Academic journal article Organization Development Journal

Read Me Another Story: Bedtime Tales for Those with 'Postmodern Stress Disorder'

Academic journal article Organization Development Journal

Read Me Another Story: Bedtime Tales for Those with 'Postmodern Stress Disorder'

Article excerpt

Abstract

Story has been central to human experience ever since humans have been reflective. Religions, philosophies, and mythologies throughout the ages have attempted to provide meaning, value and purpose for humanity in the face of the unknown. This essay is a philosophical reflection on the existential necessity and transformative power of story I myth for individuals and organizations that exhibit symptoms of 'postmodern stress disorder' (viz., the anxiety generated by a confrontation with radical contingency, diversity, ambiguity, undecidability and the death of absolutes).

Introduction

Transformation of individuals and organizations has at various times fallen upon various types of thinkers (philosophers, spiritual guides, psychologists, sociologists, political leaders, etc.). Regardless of the charismatic individual(s) responsible for organizing and developing transformation, the most fundamental means through which this has been accomplished is the narration of a profoundly moving narrative, story and/or myth that is able to capture the hearts and minds of a people or a nation. These transformative stories can be healing or hurtful, helpful or harmful, healthy or unhealthy, depending upon the intentions, motivations, and needs of the leader and the led. The central question in this essay is: how do individuals and organizations appropriate story/myth in a period of history when all of the absolute metanarratives (or great unifying stories of Truth and Meaning; overarching religious, political, ideological narratives, among many others, that attempt to answer all questions in some absolute fashion) have been thrown into question, thereby instantiating symptoms of, what I refer to as, 'postmodern stress disorder' (PMSD; viz., the anxiety generated by a confrontation with radical contingency, diversity, ambiguity, undecidability and the death of absolutes)? This impacts individuals and organizations simultaneously at their core in their attempts to provide meaningful narratives of value, purpose, goals, and identity in the absence of any means to ground these absolutely or objectively.

Cast Adrift on the Seas of Uncertainty

The perennial theme of being cast adrift or stranded at sea has been a topic of fascination in literature, theater, television and movies. Perhaps the timeless popularity of this theme of abandonment to unpredictable and ambivalent forces of sublime nature-tranquil, serene and majestic and, yet, chaotic, uncontrollable and destructive-owes as much, if not more, to its analogy of human existence in the face of the ever-present threat of uncertainty and death as it does to a taste for the dramatic and the climactic denouement to which these stories lend themselves so readily. It may be that this juxtaposition of contributing factors (i.e., the existential and the narrative dimension) represents two sides of the same coin.

Indeed, perhaps our love of the dramatic in our literature and entertainment is a result of our experiences of these elements in "real" life (i.e., in our own daily "fictions"). For instance, Paul Brockelman (1985) argues that:

[T]he various realms of narrative discourse through which human beings and life are construed with meaning (novels, stories, sacred history, drama, mythology, theology, history) find their existential roots in the temporal and narrative structure of personal identity. Without the narrative condition involved in being a "self," there could be no literature, history, poetry, or religion, (pp. 1, 2).

Central to this position is the reciprocity between human temporal experience and the role of story/myth in the process of articulating and transforming one's existential being-in-the-world as an identifiable being (i.e., as a human being with a story, an identity, a narrative of values, beliefs and goals-a worldview and its attendant myths).

Intimately related to this finite, temporal sequence of experiences that desire to be 'bound' in a meaningful manner is the liminal (i. …

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