Unfolding Dialogues to Explore Constructionist Practices that Address the Pressing Global Issues of our Times

Are Relational Practices, Dialogue, and Collaboration Enough?

Read the Brief Encounter here. Then, as part of our Brief Encounter article this month, we invite you to join in an online conversation

Please join us in imagining how constructionist ideas and practices can contribute to a transformation of some of the globe’s more pressing issues:  climate change, autocracy, racism, ethnocentrism, food insecurity, etc.  Share details of people, groups, or organizations that are making a difference by reconstructing cultural institutions and practices.  Share your thoughts and concerns about the very challenging issues we face globally.  Sheila McNamee will read and respond to your comments and integrate into next month’s Brief Encounter.  Let’s be in dialogue!


  • Pedro Martins says:


    As I read through Sheila’s very important questions and concerns about the limits and potentials of our constructionist ideas in the face of global challenges, my whole body is filled with unease. I feel stuck.

    I am a 33 year-old clinical psychologist, but this feeling is not new to me. It takes me back to my youth, when I was struck by a John Mayer song, where he goes: “me and all my friends, we’re all misunderstood; they say we stand for nothing and there’s no way we ever could; now we see everything that’s going wrong with the world and those who lead it; we just feel like we don’t have the means to rise above and beat ‘em; so we keep waiting (waiting!) waiting on the world to change.”

    Sheila’s provocative questions make me ask: are we, as a social constructionist community, waiting on the world to change?

    Of course I do not think we are. Over the last several decades, we have witnessed the blossoming of many different practices which are directed to changing social relations at different levels. From the relationships that inhabit a single individual (i.e., different practices of therapy as social construction) to those relationships where individuals inhabit (i.e., families, local communities, and even governments), our efforts are multiple and widely diverse. I see this variety as our biggest resource, and reason for commend.

    When it comes to global issues, however, there is probably still a long way to go. I do not think we should see this as the way, but an invitation to finding ways.

    Personally, I usually like to look at my surroundings and ask myself: who can I connect with to make my professional efforts more impactful? Can I take these ideas to someone who had the means to broaden and strengthen them? I am thinking here about a big range of social actors, such as politicians, business people, news staff, digital influencers, etc., who might be impactful in ways that my single actions are very often not.

    I am also trying to be aware of how I can use my own privileges in the way of amplifying these connections and making them worth the while of others.

    And, while I am always inevitably left with a feeling of “this is not enough,” I try to take comfort in the fact that this is probably something anyone with a consciousness (including those who are working at a global level, say, at the UN, for instance) also feels at times…

    • Pedro, thanks for your thoughtful comments. My hope is/was not to infuse us all with discomfort (of the “there’s nothing I can do” sort)! Perhaps I’m looking more for a discomfort that calls us all to ask what more can we do. And, you have so nicely responded to that call. If we each just take one small step beyond our comfort zone — like reaching out to politicians, digital influencers, journalists, etc. — we might initiate a ripple of broader social transformation! Thanks for joining the conversation!

  • Greg Spiro says:

    Hello Sheila, In your rich tapestry you ask “is it possible to refrain from judgement of one who believes the color of one’s skin is surely linked to the degree of one’s humanity?” A few years ago I wrote a poem (below) titled “Non-judgement day: a proposal”. It sprang from these thoughts: practitioners in our fields have a committed regard for non-judgemental posture in our practice taking us on a road paved with opportunity and hazard. And secondly, perhaps with a bit of British irony, we need a secular version of Judgement Day (no disrespect towards its sacred context).

    As you imply we are depressingly at the mercy of people, forces and movements for whom ‘non-judgemental’ is an alien concept. Dictators, bullies and racists favour the rhetoric of belittlement and as in Ukraine, violation through violence. We are faced even in the UK, supposedly the mother of parliamentary democracy, with erosion of democratic principles and conventions even as our politicians rightly condemn Putin’s assault on freedom. I must admit to feeling a bit like a ranting teenager, freighted with dangereous thoughts paralysing action. I lack an impactful platform while watching many so-called leaders abuse theirs in a self-serving manner. But yes, as you suggest and Pedro endorses, there are many things we can do if we take power individually and collectively, designing practical initiatives as we go and constantly pushing beyond our expectations even amid disappointments.

    So the specific suggestion I propose, somewhat presumptuously, is that the Taos Institute might be the perfect forum to establish ‘Non-judgement day’. What does ‘non-judgemental’ mean for ourselves and our clients? How does it play out in practice? How do we reconcile this core value with our own opinions and indeed our judgements? The attached poem starts off with some warm and cuddly possibilities but culminates in a darker challenge: we have to find ways of engaging in dialogue with our adversaries. I wonder if there is any appetite to establish ‘Non-judgement day’ as a forum in which we could explore and roll out its possibiities?


    on this day we will swim
    in a sea of listening

    on this day we will celebrate
    description and dialogue

    on this day we will be charmed by
    diversity’s palate of minds and colours

    on this day we will roam in a place of difference
    and wonder at its power

    on this day we will make light
    of our biases and prejudices

    on this day we will be happy
    for those we thought we didn’t like

    and cherish those we love

    on this day we will savour our mistakes
    and learn from them

    on this day we will refrain from belittling cliche,
    and comparison

    on this day we will not slur or defame
    not betray or inflame

    on this day we will open ourselves up
    to intimate and universal empathy

    on this day we will talk with someone who will
    simply understand and we will simply be

    on this day we will choose
    not opinion but not knowing

    on this day we will break bread
    with those who would kill us

    and even those we would kill

    on this day we will forgive others and
    forgive ourselves

    ©copyright Greg Spiro London May 2018
    all rights reserved gregm31@me.com

  • Sheila McNamee says:

    Greg, it is so nice to hear from you! Your poem captures the spirit of my own reflections perfectly! I would like to think that we all know how to engage with “the other” in productive and respectful ways. Yet I think there is a divide with people, groups, and ideas that we do not come in direct contact with….those are the people and positions with which it is easy to judge, to scorn, to demonize. As I was reading your comment and your poem, I was reminded of the early work of the Milan Systemic team. In those days they talked of adopting a stance of neutrality. I think we all would agree today that neutrality (like objectivity) is impossible. No one speaks or acts from “nowhere.” However, one interesting idea the Milan team proposed was to have what they called a “linear orgy” when they were overwhelmed by their own judgement and opinions. The linear orgy was cathartic — a moment to let out all the judgement and negative opinions so that the group could then move forward toward collaboratively creating more generative understandings of the situation/person. Maybe this is something that would be useful for us all. Rather than act as if our judgment doesn’t exist, what if we write it down or speak it in an attempt to move beyond it? Could we then engage with “the other” with curiosity about our differences rather than the desire to persuade?

    I like the idea of establishing a Non-Judgment Day forum (and I think that, privately, this has been my hope in initiating this dialogue). Let’s see if others will join!

  • Greg Spiro says:

    Hi Sheila I like your reminiscence about the Milan systemic team. I suspect that many of us have daily linear orgies in front of the news. It reminds me of a practice recommended by a psychiatrist friend who occasionally refers clients to me for coaching. He encourages those clients saturated with anxiety to ring fence a limited period each day – a quarter of an hour or so – in which to indulge in rampant anxiety and then to try to move on less undermined by free floating anxiety over the rest of the day. This can sound a bit glib but I believe it helps some curb their anxiety and remain focussed. With judgement or judgementalism, I find it not so difficult to retain a neutral stance within a professional consultation although it does get tested from time to time. If I feel there might be a moment where airing judgement to a client might be constructive then I try to do it mindfully explaining why. An example might be to communicate my perception of an unhelpful belief expressed by the client. Even then I would tread carefully. However, the wider issue your original post addresses has more global terms of reference. Many of us see the planet on a suicide path and if we don’t rein ourselves in the consequences don’t bear thinking about. Something a non-judgement day forum might look at is building a calibrated system accommodating our opinions and judgements and the contexts for witholding or expressing. Do you think there
    might be some interest out there in the Taos world to pursue this?

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