becomes dominant dogma and the Negative becomes heresy?"

A respondent added "If someone is feeling negative it is important to unpick why because I know that when I feel negative my temptation is to blame someone or something else - scapegoating. As counsellor friends of mine would say, 'there is often something rich in the shit.' "

Then I added......

I like Kevin's reflection on the "richness in the shit." In our use of AI we have moved away from frequent use of the "p" word (positive) because of the tendency of the people we work with to label "the appreciative way" as some kind of "shallow pop psychology" or as "creating positive spin."

Instead our emphasis has been on helping each other to understand the concept of "wholeness" thereby inquiring deeply into all experiences to find that richness.

We've done quite some work relating AI to profound change understandings such as Otto Scharmer's Theory U. We use the four-i cycle for Appreciative Inquiry (rather than the five-d) cycle. When it comes to the second "i" (imagine) we've tended to do some significant reframing of people's understanding of that term. The word imagine actually share its roots with the word "represent" and whilst we may tend to associate such words ("image" and "represent") with 'putting on a good front' they actually relate to "re-presencing" - losing that which diminishes our true self and telling the truth about ourselves and our organisations. So we're saying the imagine stage is like being at the lower left quadrant of Scharmer's U. This doesn't mean we are accentuating the negative. We're inviting people into authenticity.

To help people get their we use follow up questions (after initial inquiry) like those in Peter Block's latest book "Community - The Structure of Belonging" - questions such as "What is your part in the very thing that concerns you most?"

I was recently talking to a person who works with prison inmates who expressed reservation about Appreciative Inquiry. She said those inmates who inquire into their most positive experiences and then imagine some sunny new disposition on release are frequent recidivists. On the other hand those who have really "wallowed in their crap" have much lower recidivism rates. I suggested that it was the latter rather than the former, who have really done appreciative inquiry.

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