I believe communities can renew themselves by encouraging its citizens to work together co-creating stories of personal and social identity. Such empowerment reveals the citizen as a “heroic” figure in the quest to bring about social harmony. This month I had the opportunity to take part in an unique enterprise with young people thanks to the Scottish Government's “Political Voices” project.
On Friday 17 June 2011 more than 200 sixth-form pupils from across Scotland gathered in the Parliament to use art, music, dance, film, drama and storytelling to express their hopes and dreams for the future of Scotland. Entitled “Political Voices” the project aimed to convey the story of their vision to the politicians who govern the country.
My workshops used a series of storytelling exercises to help participants get in touch with their 'inner storytelling hero'. I likened their journey to the Parliament as the beginning of a 'heroic journey or quest' in which they sought an 'ideal' Scotland. In groups they shared their visions of what they wanted this Scotland to look like. What were its values and priorities? What would it feel like to live in this place? What would their role be? In other words, co-create a 'story' of Scotland's future with themselves as the central characters.
The next step invited them to join me in a game I call the “Heroic Quest” (thanks to David Campbell for this idea). In this game, a young woman and man volunteer to become the “heroes”. Two pairs volunteer to be “guardians of the threshold” while the others (the “common folk”) line up on either side of the “gauntlet” or “passage of trials” to listen and contribute to the unfolding story.
The heroes step up to the first threshold, announce themselves and the ideal they seek. In this instance it was “priority for Scottish students for university places”. The first pair of guardians question the heroes on their reasoning. Why do you want this priority? Why should Scottish students have this priority? How do you define a “Scottish student”? The heroes have to think quickly on their feet and provide convincing answers. The “common folk” shout “yea” or “nay” and may ask questions of their own. Once satisfied, the heroes are allowed to pass across this threshold.
At the next, the pair of guardians may ask more personal questions, revealing the character of the hero. What qualities do you have to make this quest? What experience do you have? How do we know you are committed to this quest? For a moment our heroes falter. “I didn't know this was going to be so hard,” says one. But eventually they address the questions and succeed in passing through the second threshold with the support of the “common folk”.
At the final hurdle, the heroes stand before two seasoned adults: a young Parliamentary Education Officer and an older senior staff member. Their experience of the political process and the inside workings of the Parliament enable them to ask some tough questions including what qualities will best see them succeed. Nervously, they consider the challenge. Finally, the young woman cites “commitment” and provides a personal example from volunteer work she has undertaken; her partner adds, “I need a voice” explaining that this exercise has taught him that he needs to speak up, to make his voice heard, to connect with others and to share his vision with passion.
The goal of the workshop was to enable young people to express their vision and to reflect on their role in such a vision. Throughout the day, I had the privilege of challenging other young people to walk the “passage of trials” and become heroes in their own story. In doing so, I witnessed how each found their voice—a political voice—necessary to the co-creation of the story of Scotland's future.
Ⓒ Michael Williams 2011. Image courtesy of the NUS 'Reclaim Your Voice Campaign'.