“Hope is Bullshit” – A Discussion with Karen Storry
By Peter Lipscombe
Karen Storry heard about the Hope is Bullshit event from a friend, and signed up in spite of knowing virtually nothing about the event. Karen viewed this clean slate, however, as an exciting bonus, “I feel like often times when you show up with expectations, you taint your experience. You have this tension inside that it should work the way to you expect it to. It’s the same reason I don’t read the backs of novels or watch the movie trailers very often. I like to show up with a beginners mind.” So with a beginners mind, Karen dove headfirst into Deep Democracy.
In spite of the title, Karen “didn’t think the idea would be to actually discuss whether hope is bullshit or not”. Rather, she was “attracted to the fact that there would be a lot of likeminded people from my so-called tribe that were trying to figure out how to lead people through this transition from a world of a economy and system that isn’t working for us to a system that is more regenerative.” To her surprise, and likely to many others there too, the day did indeed turn to an examination of whether hope is bullshit. The “Is Hope Bullshit” question was explored in depth, along with a spirited and sometimes emotional examination peoples’ motivations for why they seek change.
Karen surprised herself with her initial timidity to the unfamiliar process, “I am usually the one in the room that’s really ready to share my opinion… during the Hope is Bullshit event I was the last (or at least fourth)” said with a smile. Although she started out on the side of hope, she was eventually persuaded by the Hope is Bullshit forces, likening her interactions with hope to series of uncommitted and fleeting relationships. “You have good days and bad days, you have hopeful days and days when things seems impossible… But what the non-hope side was proposing was a constant, consistent, committed path. I wanted the committed relationship that the no hope side offered.”
Karen was impressed with how far the discussion had come in the span of a day. Working in a field where change can be measured in terms of decades, she attributes much of that success to the various tools introduced in the workshop, and the willingness of those present to try new things. Karen has already started brainstorming ways of integrating them into her professional life. Several tools came to mind: creating safe spaces, the popcorn method, the arrows, and the open space or town hall meeting setup.
“Doing what you don’t think is possible in the boardroom often gets people’s attention, and often it’s more effective than going with what they expect. Sometimes I find that the younger generation are pretty bored with the traditional model”. Its this boredom that can create a divide that is hard to overcome in professional settings: “in a typical situation you’ll get people that are so comfortable with the status quo that they don’t ever want to move off of it. And you’ll get people that are so bored that they don’t want to engage with that. How do you reconcile that? I guess the workshop offered ways of exploring that.”
Though a fan of the popcorn method, Karen was initially reluctant to use the term ‘popcorn’ as the descriptor as she deemed it too cutesy. With a little encouragement, however, she agreed to give it a go. Karen recognized this reticence to try new things in spite of an inquisitive and adventurous spirit. She likened this reluctance to trying to get chewing gum off her shoe, with the stringy strands constantly pulling her back to the norms and conventions of typical professional interactions. Karen also cautioned against an overly prescriptive use of the popcorn. She described how in her own workshop, given a second chance, she would have added just a touch of heat under the unpopped kearnels in order to encourage them to share their knowledge and experiences. This is an especially important role of the facilitator in groups with hierarchical structures where more junior participants undervalue their contributions and are reluctant to offer opinions.
The Town Hall or Open Space style meeting is something that Karen would like to bring back to her own professional work. “What I liked about the town hall was my ability to think ‘what do I really want to get out of this?’, and my ability to invite people to come and chat about it. What are the stories we have around making change? What’s successful and what wasn’t? That’s what I was most curious about, and that what I got.”
Finally, various strategies of getting beyond the no struck Karen as something that could be profoundly useful in many contexts. “To get people beyond the no, you have to understand what’s behind the no, which is below the surface. So having ways to pull that out of people. That’s pretty powerful.” Similarly, the arrows gave people a “way of describing … the stuff that’s really important to them. The arrows are things that really strike people.” So instead of “talking about things in really boring ways” as often happens, getting beyond the no with arrows and other strategies offers a way out of the timidity and boredom that too often prevails in conventional settings.
One aspect that Karen would like to spend more time reflecting on is what to do about grief. The kind of grief expressed at the session was something that Karen doesn’t frequently encounter, and its presence at the workshop was initially quite surprising. “I haven’t figured out what to do with it. Its about meeting people where they’re at. If they’re at grief, you meet them there. But the questions is how long do we let them be there, and when do we start coaching them out of grief? Do we need to be in grief with them, or do that need a rock?” These are questions that perhaps don’t have an answer, but will continue to be debated for a long time to come.